In Montpellier this summer, there’s one event that’s sure to make the headlines, and another that will probably make less of a media buzz because great painting is always silent: the ambitious retrospective of Vincent Bioulès hosted by the Fabre Museum. Providing an overview of the work of this artist, who has six decades of creation under his belt, was both an excellent idea and a duty of justice, because Bioulès, when he is at his best, is truly great.
It was not predetermined that this southerner would become one of the greatest painters of modern figurative art. Intrigued by the new trends from across the Atlantic during his studies, the young Bioulès contributed to avant-garde abstractionism, with a real talent that the exhibition splendidly highlights. Although his association was brief, in the early 1970s he was among the founders of the Supports/Surfaces movement. But very quickly, this Mediterranean artist who was so profoundly fascinated by his land, by its brutal contrasts and colourful lights but also by its mythology, was drawn by the call of the motif. Thus, begins an extraordinary journey, on the margins of trends and schools, based on the pleasure of painting and a quest for formal perfection that was very rooted in the history of French art.
Enjoying the exhibition does not necessarily require sharing the curators’ assessment that Bioulès work with models is equally good as his work with motifs. While some portraits, in their frontality, have an element of mystery, others are less engaging (especially those that are also being shown at the Hotel Sabatier d’Espeyrans), and his nudes are not always exciting. On the other hand, as a painter of spaces, both exterior and interior, Bioulès’ talent is of the highest order. Beginning in the mid-1970s, he introduced his fascinating “Places d’Aix” series. Large compositions, that might be described, if contradiction in terms weren’t as absurd as referring to Chirico as friendly, shine by their arrangement which is as scholarly as it is seductive and reveal a baroque sensibility stretched to theatrical heights. That’s something astonishing for the Festival city of Aix.
At the same time, Bioulè, a friend of Jean Hugo (who is currently the subject of an exhibition in Villa Noailles in Hyères which will be discussed later), started concentrating on interior painting. When he finally divested himself of all traces of the “Matisse style” he truly excelled. Strictly speaking, however, nothing compares to his landscapes. In that domain, the artist is a maestro, whatever format he chooses. His fundamental joy of the outdoors motif is quite apparent when viewing his canvases, watercolours and drawings from Fabre Museum. Bioulès is indeed an excellent illustrator, who consequently immerses himself in the structure of a relief or a coastline. In his most successful pieces, the impeccable arrangement combined with the richness of his colour palette arouse a multitude of sensations. His blues, prominent in the many illustrations of ports, beaches and islands, are amazingly precise and accurate. And despite his decades as an artist, his work never deteriorates into process; in a recent piece like “Golden Pond”, Bioulès offers an exceptionally colourful experience. This summertime exhibition in Montpelier, both commendable for its highlights as it is for the particularly detailed and well-documented reconstruction of a most fascinating career, is a worthwhile visit for art-lovers.
Vincent Bioulès: Sideroads – Fabre Museum, Montpellier – until October 6
An original Art Critique article by Alain Ruawel on July 22nd, which can be found here.