Review: Jules de Balincourt at Victoria Miro – A Troubled Eden or a Promised Land

Originally published by ArtSlant.

A woman stands in a wood. She holds a staff, or perhaps a spear, which is rooted at her feet, a tree. She is a shaman, and a hipster, with blue hair. Other tree-women stand around her. To her right, leafy branches conceal, simulate or create a pregnant belly. Below, other people walk around the tree trunks, amongst their legs. They stroll, or march with purpose, their paths diverging. Their shadows stretch out behind them, cross-hatching the trees.

This is the esoteric and imaginative world of Jules de Balincourt, a Brooklyn-based artist whose recent paintings are currently on view at Victoria Miro Mayfair. His paintings begin their existence as abstractions, as experiments in colour and form. Details are added, creating scenes which are both fantastical and somehow rooted in reality, where the bright colours and simplified base forms make for a striking visual experience.

Balincourt rarely works from photographs or other source material, and these paintings bear all the signs of having come straight out of the artist’s imagination. The marks of his painterly process and the mysterious imagery depicted are combined to suggest something highly intuitive and fluid.

Important too are the associations created in the viewer’s mind when looking at these paintings. Scenes are left deliberately ambiguous, eschewing direct references to real life in favour of gestural allusions which are surprisingly powerful. A man in a suit with a suspiciously familiar blond haircut wags a finger at a line of dark-skinned figures. But any suggestion of direct commentary on the political situation in the US is undercut by the fact that the man is triple-headed, and set against a blank background that transforms each figure into an abstract collection of colourful shapes. Elsewhere, child-like islands are surrounded by boats and populated by distinct groups of figures, alluding opaquely to contemporary issues of migration, societal divisions and nationalism.

The power of these references comes from their subtlety. But it’s the entirely relatable mystery of these paintings that really excites. The scenes are strange and full of unexplained meetings, but the imaginative and associative process of their composition somehow feels entirely natural. A group of people meet in a fire-lit cave at night, while others celebrate (or protest) around a huge statue of a man on a horse beneath a starry sky. A woman’s body is superimposed by, or opens a window onto, a psychological interior landscape where a river winds through lands that bear the uneasy hallmarks of human civilisation. Depicted in compelling shades of highlighter pink and green, is this a troubled Eden or, perhaps, a promised land?


Anna Souter is an arts writer and editor based in London. See her website for more information.

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