study for “Thermopylae”

charcoal, white chalk, 28x22cm

This study, like straight out of Rodin’s ‘’Gates of Hell’’ – one can think oft he actual meaning of “Thermopylae” (“Hot Gates”) -, and conceived as a bas-relief, shows a colossal and monstrous figure, which seems sketched via brush strokes, holding in its arms a dislocated puppet. The enormous mass is on the cusp of strangling the inanimate body, which the abandoned head arises from the composition and its frame – a strong relief, here, so. Thanks to the title, one of course think of Xerxes I who vanquished Leonidas at the Battle of Thermopylae, thanks to a traitor, in 480 BC. This terrifying group, haunted by the ghosts of the dead Greek warriors, and highly Dantean, sublimes the paintings of Goya, Delacroix, is a counterpart of ‘’Guernica’’, and speaks of sculpture more than of drawing. Hence it convokes Rodin’s œuvre, though it departs from this model, thanks to the economy of means it unveils. The style is not an expressionist one, as a strange lull sets in on the dramatic scene. It escapes the easy references to the antiques groups, but also the Renaissance – including Mannerist – ones, or Baroque ones, and, if it refers to Cubism, it is precisely to compose an extension of what the movement has opened, not and in any way to copy its style.The barbarian Xerxes, his head covered by a huge tuft of hair, is only defined by broad-brush and primary elements, as to highlight the victory of ‘’unculture’’ on the refined Greek one. Enigmatic shadows, made of a cryptic and uncanny white – a ‘’blank” white -, emerge from the lower part of the composition and deploy, it seems, progressively, on the surface of the black composition, lighting sparkles in Leonidas’ head but also impacting Xerxes’ one. One can think one more time of the dead Greek warriors, coming to recover the body of the Spartan hero, but also of the next victories the Greek will overwhelm over their enemies. Here, the artist drew in reverse, from black hatched areas to line rather than drawing and then erasing line beneath dark. This scene, speaking of a defeat due to treason, involves also a great hope. Both monstrosity and a strange quietude imbue this work, which escapes, at last, any past model to give way to a new kind of creating, stunningly.

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