"Sous le volcan", a solo show by Isabel Michel


September 6th - October 12th, 2019



A first encounter in a catalogue could have separated us from Isabel Michel’s painting forever. The reproduction of her paintings on paper or on a digital device says infinitely little about the uppercut delivered in the studio when discovering her work. Surprised to still be standing after the violence of such a shock, one starts imagining the future exhibition. Then, gradually, it goes from being possible to being obvious.

This confrontation reveals the wildness of an artist haunted by chimeras, obsessions, dramas, aided by a system of colours and forms that paradoxically reveals a certain optimism.

It is pointless to try to dissect these forms, these transparencies, these colours, and the interplay between these parameters. Because in this case, the painting stands united. What is at stake lies elsewhere: in the burst of life that springs from each of her pieces.

It is a style that is atypical in the field of abstract painting, one that could be characterised—if absolutely necessary—as “landscaped abstraction”. Although abstraction long dominated Isabel Michel’s painting, it was only in 2005, with the reintroduction of white—which allowed the shapes to stand out more incisively—that the evocation of the landscape subtly asserted itself.

Without lapsing into a realistic approach, this small dose of representation brought us closer to a hallucinatory landscape, or a futurist backdrop from the 1970s. With Isabel’s work, the experience is not chemical but rather pictorial. Her mushrooms are art of every kind: painting quite obviously, and cinema, and also literature, since she is an avid reader.

Through landscaped abstraction, an evocation of the landscape finds its way into certain abstract paintings, as does the idea of the artistry of the great landscape painters. Like them, Isabel very meticulously chooses each detail of the composition. She seeks a synthesis, an equation, because “everything has to come out true and alive”.

The painting, although resulting from an instinctive flow, excludes any form of improvisation. The act of painting is consequently executed “under the influence of a very strong feeling haunted by colours and shapes”.

For this first exhibition at Valentin gallery, the selection focuses on paintings that Isabel created over the past decade, showing a mature, settled style that runs counter to the commercial flashiness that we know today. Here, the work is on the road, and is constructed in an urgent eruption, “obsessed with rediscovering that moment of encounter with the landscape”.

Philippe Valentin