Should You Paint Lies?

26 Sep 2013

Les reclus by Philippe Jacquet, 31 1/2 x 46 1/2. All images courtesy Axelle Fine Arts.
Les reclus by Philippe Jacquet, 31 1/2 x 46 1/2.
All images courtesy Axelle Fine Arts.
Most painters I’ve spoken to say that it’s somewhat liberating to paint an imagined subject or a fictitious place. Working in such a way does come with its own set of challenges—people often judge such artworks more harshly than works that are more realistic, almost as if they are trying to uncover the secret behind a magic trick. Although creating an entirely imagined world can be a challenge, it can be quite freeing to know that there’s no way to fall short of the ‘real thing.’

L'enfant de la crique II by Philippe Jacquet 53 1/2 x 36 1/4.
L'enfant de la crique II by Philippe Jacquet
53 1/2 x 36 1/4.

As a viewer, when I see a painting that isn’t based on reality it is like being set free. No rules apply when it comes to interpretation. That’s how I felt when I came across Philippe Jacquet’s work at Axelle Fine Arts in New York. A trained architect and self-taught painter from France, Jacquet doesn’t restrict himself to any rational order in his paintings. The places he depicts—coastal scenes and estuaries—are strictly of the mind. "I let the subject guide me," Jacquet told me through an interpreter. "The places are completely imaginary but they all have the feel of great wide open spaces—the adventure, the escape, and the open." Boats float in waterless seas, mansions guard vast oceans as if they were lighthouses, sailboats weigh anchor in swimming pools, and houses cling to cliff sides. The human presence in the paintings is clear—often a depiction of the artist's son—but the atmosphere of them is disorienting because it is so different than the world around us. I feel welcome as a viewer—there’s nothing overtly threatening or forlorn about Jacquet’s environments—but separated from reality.

Le peintre des barques by Philippe Jacquet 48 x 48, 2010.
Le peintre des barques by Philippe Jacquet
48 x 48, 2010.
What makes the artist’s work especially interesting is that the paintings are not all one way or the other. Jacquet knows how to paint the balance between elements of reality with aspects of the natural world that are completely conjured. Plein air painters and landscape artists do the same, if to a more controlled extent—making choices about light effects or merging visuals that come together over hours of painting. In paintings of both real and imagined landscapes, such choices create tension for the viewer, as each one of us has to decide what’s real and how real it is. It's an enticing prospect, and is a way for each one of us to engage with the work we see. 

Jacquet's paintings are fantastical and a bit sublime. His paintings show imaginary worlds, but the inspirations they evoke—ideas about color, space, gravity, and nature—are palpable and quite real. In much the same way when we explore images real or imagined that inspire us, whether they are in the landscape, in the studio, or in our own minds, we come to realize new thoughts and ideas about how to interpret the visual information around us. Reinterpreting the world is what artists do, and each one of us should strive to do so in our own unique way—whether it involves reality, imagination, or a combination of the two, which is where the Art Journaling Primer eMagazine comes in. If you want to explore journaling in an artistic form, discover new media and materials, and let your inner world out, give this unique resource a look. Enjoy!

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tomdzubina wrote
on 19 Nov 2010 8:13 PM

steve mills

on 27 Sep 2013 10:02 AM

I am so glad that you introduced us to Jacquet!  I love his work and just bought his book.  

I find it fascinating that there seems to such strictness in the modern art movement even though in other ways it is a free for all.  Such dogmas such as you should only paint from life, you should only paint what you see, don't use black...stifling!  Imagined realism has fallen out of disfavor or is looked upon as somehow second class yet almost all early painting were of this class - many by the Great Masters!

My philosophy is that I use whatever I want and break any rules I want as long as the end product expresses my vision and as long as I get positive feedback from my art mentors and collectors - what's broken then?  Nothing!

Just my 2 cents...

Marque Todd

midwinter wrote
on 28 Sep 2013 9:32 AM

Why use the word  "lies"  to describe work which contains imaginative elements?

All  art is invention,  anyway.

Ella W. wrote
on 28 Sep 2013 9:50 AM

Hi Marque,

Painting and drawing what you see, and not using black are methods teachers use to hone student's skills. Not using black forces one to learn to mix color. Drawing what you see, strengthens one's ability to draw and paint more acurrately when painting "lies" down the road. These are not life-long restrictions, just learning tools.

Ella Whitehead

kristinsande wrote
on 30 Sep 2013 7:26 PM

Almost all of my paintings are imaginary places.  Even the ones that aren't have some imagined areas in them (i.e. I used good old "artistic license").  

BTW, Jacquet's work is amazing!  Thank you for sharing.