Florian and Michael Quistrebert
In the closing scene of Lars von Trier’s Melancholia (2011), sisters Justine and Claire (Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg) sit inside a flimsy hut of leaning sticks with Claire’s young son. They’re taking shelter, they’ve told the boy, inside a “magic cave.” Wagner’s prelude to Tristan and Isolde crescendos as light from Melancholia, an approaching planet on course to destroy planet Earth, blazes behind them. Appropriating the title of Von Trier’s film for their latest exhibition, Florian and Michael Quistrebert used Melancholia as a “pretext to explore the psychological tension between portraiture and landscape,” choosing form over apocalypse in their new series of abstract paintings. Much sturdier than Von Trier’s sisters’ cave, the gallery, with its concrete walls, was arguably reminiscent of a bunker, while a sparse and sober alignment of tightly stretched large-scale canvases provided a weight in stark contrast to the Quistreberts’ ten compositions.
Intentionally superficial, the brothers’ decorative new paintings skim over material and concept to convey light and lightness. Made with water-based ink sprayed onto coarse unprepared burlap, the works trace sharp geometries in a bold jewel-tone palette. The method of paint application yields an illusion of luminosity and depth, as vaporous color gradually fades over the pale, imperfect canvas. The resulting gradients, delineated by crisp, precise lines, are fitted together in mathematical configurations. When seen up close, the compositions dissolve into sheer texture. The gaseous state of their primary elements indicates heat, rapid movement, and agitation. The contained geometries dissolve in an excitement of chemical instability.
Intimations of landscape pervade the paintings Mount VIII and Mount IX (all works 2020), both vertically oriented and composed primarily of diagonals of pigment that read as moving upward, left to right. Luminous patches of raw canvas, expertly airbrushed to fade in under gradient rays of color, separate hazy streaks of sunset pink and evergreen. As reminiscent of a vertiginous mountain pass as of a spotlit dance floor, the carefully groomed spaces of these paintings imply movement and speed. Hints of the prismatic effects conjured by Lyonel Feininger’s intersecting planes of oil pull our associations toward architecture, while portraits such as Melancholia VIII invoke the memory of Fernand Léger’s workers. Curves suggest the contours of a pale-blue forehead, and amber tresses sculpt an abstract Brancusi-like face—a seductive feat of mark-making, offering an illusion of material contrast.
Posted at opposite ends of the gallery, a pair of large-scale diptychs framed the show. Firescape came first in ruby, citrine, sapphire, and garnet. Its diagonals, pointing both upward and downward, left to right, soften into curves. The second diptych, Waterfall, appeared in the final room, featuring hard diagonals in aquamarine, emerald, and amethyst, pointing downward. Fire and water, metal and gas found themselves for a moment not at odds, but sheltering together. The Quistreberts once stated their desire to push painting to a crisis point, but with this new group of paintings that adolescent urge appeared to have subsided. These canvases were calm, meditative, and levitating.