Jean-Marie Delavalle

Jean-Marie Delavalle
Galerie VOX
To February 21, 2015

As curator Claudine Roger points out in her exhibition text, senior Canadian artist Jean-Marie Delavalle’s work has been widely shown as part of group exhibitions but, aside from continuing solo shows in Toronto, his profile in Quebec has been relatively low key for the last 25 years. This exhibition, which features experimental works executed between 1970 and 1975, but also includes his later painting/sculpture hybrids, will come as a welcome surprise to many. Roger deserves real kudos for revisiting this important artist’s lifework.

Delavalle began working with photography in the summer of 1970, and his Quebec Filter (Screen) series (1971), Ombre (1972) and Blue, Yellow, Red and Green (1972), easily transcend the documentary aspects of photographic work. He was, in his own words, attempting to “know surrounding reality”. Indeed, the optic after-effects and phenomenological implications of his screen images have undeservedly received little attention — until now at VOX.

The slide work known as Screens were all taken in Boucherville, Quebec, either inside the artist’s flat or outside the building. Most of the images were taken with the same camera placed on a tripod at eye level. The works from 1971 all use the screen in front of the windows as a methodological device. If it is a landscape, it is mediated by the screen, which imposes a barely perceptible Cartesian grid over the scene. Effectively, the screen frames the image and lends it a specific texture, underscoring the opacity of the screen and providing counterpoint with the transparency of the windows. 1

His later Paysages and Volumes and related works like Carré blanc, Carré noir and Carré gris (all 2005) are characterized by monochromal surfaces with subtly altered grounds in different geometric formats. The former are rectilinear objects affixed to the wall plane. The latter are freestanding vertical objects that rest on the floor. As we restlessly move in front of the work, we experience a growing awareness of the painterliness and unbridled sensuosity in the brushstroking that enlivens its surface, and the recognition that the shadow that falls within its contours as we peer into its depths is none other than our own — its necessary reference pole.

By including these works in the exhibition, Roger shows us that the idea of a reflective surface in this later sculptural work was actually derived from the projects dating from 1974 in which the artist was preoccupied with framing mirrors in plain and coloured Plexiglas, and from the series of slides dating from the early 1970s when he used filters to change the colour of a given photograph in a serial format to induce ever-changing perceptual hypotheses.

Delavalle uses his Lacan-like mirrors to make his observers self-conscious about what it is they are looking at and to solicit a somatic signature that somehow completes the work. Bertram Lewin’s development of the so-called ‘dream-screen’ is relevant here.2 As we stand before one of the Volumes, for example Volume aluminium (1990), we are greeted with the prospect of wholesale dissolution of any definitive space experience, and the promise of a truly undifferentiated oceanic envelopment. Indeed, when Delavalle speaks suggestively of the feelings he wishes to elicit from the observer, it seems he means something akin to what Lewin calls ‘screen affects’. Whether or not the specific elation that can be experienced in front of a Volume is interpretable as an affective resistance to feeling memories deeply buried in the unconscious of the individual is highly speculative, but certainly evokes the ‘dream-screen’ as the horizonal backdrop to those images.3

Delavalle’s objects at first seem resolutely autonomous. Do not be deceived. Somewhere between Bruce Nauman’s healthy narcissism and Robert Irwin’s famous scrim veils, this artist operates subversively with issues of representation and abstraction, and highlights the bodies of his observers not as things that can be perceived as objects, but as subjects that live their own corporeity 24/7. His work blurs the distinction between the viewer and her/his own doppelgangers (recalling our own ‘mirror-stage’) and, in so doing, sheds some very interesting light on the how of seeing and the why of the seen.

  1. Campbell, James D., The Mirror, Method and Meaning in Monochrome: Jean-Marie Delavalle (Toronto, Christopher Cutts Gallery, 1993).
  2. See Bertram Lewin, The Psychoanalysis of Elation (New York, Norton, 1950. Also see Lewin’s “Reconsideration of the Dream Screen” in Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 22, 1953.
  3. Campbell, Ibid.