Emily Sundblad’s fast red monochromes were painted en plein air on a marble balcony of the Hotel Negresco, in Nice, overlooking the iconic Promenade des Anglais. Standing in the mouldy footprints of Matisse, who painted these same views in 1919–1920, Sundblad notates the tough and weedy kitsch of palms like calligraphy. A sort of quick retinal alphabet or painted-out postcard. It’s the summer of COVID19 and, from the clogged beach up to the secluded alcoholic villas in the hills, there’s a faded out, rotten Cote d’Azur glamour-feeling, timeless and indestructible. In 1983, The Hotel Negresco served as the backdrop for Elton John’s 'I’m Still Standing.' Mme Jeanne Augier, the Negresco’s owner who died last year at the age of 95, once told Bill Gates that purchasing the hotel would be well beyond his means. This mouldiness has no price, she meant: a time zone inaccessible to a contemporary technocrat. Amanda Lear got it, and she’s still living it. In Mme Augier’s will, she stated that the hotel must always remain independently owned and most of her fortune was bequeathed to help the poor and animals in need. Her establishment was used as a makeshift hospital for the victims of the terrorist attack on Promenade des Anglais on Bastille Day, 2016.
These paintings are installed behind a glossy red door on which Sundblad has painted an orchid, evoking allmoge—the traditional Swedish 18th century farmer style of decorating utilitarian objects, often with floral motifs. Paintings of roses in plastic glasses, which hang in the downstairs gallery, were made with Edouard Manet’s still life Roses dans un verre à champagne in mind.
Exiled from New York due to travel restrictions, Sundblad has been spending the summer of COVID19 in and around Nice. The works in the exhibition evoke this singular setting, hallucinating the ideal of a unique context from which art can be experienced and socialised. Leopards, a tiger and a monkey join Caroline Blackwood and self-portraits of the artist, hanging around an infinity pool with the Mediterranean hovering in the distance. Here, painting-time is as fast as jotting down notes and as slow as a summer that doesn’t start or end. The problem is how to access contemporary experience and if we can ever find our way back to 'now,' as news of uprisings in the U.S. burn up the phone: is it also now in New York?
Text by John Kelsey. Courtesy Campoli Presti.