Essay by Hunter Drohojowska-Philp

[From the Abstraction & Architecture exhibition catalog]

Frédéric Caillard: Monumental Memories

Three years after painting his 2008 series Territories — outlines of countries, islands, even individual states in America — Frédéric Caillard took on the topic of Monuments. Strasbourg Cathedral, Sagrada Familia, Eiffel Tower, his paintings of such monuments had been represented by many artists in previous centuries who depicted them realistically, rendered with the illusion of three dimensions on a two-dimensional surface, usually a canvas. Caillard cast away such illusions in his art, making us question the illusion of purpose in monuments themselves. He reduces monuments to two-dimensional outlines, like pieces of a puzzle. He further flattens any literal significance by applying layers of paint, dragging each color across the surfaces of the wooden panels. The identifiable shapes become supports for broad luscious spreads of color.

When it came to Los Angeles, Caillard chose the Hollywood sign, a city monument that was already reduced to two-dimensions yet was as iconic a symbol as any edifice of brick or steel. In this decision, Caillard points to a shift from the 20th to the 21st century, a shift from solidity to immateriality, from concrete ideals to relative beliefs. The Hollywood sign, once advertising a real estate development, then becoming synonymous with the movie business, is itself a series of cut-out letters. Caillard’s letters are covered in his unique paint technique. It connects to the Pop-era art of Ed Ruscha, one of the artists most associated with L.A. However, Caillard enlarges the word Hollywood to a scale and substance closer in keeping with the original.

Thinking of Hollywood’s history may have led to Caillard’s recent Celluloid paintings, elongated rectangular panels with sprocket holes along the sides emulating film strips. Film, that miraculous medium of 20th century dreams, is barely in use any more, an artifact of the past as much as monuments.

These facts are large for Caillard, who has worked as a film critic. In layering colors, wiping and adjusting his paint in grand strokes, Caillard is utilizing a technique that embraces both planning and spontaneity. The surfaces may be entirely abstract but meanings are conferred by the suggestive shapes. Caillard is bringing his own content to forms that are being emptied by passing time, appealing to both our nostalgic yearning for history and our search for sustenance in the present and future.

Hunter Drohojowska-Philp