Charcoal and graphite held together
In the early 1990s, Philippe Cognée, an
artist with an already marked fondness for
materiality, developed an unusual pictorial
technique using photographic composition
and wax rendering, which is his personal
style these days.1 His technique is
demanding. ‘It works better with highly
structured images with rhythmic elements,
when there are lines, like in motorways,
building perspectives and supermarket
shelves, for example.’2 The containers and
construction site cabins, which the artist
introduced into his repertory in 1995,
meet this requirement. They also fill the
drawings of the period, like this Container
from the series ‘Proliférations’.
Technically speaking, the crushing of the
drawing responds to the forced smelting
of the paint. Covered by a plastic film,
the composition with graphite pencil and
charcoal on a thick ground of still damp
white acrylic is pressed under a roller
that the artist passes over the surface.
The bits of charcoal explode. The line
breaks up. The roughness of the drawing’s
chalky surface echoes the textural effects
of the paint.
It is easy to make out the initial
photographic composition: a container,
framed very close up, isolated in a
horizonless landscape. This commonplace and
seemingly neutral subject, with a frontal
quality worthy of Bernd and Hilla Becher,
fills the space. Although it conjures up
the industrial sphere, the treatment
nevertheless endangers any neutrality.
Thanks to the use of charcoal, the
container seems charred as soon as it is
transferred to the paper. The break-up of
the line, in a dark and hazy blur, loosens
the constructive lines of the object
depicted. Is this a container or the
vestige of an ancient temple? There is a
chronological confusion of a time that has
not stood still. The monument vibrates,
snorts, its disquieting content throbs
dully, and it is the entire composition
that moves to the rhythm of the detachment
of the charcoal grains.
Cognée’s method stems from a balance
between de- and con-struction; the blurring
of the image by immediately summoning up
another. The subject, which is absorbed by
the acrylic ground, is simultaneously
renewed on its surface. It is memory;
a memory fashioned by the erosion of
oblivion, the way the shore is by the sea.3
So, more than a vague container, more than
a memory of a container, Phlippe Cognée
re-enacts, not to say represents, the very
process of memory.
1. Philippe Cognée’s visual sources are real
images subjected to the filter of the
photograph, the digital screen or the
photocopy. This photographic sketch is
transferred to the canvas and coloured with
encaustic, before being re-covered by a
rhodoid film, which the artist heats with an
iron, then rips from the painted surface.
2. Philippe Cognée, interview with Olivier
Weil, in Bilbao, Nantes, Joca Seria, 2003.
3. Marc Augé, Les Formes de l’oubli, Paris,
Payot & Rivages, 2001, p. 29.