21 Sep 2011

Portraits of famous people as children: the work of Louis Boudreault

I had never heard of the painter Louis Boudreault until a couple of weeks ago, when two of his recent drawing/paintings appeared on a TV set during a talk show in which I regularly participate (Paris Art de Vivre, on BFM Business TV). I was immediately struck and intrigued by these, which showed not only great skill on the part of the artist, but also held an intensity in the look of the children whose portraits they seemed to be. The works mingle pencil drawing and some paint on paper surfaces that appear smooth and yet which, on a closer look, reveal that they are also composed of several layers, worked over and together to make a coherent whole. The apparent realism of the portraits is striking yet not servile, and made me think that the work was done from photographs and by someone with remarkable technique and a clear style. And the artist, when he also appeared and spoke well about his current work, merely added to my desire to go and see his current exhibition at the Tornabuoni Gallery in Paris. For details of the gallery and the show, use this link. If you want it in French, the site will guide you I expect.


This is the cover of the exhibition catalogue. Please excuse the colours of some of the photos, which I took rather quickly from the catalogue to give you some idea of what I am talking about here. I am sure that all this is copyright stuff, but I have taken the liberty of publishing as I am encpuraging you to see this work and, if you feel so inclined and have the means, even buy some of it. 

The small boy in the portrait used on the cover is Pablo Picasso. The theme of this exhibition, and the work that Boidreault has been doing for the past few years, is the portraiture of famous people when they were children. One is tempted to think about destiny, and can it be predicted from this retrospective vision of these faces. Futile as a reflection, but clearly induced by the theme. Some of these poeple, but not all by far, were artists. As far as I could make out, all of them are dead now. Here is another one (not an artist). Can you guess who this fairly self-assured and obviously strong-minded boy was called?

John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Another famous American....

This is the young Elvis Presley. Doesn't look so happy as JFK, does he? Of course his background and childhood was considerably less protected than that of the future 35th US President.

Both men and women make up this impressive show of work. As we are in the field of music, here below is the French singer and former Saint Germain icon Julette Greco when she was a girl.

And here is another famed French personnality. Although not a singer, he was even more famous in his field, and is quite recognizable (look at the eyes and the mouth and just add thick glasses).......

Jean-Sol Partre

Speaking of Jean-Sol Partre (real name Jean-Paul Sartre for those non-Vian readers), there is also a glorious drawing of the young Boris Vian dressed as a girl (not shown in this article). Non-Europeans also get a look-in, such as Mao Tse Tung, the Dalai Lama, and this guy. Can you guess?

Mahatma Gandhi (and the tissues used are, I understand, Indian)

If you can get to Paris to see this show, I would strongly recommend it. The pictures are of a fair size, which makes their impression even stronger in my opinion. Most of them measure 2m10 by 1m50, or 1m80 by 1m20. Boudreault's use of superposing  small strips of paper here and there to deliberately re-work section of each drawing give the effect of layers like the levels of passing time. He then flattens them with an iron so the surface remains smooth. The result makes the images seem both close and distant, as if seen through a weil of time, somehow a little hazy despite the relative precision of the draughtmanship. This plays with the idea of time and our perception.

He also echoes this idea of superposition by adding onto the side of each work, rather than putting it into a frame (which he dislikes), strips of paper clipped together so that the whole thing looks like it is made from a pile of hand-made paper. This is original in a way, but because he uses it so systematically, I find it rather gadgety. It adds nothing to the power of his work, but some might like the offhand decor effect that makes carfully worked pieces look as if they have just been thrown together or emerged from the linbos of time. And, yes, they were worked from photographs.

Would I buy one if I could afford it? Yes, undoubtedly. Choosing would be the only problem.


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