The painter’s uncanny worlds reflect the post-9/11 zeitgeist with a beguiling charm. The world is a fragile, unsettling place, he says, and it’s difficult not to respond to that
By Emily Spicer
Jules de Balincourt’s paintings are rich in colour and technique, but to call him a painter’s painter suggests that his works are in some way inaccessible, or that they have a narrow appeal, when in fact the opposite is true. De Balincourt (b 1972, Paris) is the most democratic of artists, who refuses to raise conceptual or intellectual barriers between his work and his audience. And he is refreshingly candid about it. “I’m not referencing art history, I’m not referencing art theory,” he tells me. For De Balincourt painting is about translating the world into a visual vernacular “into this funny archaic thing of painting”.
De Balincourt’s images beckon us with delicious colours and seductive miniature worlds that unveil themselves bit by bit, as a dream might be remembered piecemeal throughout the day. Like a psychedelic Bruegel, he paints detailed scenes of people busying themselves in their uncanny worlds. And on the face of it, his candy-coloured stripes and evocative palm trees speak of paradise and playtime. But a pervading disquiet lurks in the details.
Dried Up is a painting with an ambiguous meaning. When we see a Californian swimming pool, we also see David Hockney, parties, sunshine and wealth. But this pool is empty. The brilliant blue void below the gleaming diving board is littered with chairs and rubble. Is it a symbol of broken dreams, or is it a fortuitous discovery? Perhaps it is both. One person’s downfall can spell another’s beginning. This is real life, this is the view of the disillusioned post-9/11 generation and it makes Hockney’s vision of the 1960s and 70s look empty and impossibly idyllic.
Duality and uncertainty are De Balincourt’s strengths. A sunny cove with bright pink rocks, scattered with picturesque boats, appears at first glance to be a holiday scene. But no one is paddling in the sea or sunbathing on beach towels. Instead, small groups of people stand around uneasily, apparently waiting for something. Have they just arrived, or are they about the leave? The painting’s title, Sanctuary, hints that all is not well with the world beyond the neon cliffs.
So what of the Stumbling Pioneers in the title of De Balincourt’s most recent exhibition? What are De Balincourt’s miniature figures looking for? I went to the Victoria Miro Gallery in east London to talk to the French-American painter about meaning in his work, his return to Los Angeles after a 20-year interval in New York, and the very roots of painting in his life.
Emily Spicer: Your work reminds me of Peter Doig’s, but, as I say it, I worry you may have heard that many times before.
Jules de Balincourt: I think the main thing that links us is tropical landscapes, but the painting style is pretty different. I think Peter is much more of a romantic. And he works from photography. I love his paintings and I love his sense of colour. I think we’re both interested in similar sorts of imagery and these Gauguin-esque landscapes. But my work has slightly more irony or humour in it. Peter’s is very sincere, not that mine’s not.
ES: It seems to me that there is also a sense of pessimism under the surface.
JdB: I guess the humour and the irony are different forms of pessimism. Which one do you think is pessimistic?