Lauren Coullard’s paintings look like shrouds. Yet there is nothing mortiferous about her harlequin and toonesque artworks, of which the palette – confident in its effects – dares all combinations. Rather, they have a certain ability to arouse buried characters and distant sagas. Here, for example, with a relic of courtly love – in the style of the Middle Ages – but which Lauren Coullard has updated and sprinkled across the four corners of a large format painting as a topless Amazon, eyes skimming a sharpened sword, the backbone of a dragon, and a castle’s coat of arms.
The most important element in Lauren Coullard’s work – who masterfully practices the art of the portrait and its ancestral cousins – is what lies hidden. The unseen adds density to her paintings on canvas, foam, wood, and sometimes even cereal boxes. She begins by retracting her literary references – from Alexandre Dumas to Gogol to Pierre Louÿs – and prepares each painting by disposing of a composition, then choosing a harmony of colors that will make it rise vertically, much like the deep dark violet she uses in one of her latest series. Or, like the erudite artist explains, she decides to adventure into plains that are void of horizons. Lauren Coullard “suffers color” just as much as she attempts to understand it when rereading the work of Kandinsky, for example. The fact remains that behind every outstretched frame lies a collage in postcard format, created with old images she has printed and re-photocopied and laminated scraps she picks up around her studio. There we find heroines with decomposed faces that have been stitched back together as they resurface from the interlacing of ancient art history. The collage – always invisible – is the black box of each of Lauren Coullard’s paintings. In the future, the young artist and co-founder of Paris’ Doc Studios has decided to turn to cyborg characters.

Claire Moulène, 2018

La clameur de l'être

Here and there, in Lauren Coullard’s paintings, colours fussing in scattered configurations. Shades sometimes vivid, almost energetic – they suggest motley universes propitious to some kind of cheerfulness. Making themselves darker, other colours are more inclined to immerse us into nocturnal atmospheres – they allude to sleepy worlds where emerges a hidden onirism. From these ambiances, sometimes translucent like a clear day, sometimes underground, it remains that we are tempted to associate some compositions to the tradition of German expressionism and to the art of collage, while others, more figurative, lie halfway between pop-art, Dadaism and Surrealism.
Actually, Lauren Coullard’s compositions are unclassifiable. Something of these paintings really explores the nature of what is hybrid, were it only through the preparatory work of collage each time executed on a small format before every composition – unless it is through the uncertain space they open between figuration and abstraction, that we witness painting after painting. On one side, indeed, medieval vignettes reveal court characters and prodigious creatures; the thematic of courtly love and chivalrous deeds sets up the back-drop. On the other side, touches of colour and flat tints, lines and edges, slack and spontaneous, contribute to an overview visually inextricable. In a kaleidoscopic way they manage, though, to compose a rhythmical, almost musical brushwood, as if to recall that the most tumultuous swirls always possess a form of measure.
Moreover, especially in certain compositions, this painterly fuss allows us to mobilize the work of imagination, so that vaguely anthropomorphic patterns end up emerging out of the painting. And regardless the question whether or not we would be looking at a figurative work that has become abstract – or, the other way around, to an abstract work letting us identify elements of reality – it seems that the presence of this imaginary of hybridity is also linked to the way these humanlike figures – or rather, these characters – are conceived. We notice, for instance, that they always seem disguised, wearing make-up or camouflage. In a suggestive manner, first, when our need for interpretation makes us believe that in the midst of a mosaic of forms and colours pops up an eye, a smile or a glance. More literally, afterwards, when on some paintings novel or history characters, gallant souls or colourful superheroes are invited – people that anyway always show a specific attention to the way they look, the way they behave and maybe even the way they perform.
Therefore, it is maybe the figure of the comedian that is more often present in the paintings of Lauren Coullard – he that pretends to be himself and, simultaneously, a multi-tude of others ; he that, above all, puts on a show and convinces us of the different realities he inhabits successively, reflecting fantasized lives and extraordinary stories, or asserting the inanity of a world that one should rather laugh about.
The act of turning oneself into another could be misinterpreted as the will to escape a given primary identity, or a world gone amorphous and ungrateful – as if it had been about fleeing. It is the opposite that occurs within Lauren Coullard’s work, as the shifts and hybridizations operate as means to answer to life itself – or even to provoke and produce it. These characters, indeed, always claim for themselves the remarkable, and the features of what is out of step – lying sometimes on the threshold of extravagancy or exploiting contents specific to fabulous universes, such as manga, comics or cartoons.
To disguise, then, does not mean to hide, but to reveal oneself in a better way. Rather than a withdrawal, the gesture of becoming another outlines a form of clamour, a joy that echoes in the paintings of Lauren Coullard with this presence a little mischievous or facetious, almost jubilant. The most remarkable thing, in the end, is to see that this joy appears as close as possible to painting, through the danced gesture of the strokes or twirling colours. But we would almost forget the main point, namely that Lauren Coullard herself is also a character or a comedian. She aspires, as such, to visit territories freed from all barriers, and to discover unthought ways of self-realization – maybe she flees, but if she does, it is with paintbrushes and colours.

