IMN #12 — Pascal Boyart
It's Monday Night #12
Tonight, let’s share thoughts about @pascalboyart’s work.
Pascal proposes something that is, to my knowledge, unprecedented in crypto-art history: a radical attempt to re-enact a masterpiece. The Sistine Chapel.
My hypothesis: this reconstruction is somehow a complete failure. But it draws from this failure a staggering power that manages, in a surprising way, to be faithful both to its contemporaries - us - and to the Italian master himself. Let me elaborate.
Behind @pascalboyart's project, there is the seriousness that only a child can show. For it is indeed a kind of whim that we are talking about: reproducing the fresco of the Sistine Chapel - in particular the scene of the last judgment - on the wall of an art squat.
I say it as a compliment: anyone but a child would be discouraged by the thanklessness and magnitude of the task - its excessiveness. There is a slightly heroic and absurd generosity in this enterprise: something that, for the best, reminds me of both Hercules and Don Quixote.
But the project is less crazy than it seems. First of all, because it is based on a very accurate intuition: the space of «la Fonderie» (the name of the place where Pascal recreates the fresco) really evokes an arch, with its deep rectangular structure and its vaulted ceiling.
Then, because the wall itself, by its dimensions and by the positioning of its two windows (a little higher than the center), almost cuts itself following the golden ratio. It could have been built for the execution of a classical iconographic program.
Moreover, @pascalboyart handles his whims in a methodical way. When I say that he reenacts the fresco, it is not an abuse of language.
He changes the scale, resizes the length and width, recomposes the space and the placement of the characters according to the presence of the two windows - which already requires talent.
But he also takes charge of the physical aspect of the realization of the fresco: the patient, meticulous, somehow athletic work, perched on his scaffolding several meters high - as with Michelangelo, the painter's gesture involves the whole body, not just the eye and the hand.
I like to remember that each digitized plot of the Underground Chapel is only the trace of a body struggling against fatigue while balancing above the void. Why was I talking about failure earlier? Well, because I think that Pascal does not fully capture Michelangelo's painting.
This is not a big deal in itself, but there is something less radical, I think, in the Chapel Underground, less modern even, than in the Sistine Chapel itself. It is as if Pascal's fresco looked more like the «Last Judgment» before the restoration (1980-1990).
One does not find these vivid, acidic colors of the original, as if Pascal had not even tried to appropriate the chromatic of Michelangelo.
Moreover, in Michelangelo's work there is a primacy of the outline over the brushstroke: the brushstroke is not pressed, whereas in Pascal's work, the figures are very well drawn, the contrasts are more clearly marked, there are fewer different colors.
This chromatic simplification immediately suggests something of the world of comics. If I were to use a digital metaphor, Michelangelo's fresco seems to me to be on the side of pixel art while Pascal's would be more on the side of the vector image.
This transposition or translation from one pictorial language to another necessarily implies a loss of aura - for a Michelangelo fan like me, it is also a mourning. But don't get me wrong. I am not nostalgic.
I think that Pascal's fresco draws its strength from this failure which I think is partly voluntary and partly dictated by the material conditions of the painting's production. It's not the same technique, it's not the same rendering.
This is also what makes Pascal's Chapelle underground not an academic exercise. I find something really original about this fresco. First, because it is not only a show for the eyes.
For Pascal, it's about exploring how a masterpiece like this one reacts pictorially to a confrontation with another reality: windows that pierce the scene, doors that open and close on a kitchen, faces of certain characters that become those of the inhabitants of the squat, etc.
It's the end of old opposition between, on one side, separation of «Art» and life and, on the other, reduction of art to a pure art of living. With him, masterpieces are made to be mixed with art of living: in our midst, while we have a coffee, practice MMA or play video games.
Valiant desecration. There is something beautiful in the masterpiece reaction to the situation it is confronted with.
The fresco represents the Last Judgment. Its stake is none other than redemption or salvation of these hordes of bodies on the edge of a precipice: eternal damnation - this theme has fascinated artists since the Middle Ages: infernal world, trumpets, perversion of the damned, etc
It is as if Pascal's fresco represented both the universal shipwreck and at the same time the refutation in act of this shipwreck: that the small cosmos of the foundry made possible the realization of this artistic enterprise.
There is indeed an element of optimism in @pascalboyart: the "hellish" part of the fresco is clearly less "hellish" than in the original.
Of course, Pascal «modernizes» the fresco a bit: he hijacks it, but nicely (bank cards, nuclear power plants, etc.), as if hijacking didn't interest him that much. I may be wrong, but I think that Pascal's respect for Michelangelo grew or deepened as the fresco was completed.
And, in my opinion, Pascal was more busy understanding than diverting - he keeps for example the cross and the column (christic symbol), which give to the fresco its symmetry, and which he could easily have diverted.
The funny thing is that @pascalboyart saw the censorship and did not see it everywhere.
He saw that certain scenes in the Last Judgment were in fact retouched orgies; he saw the a posteriori work of concealing the sexes - after Michelangelo's death, someone (Il Braghettone) was hired to cover the genitals in the Last Judgment with vestments and loincloths.
Pascal removes everyone's underwear and returns the bodies to their obscenity.
At the same time, he «feminizes» women's bodies - the breasts, in particular - and changes the gender of certain virile characters who become women in Pascal's work. He chooses to shift the erotic tension and give it a more exuberant and normalized form.
I see something clever and lucid in this gesture, which opens a space for discussion and political criticism.
But, in the end, @pascalboyart cracks something in the painting and perhaps grasps an essential idea in the fact that, if Michelangelo were to repaint it today, he would paint it quite differently.
First, there is the emptiness of the windows, which frame Jesus, and which threaten to suck all the elements that make up the fresco into chaos that no longer even respects the division between top and bottom.
But what has disappeared is the sort of common thread or fate that binds the characters together.
By choosing to tokenize each individual figure separately from the others, he brings out the fragmentation of the world and the individualization of the question of salvation.
At the same time, the close-up singularizes each face and pulls it out of the anonymous mass of an abstract "proletariat" or "plebs".
But it is no coincidence that the nuclear power plant, which in Pascal's fresco causes the contemporary apocalypse, is a technology based precisely on the cracking of the atom.
P.S.: this underground Chapel is made to be seen at dusk with artificial light.