For Ernest Hemingway, an American in Paris, Paris was 'a moveable feast'. For Jean-Philippe Delhomme, a Frenchman in Los Angeles, Los Angeles is a language.
For the first time, Perrotin Paris presents a series of paintings by Jean-Philippe Delhomme. Known for his illustrations, Delhomme offers us Los Angeles Language, an exhibition inspired by a prolonged stay in the American city and comprising about fifty small format oil paintings based on photographic snapshots.
Jean-Philippe Delhomme is above all a man of letters. Language occupies a primordial place throughout his work. Stories underpin his illustrations, which humorously and tenderly feature protagonists at the crossroads of different social circles. He began his relationship with the United States with his famous illustrations for the store Barney’s, publicity campaigns from 1993–1995 that remain pertinent nearly thirty years later. In Los Angeles Language, he explores his perception of the 'new world' in a more silent manner than in the social commentaries that mark his work for the press.
For years, Delhomme has been pursuing his practice as a painter, keeping it private until 2015 with an initial exhibition in New York. He paints scenes devoid of all human presence, based on direct observation of the urban landscape of major cities like New York, Paris and Los Angeles. His perspective on these cities bears witness to the coalescence of past, present and future that the architectural fabric manifests through these environments in constant transformation: the industrial building threatened by demolition to make way for a new apartment block captures his attention, and his 'vistas' are charged with literary and artistic references. Delhomme’s landscape participates in an authorly perception which serves as the common thread between the different forms of expression that he masters: drawing, writing and painting.
The exhibition is based on suites of paintings in small format that initiate potential narratives by capturing the wonder of fleeting moments perceived in passing. Indeed, Los Angeles is a city that we discover from the point of view of a car: we walk very little there, instead taking the freeways to go from Santa Monica to Silver Lake or from Bel Air to Downtown. For a foreigner, the city, with which we are familiar from film imagery, has an air of déjà-vu about it. For Delhomme, the references are oriented less towards the world of cinema than towards the work of artists who have expressed the signs of California: Ed Ruscha, who catalogued his 'Twentysix Gasoline Stations' and 'Thirtyfour Parking Lots' in Los Angeles in the 1960s; David Hockney and the luminous hedonism of his Hollywood villas; and Chris Burden’s maximal constructions in Metropolis, or his radical performances of the 1970s. Photographers such as William Eggleston, Lee Friedlander, Garry Winogrand, Julius Shulman, Robert Frank and Dennis Hopper guide Delhomme’s gaze when he traverses the city at the wheel of his rental car—at once on the periphery and at the center, and always in movement. His pictorial approach also borrows as much from the imaginary world developed by certain avant-garde artists of the sixties and seventies—notably in the choice of scenic framing and the banality of the urban landscape—as from American representational painters such as Milton Avery or Fairfield Porter, in his commitment to an expressive figuration of the real.
The paintings presented on the second floor of the gallery are small format oils, with the exception of a few canvases created in hindsight in his New York atelier. They were executed without sketches or preliminary drawings, based on photos taken in the car, unlike the views of New York or Paris that Delhomme painted by directly observing the landscape in person. The photo, which serves to capture an instant from a car window, is as much a tool as an aide-mémoire and the paintings are in no way photorealist in nature. Their small format and their serial presentation evoke the discursive structure of a travel diary and the operational mode of a lexical index of the title Los Angeles Language. Delhomme offers a vocabulary of the city in which the representation of the car is key. The car is at once a signifier that communicates 'mythologies' (Roland Barthes’ DS), and a sculpture in itself (John Chamberlain). The grids in the small paintings representing cars against a lost white background function like portraits of the real inhabitants of Los Angeles.
Press release courtesy Perrotin.