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"The Passenger"

- Until 06.11.2021

© Hugard and Vanoverschelde

Stems Gallery is pleased to present an exhibition of new paintings by Paul Rouphail, marking his second solo show with the gallery. This new body of work entitled “The Passenger”, includes new large still-life paintings, small-scale portraits and a collaboration between the artist and his spouse and fellow painter, Lindsay Merrill.

In depicting various domestic and maritime scenes the artist considers the nature of selfhood—transmuted in paint through objects, food and beverages—as irresolutely at odds with the world. The suite of twelve paintings, curated linearly through the gallery, tells the story of a man who leaves his home for a trip at sea and subsequently becomes ill. Inspired by Thomas Mann’s novel, “Death in Venice” and Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1974 film “The Passenger,” the artist presents the plight of an elderly protagonist— who shares a likeness to that of his own—through a variety of figurative and non-figurative paintings. With the small-scale face paintings, the artist presents an additional point-of-view to the story that includes neither the viewer nor the protagonist. These paintings of eyes confront and invite the viewer through the gallery by way of piercing or wayward glances. The artist modeled these portraits using the image generating output, SyleGAN which mimics images of real people by constructing uncanny—albeit austere—digital facsimiles of faces. Rouphail has further altered the AI images by adapting the eyes to his own facial expressions such as a grimace, a sob, or a grin. Borrowing elements from classic film grammar, these “close-ups” prompt the viewer to consider the faces as narrative queues, thereby underlining something of importance to the character just “off-screen.” Notions of authorship are further disrupted with the titular painting of the show which depicts the bedridden protagonist as the artist’s older, infirmed self. This monochromatic portrait, conceived and composed by Rouphail, was made in collaboration with his wife, Lindsay Merrill who executed the painting, adding her own analysis of the character’s bilious condition.

The still-lives include depictions of precariously placed food and beverage items in various domestic and maritime settings. These mostly large-scale paintings offer scenes of contradictory sensation: Mirroring the intemperate and aslant ocean horizon, the delicately prepared meals and untouched alcoholic beverages teeter on edges of table fixtures and window sills. The transparency of light, weather, glass, and tableware capture the poetics of being in a problem: How might one contain oneself within a world unrestrained?


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Contemporary Art Belgium is a platform dedicated to provide a selection of current contemporary art exhibitions in Belgium. It was created to turn a spotlight on the large and very dynamic Belgian contemporary art scene as well as to connect people and start dialogues.

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