There's one painting here that you have to see. It's Deplazes' ode to Hodler and Swiss symbolism, Hirsch und Weisse Weite (2020). It's almost a parody. In the foreground is a deer, so close to the viewer that it appears as if it might be able to step from the picture into the room. In the background, there is a Hodler-inspired landscape of auratic snow-covered mountains bathed in the pink light of a sunset. The content and the title of the image would, at first glance, seem almost provocatively conservative: hirsch, snow field, mountain. Except that the world is just a little out of joint. As a colourist (can you even write "as a colourist" in art criticism anymore?), Deplazes is incredibly sensitive, and the colours in this painting seep anxiety. The horizon is literally askew, as if we are looking at a painting based on a photo taken with an unsteadily held camera. And the deer, well, its flesh has the tone of a naked mole rat that has spent its life in the lab, not the gamey muscle you'd expect of an animal that has lived its life in the wild. Its eyes are swivelled back with alarm, and it appears to be trying to frantically reverse away from the shock of who it sees in the gallery, as if you look worse than it does, rather than placidly going about its business. It's as if the protagonists of the Geistige Landesverteidigung got a prophetic vision of the contemporary Swiss scene and, well, freaked out.
It seems as good a painting as any to announce a new phase of a career. Deplazes has just been taken on by Kilchmann, and this is his first solo show with them. He graduated from the ZHDK in 2016, and has since lived in Brussels and Marseilles. What makes him particularly interesting as a painter is that he has clearly been educated in how to look, but he hasn't yet decided how to paint. There's a voracious visual curiosity in his works, in the way that he presents fish heads, the empty plains before mountains or the growth of rank vegetation. And yet the images appear to continually change technique. On some canvases he switches between brushes, his fingers, solvents and sticks in order to get the colour on. And when he's switching, it's not so much to show that he doesn't care what technique he uses to get his effect—he's not Vittorio Brodmann—rather, it really looks as if Deplazes is struggling to work something out, something difficult and best worked out through paint.
And what is this difficult question? It's probably something existential. You can tell it's got something to do with existentialism, because the heads of his figures tend to range from "a bit blobby" to "terrifying vortex", even though the objects around them are weirdly concrete and persuasive in their texture. As if things are real, but the subjects who perceive them are terrifyingly fluid.
Andriu Deplazes: Fluoresce, Galerie Peter Kilchmann, Zürich
6 March – 22 May 2020
Images: Andriu Deplazes, Kletternde, 2020, Hirsch und weisse Weite, 2020, courtesy of the artist and Galerie Peter Kilchmann, Zurich
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