Paul Rousteau, «Paul, les peintres et la plage»
The Villa Noailles presents here the artistic commission given to the French photographer and artist Paul Rousteau, carried out in residence every summer for the past five years in Hyères, with eight
French contemporary painters invited to spend a creative time on the theme of the beach:
Florent Groc, Diane Dal Pra, Marion Bataillard, Thomas Levy Lasne, Jules Magistry, Jean Claracq, James Della Negra & Marcos Carrasquer.
"The taste of salt, the waves’ percussion, the sand’s caress, the scent of seaweed and the immensity to be admired: the beach is a total sensory experience. Of all your five senses, your sight is certainly the most challenged by the beach: it needs to grasp all at once three infinities lying one upon the other: the infinity of the shore, the sea, and the sky. No matter how long you stand on the shore, your eye is disconcerted, stunned. It simultaneously senses the wonder of the landscape and the impossibility of capturing it fully. For the beach is elusive, it slips away. And your eye, in love, is defeated.
This particular situation transforms your bodies, attitudes and gestures. The amazed vanquished yearns, lays down their towel and gets lost in contemplation. The eye will never possess the beach, it admits defeat yet never gives up on seeing. Whenever it returns to the coast, season after season, it pursues an eternal quest. Some people come to the beach to bathe their eyes. They don’t enter the water but enjoy the shore in a completely different way: they stand out with their slow movements and supple necks.
What are we really looking at on the beach?
The landscape? Certainly, but very soon –we’ve all experienced it– the sand, the waves, and the blue blend into each other under the action of the sun. An invisible brush blends the show into a wash, and our vision blurs. The visual experience gets deep. You dive into a daydream. Slowly, images appear on the sky, in the sea, images from far away, from the past or elsewhere, projected onto the shore. For the beach is a cinema. A projection room where you contemplate, half-unconsciously, your inner sensations coming to life as if by magic on the coast, now turned into a screen.
You also look at your fellow human beings on the beach: it takes on the appearance of a human theatre. Bodies are revealed like nowhere else: desirable, striking. The sand becomes a stage, and the spectator who was expecting to disappear, lying peacefully on their towel, can in turn become the unwitting object of an eye they are unaware of. A thousand plays are performed at once in this endless role reversal. Who is looking? Who is being looked at? The eye on the beach has the particularity of making itself invisible: it captures innocent beauty. But as soon as the performer knows they are being watched, their body changes. Photographers know this very well: with the awareness of the gaze, something of the soul flies away.
In this continuous movement of the show, it is natural to wonder whether you really see the world as it is on the beach. Of all the places in the world, the beach certainly is the most deceptive. For there is a drunkenness of sand. An intoxication by the shore. Under the effect of the wind, visions and hallucinations arise at every moment: you mistake a rock for a woman, a book for a shell, a cuttlefish egg for a fairytale monster. You witness a continuous birth of mirages. The hallucination can be poetic, artistic, religious, clairvoyant, or even amorous.
Once again, it is all about looking. What is there in the person you meet and love during a seaside holiday if not the image, enclosed within them, of a glistening ocean? When you meet them again in another context, in the city, far from the coast, this beach-being resurrects the entire world of the shore for you. The rocks, the crests of waves, the warmth of the sun unfurl before our bewildered eyes. The beach-man or woman will forever have this supernatural charm of the one who brings the beach back to life in the blink of an eye."
Gregory Le Floch