Julien Verhaeghe 2019

The Lucky Stories

As soon as he was dressed, he went into the library and sat down to a light
French breakfast, that had been laid out for him, on a small round table close to the open window.
It was an exquisite day.
The warm air seemed laden with spices.
A bee flew in, and buzzed round the blue-dragon bowl that,
filled with sulphur-yellow roses, stood before him.
He felt perfectly happy.
Suddenly his eyes fell on the screen that he had places in front of the

The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde

Sometimes we’re lucky, sometimes small unforeseen miracles happen in the
sinuous course of life. One of these was my meeting with Lauren Coullard, and
almost immediately afterwards with her art, at about the exact moment it was
starting to get born. Shortly then a new miracle - these were sumptuous times
Lauren Coullard started to paint. Suddenly, on the table, as airdroped from an invisible country where these sort of serene fireworks had been nicely waiting to hatch, Lauren Coullard’s first paintings. Just like that.

If the world was paying more attention to what matters, it would have done
the same thing as we did: watch, admire, silently applause, and whisper our
admiration, carefully making sure that she was not hearing too much, to let her do what she does best: paint, without listening to anybody’s opinion, because the truth is that no one has anything to tell her about what she should or should not to do. After all, she's an artist.

The following months and years have been and keep being a long way of
recurring delights, everytime appear the modest and zigzagging epiphanies of joy, color, and personal narrative patterns rising with more or less density depending on the periods: characters in nature, human activities, vegetations, a few horses, or brillantly talented portraits that deconstruct the human face to rebuild it with only what amuses or intrigues the painter, resulting in small wonders of relevance, humor, pictorial accuracy and vital energy.
Or recently, abstract signs on splendid large size canvas, made of color, peace and joy, quick like scribbles, but with the perfection of color harmonies.

Because, in fact, the supposed antinomy between abstraction and figuration,
as some oppose body and soul, besides being a tremendous reduction of the
reality of painting, finds one more proof with Coullard that in the end, whether you recognize people or apples or cats in it, or you only see lines and tones, it is always, more or less, stories that are told or that fly around, with some more obvious and some more subtle. Which is why sometimes everything finds itself mixed up with everything, boundaries get blurred by the brush, we see something, and what is it? Well finally it is color, it’s movement, oil paint, a brush stroke: nothing more, and nothing less.

Stories, she has plenty, and today she’s telling us one more at Silicon: in
BREAK(FEAST), we are, you are, in a cereal bowl! And following a daydreaming reference to eighteenth century’s porcelain bowls having decorative patterns painted on the inside, here comes a beautiful wall frieze with dragons, as seen from inside this very bowl. And then, because a daydream bounces on one another, arise the memories of Mexican cereal boxes: photos of the Mexican boxes are printed and then pasted on the French ones, these collages are painted, and voilà: cereal boxes in the big cereal bowl, paintings in the installation, or maybe just a large painting that is also a large cereal bowl. Daydream’s pool ball bounces again on an elegance phantasy about the nineteenth century, catches sight of Dorian Gray, and here it is: Wilde’s hero’s taking his breakfast, or has taken it earlier, or maybe he is just about to take it - anyway, look right here: embroidered with his initials, he kindly left us his napkin.
The little ballet is in place, it is up to us now to dance.

