6, rue Saint-Claude - 75003 paris
NOVEMBER 30TH, 2017 - JANUARY 6TH, 2018

Nathanaëlle Herbelin grew up in a small village in central Israel between a French father and an  Israeli mother. It was in  Tel  Aviv  that  she learned painting, alongside Russian and Ukrainian artists who arrived there in  the

1990s. From this land, she keeps her taste of  the desert, silence and culture of  the Negev Bedouins, as well  as a close link with nature. Her  work as a whole is underpinned by a contrast between a great tension and a cer- tain sweetness. And her melancholy does not exclude,  here and there,  traits of  humor and a certain lightness.


A  few years ago,  Nathanaëlle Herbelin was questioning the possible connection between her painting and photography.  Today,  that  questioning has given way to  new paradoxes  and new ambiguities. She is  hun- ting petty,  commonplace episodes in  reality.  Once found, she examines them on   the surface of  her pain- tings in  a mixture of    mundanity and poetic transcendence,  which is  usually encapsulated  in  a dash of  faint wit.  Her  most realistic pictures are the most ambiguous, for  example the large interior inspired by Georges Perec’s Les Choses, which is  also the library in  an  apartment  lent by a painter friend. It  expresses her fas- cination with the  idea  of   one’s  own  house,   somewhere  between  tangible presence  and  fictional world.


Recently, odd scenes have appeared in her pictures, like comments on  what she might have done, had she been an abstract painter. They are hijacked memories of the school of fine arts: unrecognizable views of exhibition sites, nooks in studios, a trestle whose shape conjures up a metal module, an  easel, or  the remains of an  installation, a black box for showing videos, which resembles a monochrome in front of dark red walls. Just a few months older, a small still life showing a piece of flattened cardboard, found on the ground in a street, is not an abstract sculpture, but one of those protective things that you put around a takeaway coffee cup to stop your fingers being burnt.


At  the  same  time,   and  running counter  to  this  research—or rather  in   exactly the  same  vein—Natha- naëlle  Herbelin has  embarked  on   a  new  adventure:  portraits  of   strangers,  made  haphazardly  from en- counters  in  the street  and in  the  rooms of   a  museum, and  portraits  of   close friends who have posed for   her,   either alone or  in  groups, they,  too,  the receptacles of  stories we shall   never know.  To start  with, they  looked away,  then,  increasingly,  they  now face  their present  and  the  oldfashionedness of   painting. She kneads her motifs by making variations over quite long periods of  time,  as if to exhaust them, almost to make them vanish in  colours and forms. For  the sketches which have the power of  first experiences, she often paints on  small wooden boards. This  material is  not afraid of  the comings and goings of  the image in time.  It is the moment of  the game.  Then she starts a prepared canvas, larger in format, looking for  the right gesture,  the candid movement, and the exact colour—she has even painted a collection of  hands and ges- tures. Her  drawings,  mingling in  sketchbooks with a few images cut out here and there,  are simple notes; the real   research takes place at the tip  of  a brush. From time to time a painting is  abandoned in  favour of another,  because it  was starting out in  a wrong direction, then taken up afresh, as if like a new path. This  is the case,  for  example,  with these swimming pools, one of  which, with looser lines,  tends to purple while the other,  which is tighter,  tends towards a cold, blue obscurity.  They are expressing different angles of  memory.


One of her early series showed encampments in the desert, shacks with an unknown purpose. In much closer shots, small shelters then appeared in her pictures, bedecked with strings of coloured lights, always empty. You might think that the human beings living in them had just left, unless they are on the point of coming home for a melancholy party. Nathanaëlle Herbelin’s pictures are huts and hideouts—offering protection from danger or refuges for daydreams. The  large  red  teepee,   at  once  a  disconcerting big   top  and  a  child’s refuge,   is   like that  realist  pain- ting  which is  not  realist. Objects  collected  on   a  road  arranged  in  a  corner of   a  room describe a  me- lancholy  altar,   while a  real    candomblé  altar  made  up  of   exotic  objects  conjures  up  a  familiar wor- ld.  A  kitchen, inspired  by  a  scene  from  Garcia Marquez’s One  Hundred  Years  of   Solitude,  and studded with  post-its,  looks  like an   evanescent  world, on   the verge of   disappearing: remembering to  remember.



Anaël Pigeat

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