Benoît Trimborn’s exhibit at the Places des Vosges
By Madison Mainwaring
It’s strange that words are so inadequate,
And yet we go on trying to compel them to our service
Though all words fail us, even falsify our meaning
T.S. Eliot, The Elder Statesman
We are stuck with the stuff of the world—the materials, the concrete items which govern and clutter our days. They can be sluggish and dull. Although language, as a constructed means of communication, is different from physical matter, it takes on the same exhausted effect, becoming tired and dull from over-use. Words are repeated carelessly and so lose their meaning, their expression becoming ineffective. Both the corporeal and linguistic worlds are limited; sometimes they do not provide enough. Their constraints are most severely felt when one is trying to communicate, and the medium falls short of capturing an idea in its true form.
Benoît Trimborn met me at the Galerie Ariel Sibony in the Place des Vosges. His landscape paintings are spread across the wall-space of two clean white rooms. M. Trimborn wears glasses and is dressed in black, with nimble hands he uses to gesture softly while speaking. We exchange introductions, then sit down for the interview. I bring out my phone and ask if it’s ok for me to record the session. He says yes, but on the condition that I use my own words in recounting his ideas—no direct transcriptions.
The request is made with a keen awareness of the limitations of words, their potential interference in our memory and ideas. M. Trimborn is not at a loss for words—quite the contrary: he speaks eloquently, with rhythmic suspensions and pauses in his voice. Yet while speaking of his practice, he does not explain it entirely away, telling me that aspects of the work cannot be grasped in speech.
And perhaps words are not so necessary. He has, after all, expressed himself in paint with an urgency evident in the gesture of his brush strokes. What he has captured in canvas is striking. I’m moved by his work, but I think the crux of such emotion will remain hidden from fully articulated language. One must instead just look at the painting and see. I’m writing this out, but cautiously, noting that the ultimate understanding will be made between painting and viewer rather than reader and commentary.
At a distance, the images look effortless: brief moments in a forest, in a wheat field, inebriated by light. They capture a glimpse of outdoor sensation. Upon closer inspection of the texture, the work involved becomes evident—swift, relentless strokes repeated, an elaborate choreography of colors and tints.
M. Trimborn’s work can be described as impressionistic in gesture; it communicates an impression of a scene. He does not, however, follow in the tradition of working en plein air, in an open space copying directly from the landscape. Instead, rendering the point or moment of inspiration comes first. This requires work in the studio, with the time and tools available indoors. The medium is wrought to its full capacity in order to communicate that which has been felt and experienced, that which has inspired. The artist interacts with his matériaux (the paint he uses, the scene he draws from), and so shapes them according to his vision.
The landscapes appear to depict nature in its purest form. No discernible silhouettes can be found in the fields or woodlands. As the viewer, one is asked to contemplate a scene devoid of a manifested human presence. Yet, as M. Trimborn tells me, the relationship between the human and the natural is more complex.
Look, for example, at the Arbres au bord du canal, composed largely of an undulating reflection in the water’s surface, the shadows of trees on the opposite bank. At first glance, the water appears sacrosanct, disturbed only by the wind. In fact, the water is contained by a canal, a vessel created by human hands.
The same can be found in the Paysage d’été VII, showing a field surrounded by trees. At first glance the composition might appear untainted by identifiable silhouettes: the grass, the sky, a clear moment in the countryside. Yet the straight tree lines and tilled meadow reveal alterations made to the landscape; one spots the trail of an airplane’s exhaust in the distance.
Invisible as these alterations might be, the scene is an artifact of human labor, both on the earth and on the canvas. But the work involved in the construction of either land or image does not make it a less vivid experience. Instead, one is asked to question the division between that which is artificial and natural, human and wild, a division that springs largely from our words for such things.
Just as M. Trimborn’s paintings do not show any particular figure, they do not show any particular nature. The countryside is harvested and traveled, not some pristine wilderness on top of a mountain. The subject matter of the painting does not strike one at first as the stuff of the sublime.
And yet the moments captured are memorable. The sense of space is on an epic scale. Each painting invites the viewer forward, not in step but in gaze. One begins to look and does not stop, wandering between tree and sky, light and darkness. Trimborn’s previous training in architecture plays out in each composition’s sense of welcome; the space, even if it is two-dimensional, still invites one inside.
In M. Trimborn’s work, the distant view of a green horizon can become intimate. He has often walked through the places depicted by his paintings; they are embedded in his memory. Although the viewer encounters the scene for the first time, without such intimacy attached, traces of the artists’ familiarity with his subject matter can be found in his brush stroke, in his gesture. A photograph could not do the same.
Put to this treatment, a place that could easily be forgotten becomes the object of attention and contemplation. Its details are reborn. The exhibition is called “Renaissances,” and this renaissance is one of vision.
Victor Schlovsky, writing in 1917 on defamiliarization, says that “Art exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stoney…to impart the sensation of things as they are, and not as they are known.” Caught in the texture of representation, that which is assumed in language and thought becomes unfamiliar; one is forced to revisit and rethink something ordinary.
The limitations of the material—whether landscape, pigment, or thought—are surpassed. These paintings offer a space to enter into; they are a proposal of sorts, which one takes up with a renewed sense of wonder. A scene of the everyday, fleeting as it is, has been allowed to endure in an image.
M. Trimborn captures the light in his paintings by working with color and motion. The backdrop of each canvas seems uplit, as if by the sun. This effect is rendered with the process of dentelle, a lacework of light and shadow (a technique found in Sur un chemin forestier). He achieves this by painting the darkest parts of the image first and then literally illuminating his paintings by filling in the sky last. In this way, that which is most distant in reality becomes closest to the viewer on the canvas.
When speaking about his work, M. Trimborn clarifies that his poisition as an artist is one of “retreate”—he doesn’t’ want to tell the audience what they should see or experience. The paintings will not be inhabited by words or identifiable figures, but instead by the viewer. We encounter the landscape, made anew in texture and technique, and so must fill the space ourselves with a vivid impression of our own.
M. Trimborn’s exhibition will continue until the end of August at 24 Place des Vosges, Paris.
Thank you to Amanda Dennis for her assistance with the translation during the interview.