Jérémie Grandsenne, 2017

In her graduate studies at Chelsea College of Art in London (where she earned her MA in Fine Arts), Coullard spent a good deal of time working with sculpture, stepping away from the canvas to experiment with texture and volume in three dimensions. Coullard has since returned to a primarily painterly practice, bringing with her an expanded knowledge of space and surface that she gained through her work in sculpture. Today she sees her practice informed by collage, textiles and installations, and considers her own studio as a “site-specific project.” Within her composed spaces, she fuses her sense of painterly surface with a longing for texture and volume, often incorporating textiles in her investigations of landscape and ritual.

For Coullard, her latest paintings reflect “a real struggle between gestural abstractions and forms,” a struggle similar to that which was played out in the cold-water walk-ups and later the Long Island studios of the American Abstract Expressionists. Coullard speaks of canvases marked by “uncontrollable movements” — spectacular gestures that deny a fixed reading of the suggestive forms and scenarios that define her compositions. Spaces of tightly bound tension as well as of chance and loss of control, Coullard’s work echoes de Kooning’s turbulent canvases of the early 1950s as well as the emotionally-charged, landscape-inspired work of “second generation” Abstraction Expressionist Joan Mitchell.

Likewise, Helen Frankenthaler’s development of Color Field painting, out of the Abstract Expressionist tradition, informs Coullard’s work, particularly in terms of palette and the physical interpretation of territory. Known for her lyrically abstract canvases of translucent washes of color, Frankenthaler first articulated her mature style in her painting Mountains and Sea, 1952, an organic composition in which pools of red, green and blue bleed into and across a warm, untreated expanse of canvas. When Frankenthaler realized this work, she says, “I knew the landscapes were in my arms as I did it.” “‘In my arms,’” art historian John Elderfield clarifies, “is not a casual figure of speech;” Frankenthaler was working not only “from landscape but from the experience of its physical creation.” Like Frankenthaler, Coullard foregrounds color as well as the corporal interpretation of landscape (be it real or imaginary). But whereas the pigment of Frankenthaler’s canvases melts outwards into pools of color, Coullard tightly binds her compositions, driving her brushstrokes inward into a Turner-like vortex. Likewise, while Frankenthaler generally emphasized surface over depth, Coullard mines deep, often cavernous, expanses into her works on canvas.

Coullard describes her choice of “odd and off colors” as a means to create “conscious accidents, … catalysts” that evoke a “spectrum of emotions” and a “state of wonder.” Her series Territories (all 2012), small works in oil on cardboard or paper, reflect this choreographed clash of tones and shapes in a dance of line and pigment. Likewise, in her collages built from a thematic archive of her own photographs, Coullard explores the possibilities of tonal and geometric contrast. Memories, Coullard’s series of gouache and pastels on paper, share the rapid pace of her collages as well as the gesture-driven composition of her larger works in oil on canvas. Creating a veritable archive of photographs, sketches and collages, Coullard mobilizes these forms in the creation of her works on canvas, layering paint to arrive at “the essence of the image by modeling it over and over again,” a process that draws her (often) figurative starting point towards abstraction.

