“I construct time”

Since the Renaissance, painting has been considered “a window on the world” : the canvas is seen as an opening onto a landscape, a seascape, a portrait. The situation evolved in the 20th century with abstract painting, which proposed a frontal approach as an alternative to the window.  A work no longer necessarily constituted an opening towards the exterior, but, strangely, towards the interior: the artist was facing a wall onto which he projected his instincts, sometimes violently. This reflection, starting in the 40’s, was synthesized in 1951 in the Paris exhibition “Véhémences confrontées” (vehemences confronted), that brought together for the first time European artists (Hartung, Mathieu, Fautrier…) and American artists (Pollock, Tobey…) under the aegis of the art critic Michel Tapié. Under the heading of abstract expressionism, informal art or again tachism, the canvas came to be seen as an arena, a space for conflict between the artist and himself, his art, or society.

Antoni Tàpies invested himself deeply in the metaphor of the wall. Denis De Mot puts himself in Tàpies’ wake. This is not a space for impulsive projection. If one pursues the image of the arena, the artist is rather to be found on the side of the ring, at the foot of the tribunes, placing his hands on the surrounding wall. So he touches the texture, searching for cracks, stains of dried blood or sweat, holes driven in by the bulls’ horns.

If the work shows traces of having been passed through, these are not traces of the artist’s inner conflict, but the more insidious ones left by time. One almost forgets that a human hand has created these paintings, so natural they seem.

The traces of time constitute the vocabulary of the painter : a network of cracks, scratches, rusty prints cover a meticulous succession of layers. This is the technique elaborated by Denis De Mot. The artist superimposes layers of gouache and acrylic on PVC boards, sometimes more than twenty of them, to which he sometimes returns in the manner of an archaeologist, scratching the surface to reveal one or another of the previous layers. In the end, the work brings up ancient states of being, as though they had crossed through the ages. As the painter says, “I construct time”.

Time : this is surely the key to this work that speaks to our memory of the past. There is no precise image represented in order to dictate a particular feeling. Rather, the many traces, even the lines of paint that the artist puts on his compositions, seem to function like guides in the meanderings of our personal memory, in the manner of a mental topography. Here we call up tenuous, sensory memories. Nothing precise, but diffuse feelings. In refusing figurative representation, the work opens to the imaginary. In the arena whose walls have been drawn by Denis De Mot, it is the spectator who is in the centre of the space, confronted by his memories. Far from the present-day primacy of the “all new”, Denis De Mot’s painting, between wear and cracks, awakens us to a poetics of the passage of time.

Adrien Grimmeau, art historian
December 2007