Lyricism and Freedom in the Art of Dominique Boutaud
The Reality, Paintings, 36 x 48
Although Dominique Boutaud, who was born in Nice, France, became an American citizen in 2008, she remains a French painter in the very best sense of the term. Which is to say: her work has a sense of finesse and a love of beauty that harks back to the glory days of the School of Paris. And while she is primarily an abstract painter who says “The U.S. freedom allowed me to direct my oil painting toward abstract freedom,” her work is invariably based in nature. And in fact it would appear, conversely, that her occasional overtly floral compositions, such as “Symphonie de Fleurs”, are essentially abstract anyway, given her bold coloristic and compositional sense.
Indeed, looking at Boutaud's work overall, one is reminded of something that the American painter and critic Fairfield Porter (who was close to most of the important members of the Abstract Expressionist movement, and applied their compositional and gestural dynamics to realism) once said in praise of the floral painter Leon Hartl: “he goes against the grain of the existentialist cult of sincerity that values violence, ill-adjustment and awkwardness.” For it is clear that Boutaud as well values none of those dubious qualities in either her totally abstract or abstractly informed floral paintings.
Indeed all of Boutaud’s paintings in either of her modes, like Hartl’s, are obviously (to quote Porter once more) “supremely about spaces and volumes expressed in the colors of textures and paint.” And this is clearly part of what lends Boutaud’s work its subtle intensity, as well as its absolute painterly integrity.
On encountering Boutaud’s oil on canvas, “The Reality,” for example, one perceives immediately that this striking composition of numerous tiny white strokes on a vibrant blue ground is for the painter, first and foremost, an occasion for exploring the qualities of color and texture as elements in themselves. And one can only assume that this is the meaning of its title: that the reality exists primarily in the visual and physical qualities of the materials themselves; the things, in other words, that make the painting a palpable, independent, and autonomous entity in the real world. Yet the title also seems double-edged owing to the cosmic suggestiveness of the composition, which evokes another, even larger reality: that of the stars in all their mystery. Boutaud’s work seems to tell us that we can have it both ways. Or as Mark Rothko once put it: “There is no such thing as a good painting about nothing.” Since Rothko made that statement in 1943, when the principles of abstract painting were still being debated, we can imagine that he may have said it in reply to one of his more dogmatic colleagues claiming that abstract painting, in order to be “pure”, must be concerned with formal values alone.
Fortunately, in the more catholic cultural climate of our present postmodern era Boutaud can not only draw inspiration from the bounty of nature but also evoke an emotional state in the darkly evocative composition “The Pain Received,” where jewel-like bursts of color emerge from a deep blue field, or create more elusive yet equally compelling statements such as in her minimalist composition “Meli Melo,” where graceful cursive forms converge on a deep yellow ground. The possibilities are limitless, and Dominique Boutaud appears eager to explore them all.
–– written by Maureen
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