“You know that place between sleep and awake, that place where you still remember dreaming?” (- J.M. Barrie Peter Pan) That’s the place where Jules de Balincourt’s curious paintings come to life.
Currently populating the walls of Victoria Miro’s Mayfair gallery, de Balincourt imbues his work with the same feeling you might have when waking up from a deep sleep in a woozy haze. Filled with snaking rivers, moonlit beaches and glowing caves, de Balincourt’s paintings begin life as a series of abstract forms in acid-bright colours that slowly transform through his own intuition into scenes from memories and dreams.
And just like dreams when the story, place and time of day can change in an instant, these paintings have something of the fantastical about them. They drift somewhere between reality and make-believe.
This all makes perfect sense when you hear that de Balincourt grew up in California, the home state of the ultimate fantasy realm: Hollywood. Born in Paris, de Balincourt bounced around several countries as a child before eventually settling in the hills of Malibu. So, it only follows that de Balincourt’s work became awash with pastoral landscapes from the Wild West of America’s golden state.
But beware – paradise has some dark secrets. De Balincourt’s wistful dreamscapes are rooted in some bitter home truths about the USA right now (we’re looking at you Donald Trump). In one of the more explicit paintings from the Victoria Miro show called ‘Repeated Histories’, de Balincourt pictures a Trump caricature – orange-faced, overweight and with a tie that stretches down to his ankles – waggling a finger at an assembly line of African American men. This doesn’t feel like a dream anymore. Suddenly we’re wide-awake.
As an outsider in America, De Balincourt has never shied away from targeting dark social and political home truths to spike his work with something that doesn’t slip down very easily. As a young arts graduate in New York he was painting images of white hotel guests being served by brown-skinned waiters, but fifteen years on these themes have become a little more cryptic and ambiguous.
In the title work of the show ‘They Cast Long Shadows’ it’s all fee-fi-fo-fum on the city sidewalk where gigantic figures, who could be skyscrapers themselves, tower over the people below. Elsewhere looming idols of worship emerge from the gloom, seated figures huddle together in effervescent caves and in ‘If Trees Spoke and We Listened’, a densely packed forest of trees becomes a jostling crowd.
Jules de Balincourt, Installation view: Jules de Balincourt: They Cast Long Shadows 19 January – 24 March 2018, Victoria Miro Mayfair, 14 St George Street, London W1S 1FE, © Jules de Balincourt, Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London / Venice
With a few major solo exhibitions under his belt and the patronage of both the original King-maker Charles Saatchi and Victoria Miro on his side, de Balincourt is a name we should all be keeping a close eye on. Mysterious and meditative, it’s easy to get lost in a land faraway through de Balincourt’s vision of the world and yet still leave with a strange taste of dissidence somewhere in the back of your throat.
Words by Claire Philips
Jules de Balincourt: They Cast Long Shadows, until 24 March 2018 at Victoria Miro, Mayfair, London W1S 1FH