Of her broad range of references, the Désert de Retz, constructed by Racine de Monville in the late 18th century comes up often in Coullard’s discussion of her work. An “anglois-chinois” garden, just twelve miles from the center of Paris, the Désert de Retz is defined by naturalistic landscaping combined with picturesque ornamentation. The distinguishing feature of the garden is the “Colonne Détruite,” or Broken Column, a four-story habitable construction in the form of a ruined monolithic column. Thomas Jefferson, Queen Marie-Antoinette, and painter Hubert Robert were drawn to the site and its monumental architectural feature, seen by some as a crumbling Tower of Babel, ominously prescient on the eve of the French Revolution. The garden was essentially forgotten until the late 20th century, overgrown yet remarkably intact after decades of neglect. Spending time there in the 1930s, when the park was still in a state of abandon, the French novelist Colette wrote, “Rétz’s luxuriance is that of a dream, of a fantastic tale, of an imaginary island.”

Like Coullard’s work, the Désert de Retz combines sweeping, organic expanses with enigmatic forms plucked from history and the imagination. From her series Upheaval, canvases such as Cavern, 2011 explore the ambiguous contours of a mystical and alluring space like that of Monville’s fantastical garden, as well as those described by Robert Pogue Harrison, in his book, Forests: The Shadow of Civilization. In an examination of “the role forests have played in the cultural imagination of the West,” Harrison writes: “However broadly or narrowly one wishes to define it, Western civilization literally cleared its space in the midst of forests. A sylvan fringe of darkness defined the limits of its cultivation, the margins of its cities, the boundaries of its institutional domain; but also the extravagance of its imagination.” This fascination with the fringes of society, as well as the breakdown of compositional order, defines Coullard’s works, each an evocative encounter between logic and chaos.

Coullard’s series Crash further reflects the artist’s fascination with ruins, combined with a thrust towards operatic theatricality and magical realism. Within this group of works, Scala, 2010, a dark and unsettling canvas, suggests a line of opera boxes going up in flames. Referencing both the former Teatro Regio Ducale, that burned to the ground in 1776 following a rowdy carnival gala (its site upon which Milan’s Scala theatre was built), as well as the heavy bombing of the Scala during World War II, Coullard also launches the site into her own fictive realm, aflame with imagined drama conjured by her bold strokes of paint.

Hiroshima Mon Amour, Coullard’s series of works referencing the title of screenwriter Marguerite Duras’s and director Alain Resnais’s 1959 film of love and memory, is one of the painter’s most clearly figurative. Each canvas in this series, such as Fear, 2008, for example, functions like a flashback from Duras and Resnais’s film; an image, vivid and jarring, that is difficult to anchor to a specific moment in time or a distinctive place. Especially for this group of works, Coullard’s titles are potent. In the same way that her turbulent language of paint, at once abstract and figurative, conjures landscape, space and personage without the limiting diction of a proper noun, her titles leave each work open to the fluid strokes of the imagination.

Coullard’s work as founding artist and editorial coordinator of the Cargo Culte Review speaks to the rigorousness of her research and the broadly informed positioning of her practice. Initiated in 2009, the publication takes its name from the term for the rituals the Melanesians created in response to “crises and social disruption caused by colonialism.” Each issue is made up of a collection of multiples by selected artists related to a unique research topic. In her contributions to the Cargo Cult project, Coullard has investigated the ornamentation and textiles of Japan’s Ainu people, specifically “the value of the Sacred that the community attributes to different patterns.” Reinterpreting Ainu folklore, Coullard has created a series of textile-based works that explore the veneration of territory and geometric design.

Recently, Coullard has also been drawn to the graphic, often enigmatic, work of contemporary Scottish artist Lucy McKenzie, as well as German painter Charline Von Heyl’s explosive abstract compositions in acrylic on canvas, and the intimate, abstract paintings of American Lesley Vance, who draws on the 17th century Spanish still life tradition. Coullard’s archeological pursuit of artifacts, and her dramatic sense of space and composition also recall fellow French artist Isabelle Cornaro’s elegant photographs, installations and paintings. Likewise, British artist Phoebe Unwin’s open and ephemeral paintings on canvas share in Coullard’s mesmerizing balancing act between abstraction and figuration. Coullard’s practice poses a fertile compliment to the work of these contemporaries who join her in the exploration of uncharted territories of imagined landscapes and pure painterly surfaces.

Lillian Davies, July 2012