Splotches of a structured nature – Michel Huelin


“Painted photographs” or “paintings of photographs,” Michel Huelin’s pieces are not only the elements of a response to those who feared that photography would kill painting one day, they also constitute fundamental work on pigment and color. For the artist is pursuing a career in painting on the sly, even if over the years he has assimilated the new technologies that the advent of the computer gradually introduced. Dividing his time for years between two distinct studios – one in Geneva for painting, the other in Lausanne for digital work – Huelin has struck a balance by producing images that are representative of our world – images infused with an artistic heritage while at the same time being anchored in the present since they are created by state-of-the-art software. These two ways of developing work – apparently mismatched, even contradictory – perfectly complement one another in fact, giving rise to novel combinations proving that despite current digital means, it is still hard to do without the direct connection with pigment when creating images.

Extending his custom of running different visual sources into one another, Huelin’s new productions display plastic qualities that deliberately confuse our understanding of the image with an unmistakable taste for overstatement. Depth, perspective, and space are taken over at times by broad patches of paint and at other moments by a play of transparency, superimpositions, or inconsistencies becoming more or less abstract depending on the abrupt shifts of scale engineered by the artist. From splotches of paint to landscapes to decorative or structured worlds, unexpected combinations arise, pointing up the accidents – be it a splash of paint or a software glitch. The unforeseen and the improbable upend reality far from our expectations. Tinged with a dreamlike quality, these places are devoid of any human or animal presence, yet identifiable, even occasionally familiar, a horizon line often filling in for a minimal landmark or point of reference – the buildings, nevertheless, do evince human life – and yet they are never clearly defined. While Huelin’s patchworks don’t seek to develop a narrative, they do seem to belong to a register that is willingly open to projections.

Even though we confer on photography the ability to record reality, in these works it is painting, present or suggested, modified, wiped away, or left to itself, that often proves to be the most real element because of its pigment or thickness, whether actual or suggested, and because of its shadow, its memory, its brief presence there. The artist ponders the level of intelligibility of his images and the reality of the vision, a fundamental question in a society in which information circulates essentially through visual channels. Manipulation is the watchword and makes it possible not only to present the reflections of a collection of the innumerable images that have been generated by computers for years now, but also to show how colors produced in a studio can eventually stand out on a photographic print through a scan and put manual, mechanical, and digital tools on an equal footing. Michel Huelin absorbs the excess ink that is generally relegated to the status of a spill or stain and inserts it in compositions that enable technique and imagination to make nature a vast field where things come together, notably with architecture. It is an exercise that commits him to constantly pursuing one objective only, the questioning of painting.

Karine Tissot May 2016