1883 Magazine
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Sometimes we spend a whole life trying to find our path; other times fate just gets the better of all the plans, leaving us struck on our personal road to Damascus. We never know when our “date with destiny” will take place. In the case of Philippe Pasqua – a prominent French artist who knows how to look into our souls like few others – his fatal rendezvous took place one afternoon, after school. “I was walking down the street and I saw in a window the frontcover of a book on Francis Bacon; it caught my eye and literally blew me away” – he tells us. “At that time I didn’t know anything about art, but I suddenly realised I wanted to be an artist. That very day I went back home and I started painting; little by little I learnt all the techniques.”

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 With patience and dedication, he has become one of the most noteworthy painters of his generation, a flagship of many international art collections and undisputed star of equally numerous exhibitions all over the world. Strongly influenced by artists such as the aforementioned Bacon, Lucian Freud and Jenny Saville, Pasqua has come to develop a unique and greatly personal style, which earned him the reputation of “painter with no fathers”. His pictorial approach has been effectively defined as spontaneous realism, unfolding through a series of brush strokes, mainly monopolized by vibrant and intense red and blue. 

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It is in large-sized portraits that Pasqua’s technique reveals all its emotional intensity – “a punch of rare strength” as described by David Rosenberg –  which aims to get beneath the skin of the model, while revealing his or her flesh – a term, and a practice, which strongly recalls the work of master Bacon. “I always wanted to do portraits” – he admits. “I only portrait people who somehow attract me, people I have a good feeling with”. His subjects are among the most diverse – friends, relatives, children, transexuals, blind people and people suffering from down syndrome – but the intention is constantly the same: to reveal the forces “modeling” the flesh, bringing out the intensity of human expressions, the vulnerability and fragility of bodies and faces. “How do you get this out of me”, is what many of the models ask him when they see the canvasses. The effect is consistently amplified by the monumental size of the canvases, before which Pasqua confides he always feels a certain awe. “You never know what’s gonna happen – he says. “Sometimes you control the brush, other times it’s just the brush that controls you.”

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Alongside the paintings, his large drawings employ a more gentle style which attempts to outline a delicate texture – a vibration, we might say –  rather than unveil the intimacy of the flesh, without losing any of its strength and effectiveness. The full-bodied painting gives way to an evanescent touch: the dense matter of the canvases turns into a rarefied mist, an halo enclosing bodies and faces.

If the main concern of Pasqua is to reveal what lies beyond the surface of the “human exterior”, worthy of mention is certainly the series called Vanitas, featuring human skulls – whose symbolic meaning is perfectly clear – often covered with leaves of silver and gold. Among these works, of greatest impact are a silver-covered crane adorned with butterflies – “symbolizing the soul leaving the body”, he tells us – and a giant marble skull covered with tattoos.

Philippe Pasqua Solo Exhibition – hosted by the highly renowned Opera Gallery – provides for the first time in the UK a priceless insight into Pasqua’s recent work, focusing in particular on his latest drawings and skull sculptures. A unique opportunity to get acquainted with one of the most outstanding artists of recent years; simply unmissable.

Philippe Pasqua exhibition will be running until February 15th at Opera Gallery, 134 New Bond Street, London W1S 2TF.

A very special thanks goes out to Lino Meoli for translating our questions.

Words By Jacopo Nuvolari

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