- Cafe bleu, galerie Barrou Planquart, Murielle Vanhove, acrylic on canvas, 81x165cm
- Café crème triptyque, 81x230cm, acrylic on canvas
Born in Paris in 1963, Muriel Vanhove has always been fascinated by the dynamics of towns and urban travel. Even as an adolescent, she watched people coming and going from the Parisian Brasserie owned by her parents. From hidden behind her sketchbooks she sketched the rushed energy of the crowds of strangers jostling past each other. She graduated in 1987, having received a full education in painting, drawing and photography at the ESAG Penningham, with a masters in Artistic Direction which initially led her to work in a publicity agency. Nevertheless, the desire to reconnect with the ‘motion’ and the subject was soon felt. After ten years of graphic design she decided to abandon the screen in favor of the paintbrush. Her portraits and scenes of daily life are now collected in Paris, New York, London, Brussels, Basel and even Hong Kong.
The faceless characters of Murielle Vanhove: the encoded reflection of our society
Sensitive to the era as well as the figuration of humans, Murielle Vanhove portrays the individual in a way that allows us to discuss what she sees in the streets and what she observes in our society…The subject of her paintings is the figuration of fleeting and vital human motion in one or several silhouettes, taking place both in public and more private places in life. Corresponding to recurring profiles that the artist serendipitously crosses paths with in the road or outside a café, these silhouettes are also a cynical reflection of a uniformed society which gives precedence to appearance and the rules created by fashion houses. Constantly portraying people as ‘beautiful’, her pieces deliberately remind us of mediatized ideals on television and publications and magazines printed on glossy paper. The artist explains, “Like Norman Rockwell and the Rouart has done before me, I look to question my epoch by using my paintings to decrypt its social laws and dress codes.” Acting as a witness of this era, Murielle Vanhove also questions the history and identity of the characters in her paintings. Animated by the light touch of her painting style, these people progress in scenes of ordinary life. Sometimes moving out of shot, they appear and disappear, entering and leaving the canvas as if they were on stage in a theatre. Contrarily, however, to an actor in a play, the roles of her characters are not defined. Deprived of faces they impose on the viewer in anonymity with only their clothing, gait and attitude to distinguish them. Their situations seem quite familiar but they also completely open to our individual interpretation. The artist states, “I work on the identity however all my characters are private. I want to reveal the attitudes of people more than their actual faces. By attaching myself to their moving bodies I can show the moments and allow their personalities to develop. At the same time however, I leave a huge ocean of mystery to be interpreted by the spectator, each drawing from their own individual experiences.”
The painting and the ‘motion’: the deconstruction of movement, the figuration of a moment
Even beyond the figuration, it is above all the unstructured representation of movement that interests the artist. Fascinated by Sorolla’s use of light, Bonnard’s colours, Lucian Freud’s accuracy and by what John Seed calls ‘Discombobulation painting’, Murielle Vanhove, in her own unique way, immobilizes a snapshot of movement on the limiting surface and glides over the canvas. Through the treatment of the subject and ‘motion’, she deconstructs time and strongly reiterates the fluidity of a moment. Everything starts with the construction of a motive which she deconstructs by scrambling the lines, blurring the contours and uniting the tones. She finds using a delicate paintbrush too much like drawing and prefers a brush and working in sections. She plays around with the colours to find the best light and prefers a mixture of transparent pigments. She attaches the finishes touches by applying a glaze medium over the underpainting. Then, at the very end, she adds the ‘motion’; the touch of adrenaline. These splatters, projections and streaks give the final element of movement that draws the viewer into the piece. Preferring to paint with a sense of urgency and spontaneity, the medium of acrylic allows Murielle to liberate her style and to approach what she terms as, “the moment of being in danger, when my hand takes charge and guides the paintbrush”. Although the brushstrokes are fast, every painting takes hours of careful hard work. The artist explains, “My painting is quick but I continue to go back over it again and again. I paint, I stop, I return to the painting. I get some distance from it, but then return to adjust and alter it and repeat the process until I’m completely satisfied with every detail.” Within the act of painting there lies the dynamic of colours, the contrast between empty and busy spaces and the vibrant and decisive revelation portrayed by the brushstrokes of ‘motion’. These hesitant brushstrokes gives her painting a certain feel, reminiscent of Impressionism and play just as much a part in representing the tumult and agitation as the actual drawing of the moment. You can also therefore see, in her deconstructed figuration, the impression of a futuristic apprehension of movement. Described in the words of the Manifest of Futuristic painters as, “everything moves, everything rushes around, everything is constantly changing. An image is never completely still in front of us, it appears and disappears continuously. Given, also, the persistence of an image on the retina, these moving objects multiply and deform as they go on, like the hurried vibrations in the space in which they roam”.
Travelling and the Narrative Construction: From the painting to the frieze
Lastly, Murielle Vanhove’s work possesses a cinematographic and narrative dimension. She is often inspired by the photographs she regularly takes in the streets for the compositions of her portraits and scenes of daily life. The artist creates canvases with endless narratives which gives the impression of visual travel. Capturing the subject’s movements by using a ‘sequential figuration’ of it, the viewer has to recreate the full image. Every painting requires an in-depth analysis. Using the original techniques of points of view and off screen framing, the artist questions the limits of pictorial space by stretching her images beyond the canvas, thus creating a feeling of focal immersion for the onlooker in the continuous coming and going from the painting. Most of Murielle Vanhove’s works are considered to be organized in diptychs or triptychs in the style of friezes. These friezes amplify the effects of visual travelling, immersion and scenic opening by creating panoramas which could not even be seen by the human eye and can only be captured with wide-angle camera lenses. The artist is also interested in narrative construction with some of her friezes being completely adaptable; the idea being, according to her, “even once finished, some paintings continue to move. The owner themselves can also be a player in their creation by deciding on a certain hanging to continue developing their constantly changing style.” Whilst functioning as single paintings, the works which make up these friezes can also be combined according to one’s desires, in any way, to create completely new stories as their positions and combinations are changed. Two individual portraits could create a larger café scene whilst a crowd of passersby could reveal a discreet meeting of two strangers. All stories are possible and are left in the hands of the spectator who, if they would like, can also become the storyteller.