Essay by Rachel Hooper

[Essay written for the exhibition Europe – USA at the Council of Europe in March 2013]


Frederic Caillard is a unique, emerging voice in European painting, which he is pushing toward a paradoxical state that is neither abstract nor concrete, neither entirely expressive nor mechanical. A formal and metaphorical ambiguity imbues his images with an intense resonance, whose vibrations may threaten to break apart the coherence of his compositions. Yet the works hold together beautifully, seeming almost innocuous as they hang in a series on the wall. At first glance, his Territories series appears to be nothing more than familiar images of national borders– England, Belgium, and various states and provinces. But the iconic nature of the paintings’ outlines belies the visual complexity of their surfaces. The layers and undulating textures of paint that one can see as one moves close to any single painting, allowing it to fill one’s vision, allude to an abstract, unreal dimension to the artworks and the borders they depict.

Caillard begins his process by cutting a wood panel to the shape of each territory, faithfully reproducing every nuance of the border in the amorphous edges of the wood. A thick layer of oil paint, usually of a bright, commercial color, is then applied to the surface. At this stage, the painting resembles a political map, which in fact is nothing more than a two-dimensional rendering of a socially-determined invisible boundary that traverses the landscape as it moves over mountains, across fields, and around bodies of water. Caillard calls this base layer of paint a “matrix,” and as soon as he lays it down, he disregards any correlation to the territory he has circumscribed. Instead, he marks the board as his own by sculpting the thick paint into ridges, mounds, flat planes, and circular swipes that form their own graphic presence, which is not any way contingent on the territory he originally outlined. The resulting texture is further emphasized by additional layers of oil paint, usually in colors that complement the matrix layer, that are applied and wiped away in succession as each layer dries. The visual effect is something between a geological survey map and the thick layering of an abstract expressionist painting. Caillard thus marks the territory of his painting as his own, a subjective experience of paint and gesture that calls into question any claims of neutrality and permanence in regards to the geopolitical borders that define his surfaces.

Rachel Hooper

Rachel Hooper is a curator for the Austin Museum of Art and the Blaffer Art Museum in Texas