Marie Zolamian’s paintings at the gallery Nadja Vilenne in Liège transport us into an imaginary and oneiric universe made of hybrid creatures, faces and masks or chimerical landscapes. Over the last two years, the artist has been particularly interested in medieval miniatures and the paintings she offers us in this exhibition are imbued with these references. But if we had to situate them in a temporality, it would be that of that particular and daily moment between waking and sleeping, on the borders of dreams. Then, a body can become a tree, the landscape can turn into wallpaper and the tiled wall can be inhabited with faces.
The artist confided to me that most of these paintings have their origin in the resonance between medieval painting and the world in which we live and, above all, in the pleasure of deepening the painting: a new tube of colour that the artist wants to experience can be the beginning of a painting. If each painting carries within it a dimension that is both disturbing and familiar, it also bears witness to great jubilation. The strange creatures that populate these paintings or the singular spaces they describe are above all arrangements of colour and form, painting. The backgrounds are always deployed, often becoming the support for repeated motifs. Some of them are made up of dots arranged with a certain regularity or scattered randomly, they can also be transformed into faces or flowers, thus joining the vocabulary of the grotesques of the Renaissance. And all of this produces a real enjoyment of colour: dominant greens and blues are punctuated by yellow and orange shapes, or an ochre figure stands out against an almost transparent black background. Here, the background of the painting made of luminous yellows and greens is framed by vegetal motifs, while in the centre half-human, half-animal forms engage in a strange bacchanal. Here, the background of deep greens and blues is dotted with small, luminous and acidic lines, a pink silhouette spreads out across the painting and clear, pinkish and bluish lines cover the whole.
Here again the painting appears almost abstract: a grey-blue mass adjoins a cut-out shape of a warm brown, and in the middle of the lower edge there are two tips of bare feet.
Marie Zolamian is a multifaceted artist, practicing installation, video and painting. With this exhibition she demonstrates that she is also a true painter. (Colette Dubois)
Faithful to Nadja Vilenne, Marie Zolamian (Beirut, 1975 – lives and works in Liège) presents some forty recent works in which we find all the components of her inimitable style. Paintings as so many imaginary peregrinations through her identity territories.
With a soft fragility, her works feature prominently small formats. Small canvases that the artist sees herself as so many fragments that could be assembled. Very instinctive, the painter shares her artistic will to get out of the border, getting rid of the frame or forcing it to unusual shapes. On the canvas, a slow and patient work rooted in the history of art: Marie Zolamian draws her inspiration from Persian and Oriental miniatures, from the Flemish Primitives, but also from emblematic personalities such as Puvis de Chavannes, Matisse, Balthus, Le Douanier Rousseau, Cézanne… Her pieces multiply the references. Sometimes we find the symbolist delicacy of the Pre-Raphaelites, sometimes the power of contrasts, vivacious and sharp, dear to the Fauves. A very open approach which borrows as much from Eastern as from Western history, in which the artist collects and recomposes according to the sense of the moment.
Her works are crossed by fractures, between more worked fragments and sketched elements, between motifs of different scales, between the construction of the abstract in the background mixed with more figurative pieces. It is all about contrasts and balance, subtle, which offers a real depth to its subjects in which something is definitely happening. These fractures also contribute to the strange character of the dialogue that takes place at the heart of the canvas. An exchange that echoes the intimate conversation that the artist maintains with her painting. And for good reason: the latter guides the painter towards her inspiration. Marie Zolamian works slowly and in successive layers, waiting to see what will emerge. The painting dictates the sequel, reserves its own surprises, calling the brushes to complete a form, a shadow, a colour gets outlined. A long process of maturation in which intuition is omnipresent. From then on, the difficulty is to determine when the work is finished. Usually, when the dialogue is finished between the painting and the artist… hence the need to be patient. Here again, the painting defines its time, the time it needs to be born. Sometimes, it is by decontextualizing the work (a process that renews the gaze) that she nourishes – or not – the certainty of having reached the final point.
Also, Marie Zolamian favours a great freedom of reading, skillfully blurring the paths by carefully avoiding any exact representations. A motif can be read and interpreted as liquid or solid, as a mountain or water… Confusion invites itself to detach itself from the unique interpretation. It is the juxtaposition with the surrounding elements that makes sense for one, meaning for the other. In this way, everyone stays free to compose their own story, to see plants or just nervous features in the background.
The show ends with the presentation of a few loose pages of sketchbooks. Fragments of ideas. Papers of an extreme intimacy… for if the artist readily admits that parting with her paintings is part of a certain logic, there is here something of dispossession, almost visceral, to come apart of one’s scribbles, which convey a pure thought, a spontaneous emotion, a very instinctive idea whose sincere brilliance will never be seen again. (Gwenaëlle Gribaumont)