Text by Andria Hickey
“It is as if this art wanted the gaze to shine, the object to stand, the real to exist, in all the glory (or the horror) of its pulsatile desire, or at least to evoke this sublime condition” Hal Foster, The Return of the Real
While Nicolas Grenier’s portraits, are at first glance, seductive paintings of images you might find in a Larry Clark inspired fashion feature, there is much more at stake in the cinematic blossomings of these figurative works.
Grenier is fundamentally interested in the construction of popular images, how notions of style and beauty are worked into being and then sold, consumed and accepted as authentic. Using strategies of Superrealism, Grenier’s portraits exploit a photographic vocabulary of illusion while simultaneously denying the reproductive possibilities of the photographic image. Grenier is not simply interested in deconstructing the commodified visual representation of the body as young and seductive. Rather, his portraits renegotiate the authenticity of his own media influenced youth culture.
Each of Grenier’s portraits is filtered through the same technology used in the advertisements he sees as mirrors for his peers. Grenier takes on the role of director, setting a stage for his models, who are also his friends, for impromptu, nightlong photo-shoots. He takes hundreds of photos, looking for images that might be able to conjure up an aura lost in the overwhelming simulacrum of the contemporary visual landscape. Grenier transforms his photographs into digital images to generate the ink-jet print he reproduces using a projection of the image on the canvas. The result is cinematic, super saturated hues, figures staged in an uncanny light. They appear real and illusory, often giving the impression of a film still. The cropping of the images suggests a character framed in a scene, amplifying a cinematic effect most evident in his series of large-scale portraits, L’étrangeté du réel, exhibited at the Festival International de Musique Actuelle in Victoriaville in 2005. Here, his large-scale portraits, dimly lit against a black backdrop, hung like film projections mediating the empty space of the auditorium with the disconcerting gaze of the stylishly disenchanted.
In Portraits, Grenier continues to explore the relationship between the contemporary visual environment and the figurative representation of youth. Like many other contemporary artists, Grenier’s representation of youth is an idea suffused with the ideologies of society at large. At 24, Grenier is himself aware of the possibilities of being both a mirror for society and a reflection projected in the visual culture of the everyday. His cinematic portraits simultaneously investigate the charged space between photography and painting, popular culture and the avant-garde in an effort to re-appropriate the simulated image in his own reconstruction of the real. Both subject and object, the gaze of his figures confrontationally challenge the viewer to respond to their presence, making it impossible to simply pass by as if it were just another glossy spread.