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The Arts Voyager, 1-5: Waiting in Limbo
The vaporous, smoldering art of Catherine Olivier

Catherine Olivier, "Touchée." Pyrogravure on fabric. ©Catherine Olivier.

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Text copyright 2012 Paul Ben-Itzak

PARIS -- As a child growing up on an isolated farm in the Loire Valley on the crest of and impatient for great adventures, Catherine Olivier developed a fertile inner life, an apprenticeship of imagination that served her well when, armed with a diploma from the Ecole Supérieure des Beaux Arts d'Angers, she moved to Paris some 20 years ago to study at the highly selective Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs, eventually settling in the hilly northeastern quarter of Belleville, where the colony of artists strives to create work as expansive as the vistas of Paris they look out on from its heights. It's a potpourri of amateur photographers, seasoned lithographers, earnest folk artists and genuinely inventive wunderkinds searching for innovative mediums to artistically articulate the uncertainty of living in the 21st century, in which the nuclear fatalism of an earlier generation has been supplanted by the even more existential doubt impressed by global warming and economic precariousness (or, as the French put it, 'precarité'). Olivier soon found the medium to match her epoch. Just as her French ancestors learned to mix pigment and apply it to canvas to recreate the fracturing of light and its effect on landscape, so Olivier chose the transitional state effected by the singe of the pyrogravure, or pyro-engraving, as the ideal matter to depict characters often in a state of waiting, frozen in limbo by -- if I can mix the metaphor -- a deceptively placid exterior immobilization contrasted with inner burning. By burning her tableaux on fabric, Olivier highlighted even more the fragility of her subjects. "Because it is a recurrent pre-occupation, those who I depict are waiting. Waiting has something paralyzing, with at the same time an inner boiling... from which comes the immobilization of the personages." As for the tool she uses, "I form the picture with the burn; the burn re-heats, it warms up and wounds at the same time, fragilizing the image. It's a paradox in which pleasure and pain succeed each other." The pyro-engraving tool is at the same time precise at its point, and more fluid as it recedes from the canvas, creating a vaporousness and a transparence that, Olivier says, "is a way to reveal the different qualities of the presences, where the faculty to draw attention and the sensation of in-existence exist side by side." Voici, from the artist's recent tour to Brazil -- catch her next in Benin -- some examples.

Catherine Olivier, "Perche VI." Pyrogravure on fabric. ©Catherine Olivier.


Catherine Olivier, "Melodie II." Pyrogravure on fabric. ©Catherine Olivier.


Catherine Olivier, "Absence III." Pyrogravure on fabric. ©Catherine Olivier.


Catherine Olivier, "Absence IV." Pyrogravure on fabric. ©Catherine Olivier.


Catherine Olivier, "Jeux de mains." Pyrogravure on fabric. ©Catherine Olivier.


Catherine Olivier, "Jeux de Mains V." Pyrogravure on fabric. ©Catherine Olivier.


Catherine Olivier, "Copacabana." Pyrogravure on fabric. ©Catherine Olivier.

Catherine Olivier, "Pas de Sieste" Pyrogravure on fabric. ©Catherine Olivier.


Catherine Olivier, "Perche II." Pyrogravure on fabric. ©Catherine Olivier.


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