At some point in time I got to think that I’ll run out of subjects for this articles about contemporary painters.
Well, if this is really going to happen, it is not going to happen soon. I keep discovering, thrilled as a kid, more and more artists I like.
And from time to time, less often, the discovery is amazing, remarkable, unforgettable. Or totally unexpected.
Michael Cheval is extraordinary. He is a surrealist painter born in 1966, living in New York.
He speaks of his own work in terms like Nature of Absurdity, Eternity of Absurdity, Sense of Absurdity. so often he uses this term, it is clear that the absurdity is the essence of his work.
But don’t get me wrong. You should not expect to find sarcastic or pejorative references to other works or to the absurdity of the reality. He is creating absurdity, not ridiculing it. He cultivates absurdity as Eugen Ionesco did, or G.K. Chesterton. Or, even better, as Serge Brussolo.
I love Dali and I don’t dare comparing them but Dali and Cheval bear comparison.
Each of his paintings creates an bizarre but consistent world. Unreal if opposed to the universe outside the wooden frame but remarkably correct to itself. A world in which you can learn to live, with which you can get accustomed, which you can accept as an viable alternative to that in which we live.
In his world, chains are animated by a force that straightens them enough so you can place an umbrella at the end.
They are worlds populated by buffoons, princesses, servants, cavaliers and wizards. Sometime populated with royal clothes floating around invisible bodies which you can imagine supple, elegant, intangible. They are virtual worlds surrounding other virtual worlds, puppet and puppeteers at the same time, handling other puppets which in turn handle yet other puppets.
You can find the characters of Alexandre Dumas mixed with those form 1001 Nights, chambermaids and musicians all living in a fairy tale land, painted with a photographic precision down to the smallest detail.
Cheval demonstrates a perfect technique but, far from being a goal in itself, his oil on canvas technique is subjugated to a bigger to a bigger purpose.
One can say Michael Cheval is improvising but his paintings are never just color and texture experiments. He improvises with a very well defined set of complex leitmotifs, each of them being a masterpiece by the precision of its representation. He uses them as building blocks for his magical worlds. His improvisation is in the improbability of the leitmotifs association.
For example, of the landscapes where violinists and metallic fish floats around. Is in the degree to which the furniture pieces defy physics laws. In the multitude of different interpretations you can get out of these associations.
I can’t lie I understand his paintings. But what I think I understand, I unconditionally like.
Next to Jeremy Lipking, Anna Kryukova and Simon Balyon, Michael Cheval has suddenly became one of my favorites.
Like never before, while selecting paintings for the article, I was tempted to include all I found on his website.
I barely managed to stop after just 60 of them.
I came back to see them many times before I was able to write about them. Each time I was discovering more and more details.
You will probably need couple of hours to study each one carefully.
And you probably don’t have this much free time right now. Plus, I think it would minimize Michael’s considerable artistic effort to present them all at once.
So I decided to present them in 3 consecutive article. Here is the first one.
Please don’t forget to visit his website.