Monday, June 11, 2012

Cheap Art - Rafael Alterio & Henriette H. Jansen

("Rio" by Rafael Alterio)

Artist Rafael Alterio spent the afternoons of his boyhood running around the atelier of his friend's mother, ceramic artist Henriette H. Jansen. Now, a decade or two later, they've joined forces to create an art exhibition of ceramic sculpture, paintings, and engravings which echo each other. I got the chance to preview some of the work before its opening this week, and was delighted to find that Alterio and Jansen have managed to create a collection of stunning quality while evading an aspect that turns me away from many modern artists: pretension.

(pièces uniques by Henriette H. Jansen)

"It was a tricky project because she does ceramic pieces and I wanted to be a mirror for them," Alterio says. "I didn't know if I should transform them or draw them but I didn't want to do still life." Instead, as Jansen echoes the stripes and negative space prevalent in much of Alterio's paintings, incorporating them into her vases and pièces uniques, Alterio creates noir mini-stories in his engravings and paintings to give life to the objects. "It gives us the opportunity to tell a story with objects instead of man - each object has its own personality," says Alterio.

("Salon" by Rafael Alterio)

"For example, with Salon, you see this jacket and a gun - maybe this guy has just killed somebody and now he's coming home and hanging up his jacket and having a coffee." A noir murderer if I've ever read one. In another set, two long-enemied vases live out their adversarial relationship over a series of three engravings. When set against the colorful objects that inspired each engraving or painting, we begin to view these inanimate objects as having a vivid life all their own, at times humorous, poignant or mysterious.

("Marlowe" by Rafael Alterio)

It's the first project in which Alterio has incorporated text, a technique he usually shies away from. But he felt it would help tell the stories so he began to write intriguing, elegant bits of narration to accompany the pieces. The above engraving reads, "This defeat felt bad. I accumulated debts and Marlowe had an easy trigger." This noir sensibility, combined with the physically dark hues of the pieces and their small size, nudges us to become both literally and psychologically pulled to the scenes, and Alterio gives us just enough mystery to set us running into the dark corners of our imagination. 

"It's like opening a door and saying, 'Look in there and see what you want,'" says Alterio. "My work couldn't exist if there was no one to see it. So it's an exchange." In so doing, Rafael Alterio has landed in a sweet spot at which very few of his peers arrive: guiding the viewer's imagination without telling them what to think.

Rafael Alterio and Henriette H. Jansen
Opening Wednesday, June 13th 6pm through July 12th
Métro: M7 to Cadet

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