MASSIMODECARLO is pleased to present an exhibition of new works by French artist Jean-Marie Appriou, inaugurating the gallery's new London space, an eighteenth-century building at 16 Clifford Street in Mayfair. Ophelia is Appriou’s first solo presentation with the gallery, and his debut exhibition in the UK.
“If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro' narrow chinks of his cavern.” William Blake
Crafted using an experimental approach to working with metal, clay and other materials alongside great technical skill, Appriou’s works evoke archaic forms that intertwine contemporary, mythological and futuristic worlds.
An ode to the passing of time and to the possibility of otherworldly dimensions, his current exhibition finds its inspiration in Victorian artist Sir John Everett Millais’ painting of Ophelia (1851-52, Tate; London), a character from William Shakespeare's play Hamlet, who tragically drowns in a river. A ghostly figure, Ophelia appears hauntingly calm, singing as she is submerged by the water’s surface. Barely afloat, she seems cradled by the stream, her languid, graceful body surrounded by nature: a weeping willow and a constellation of jewel-like flowers uphold and crush her all at once as she surrenders, palms facing the sky, in an ultimate act of love and abandonment.
Fascinated by the painting’s morose mysticism, Appriou elaborates on its hypnotic ambiguity. More than a representation of death, he sees Ophelia as the allegory of passing, from one state to the next, perhaps from life to death, or from reality towards a parallel dimension. Just like English poet William Blake’s ‘doors of perception’ behind which infinity is concealed, Appriou’s exhibition is an invitation to peer through those doors, guiding the viewer into a space where time and consciousness are suspended mid-air, or barely afloat, like Ophelia.
Upheld by the undulating water, Appriou’s hand-moulded sculptures of Ophelia capture both fluidity and stillness. He plays with liquidity, turning the water’s ripples into solid, concentric circles. Reinterpreting the mystery of Ophelia’s destiny by refusing to see is as a tragic event, he reveals the poetry of her gesture.
A clear departure from romanticized Pre-Raphaelite renderings of femininity, Appriou’s versions of Ophelia harbour exaggerated noses, ears and eyes to resemble animal-like, amphibian creatures. Just like Queen Gertude’s description of Ophelia as a “new mermaid” when she announces her death in Hamlet Act IV: Scene 7, Ophelia becomes hybrid, oscillating between the animal and human kingdoms.
As much as Ophelia is the centre of the exhibition, nature is its beating heart. Bursting with life, an enormous dragonfly hovers on the floor, aluminium waterlilies on mirror-like waterbeds float in their frames; and a weeping willow stands gracefully alone, overtly referencing Sir John Everett Millais’ Ophelia painting.
Deeply experimental, Appriou’s work is a constant search for new formal possibilities, which he explores through relentless experimentation. By creating uncanny familiar forms, whether animal or human, Appriou has developed a unique, almost alchemical approach to creation, to give life to his very own mythology.