Denis Piel’s photographs, under the title of “Essence” are exhibited at Rove gallery on two floors. The bottom floor has three different areas, with large windows beautifully opening up on the leafy Hoxton Square. The first floor consists in a smaller room leading to the large industrial-like space with roof windows that provide the ideal soft lighting for artworks.
Several wall texts, disseminated in the whole exhibition, help the visitor contextualise the artist and his work: a
French artist who has been working in New York alongside the giants of fashion photography, but who has also been escaping to less urbanised places of this world. He is looking for “truth” in what he photographs, for “real” moments.
On the ground floor, you are first drawn in by very large-scale matte prints, one of a woman’s face, the other of a pubis in close-up. This interesting start sums up some of the themes of this exhibition: an overwhelming representation of the human body, mostly nude, but also a search for the “essence” of things, be it by showing faces or by showing close-ups.
The subject matter of the photographs in this exhibition may be varied – portraits, nudes, fashion, still-lives, intimate scenes… – but the unity of this body of work is very well underlined. I admire the choice of the curator of not grouping the images by theme or by technique in any way. Celebrity portraits neighbour a showing of flesh, a hand, a rocky beach. The natural environment blends in with the naked bodies.
An assortment of tiny glossy colour Polaroids accompanies a gigantic, black and white, powdery “giclée pigment archival print”. The play on scale and texture thereby created is quite fun. Denis Piel really seems to have explored all the photographic technologies available to him at different times in his life. He also seems to never remain stuck with a particular style: some pictures require gloss and large size, some don’t, and sometimes the chosen scale is counterintuitive to the subject of the image – the larger than life pubic hairs downstairs really make you think about the relationship between intimacy and scale… As far as texture is concerned, I was particularly struck by the juxtaposition of highly glossy colour prints with the fascinating matte portrait of Charlotte Rampling, looking straight into your eyes.
The recurring theme of the woman and her body also contribute to unifying the exhibition. Flesh, thighs, breasts, backs are exposed to the viewer, remarkably blurring the boundaries between private and professional lives. Which of these pictures were made on assignment, and which are personal snapshots? The aesthetic of the intimate is of course used in the fashion shoots, but mind you, there is very little clothing to be seen in this exhibition (this 2012 article talks a bit more about that). I actually appreciated not being able to determine for which purpose each picture had been originally made.
Worth a visit if you fancy discovering many facets of Denis Piel’s sexualised world…
Denis Piel | Essence | 11 April – 9 May 2013 | Kenny Schachter / Rove, Hoxton Square