Water in the City

Perched on the edge of the pool, the small boy relieves his boredom by tracing ephemeral arabesques on the surface of the water. He is unaware of the fountains billowing in the air, like the sails of the boat he would like to have for his game. On the other side of the garden, long jets of water mark out the space. A myriad oblique lines without beginning or end intersect and direct the eye towards the improbable reflections of the gilded railings and the suspended animation of coloured human silhouettes. If the stream of water does not disappear into endless perspectives, it opens up like a giant dahlia. Feeding, as it were, on a bluish spray, the liquid mass rises, loses power, and gains in transparency.

To tell the story of Oliver Bevan’s fountains you must first imagine yourself dogging his steps as he paces the streets and parks. Get under the skin of this artist, (now living in the garrigue*) who also knows how to get the energy of the city into his work. He is as sure footed as his eye is lively, alert, and avid for emotional clues. Like a hunter he seeks out and stalks the passing moment. Then he isolates it, and frames it in his mind, this unexpected vision, uniquely his, until offered to the firstcomer.

In this fountain series Oliver Bevan presents, with increasing acuity, a reality which he has chosen to fragment. From a panoramic view of the Tuileries, to the spurt of a solitary fountain, by way of the mirror-play of the Pyramide, the images of a hidden Paris accumulate, the more secret for being concealed within the obvious. And it is the same for the plunging views of the fountain in Aix-en-Provence, where short, curved lengths of stone form a bowl to hold the minty transparency of cool, bubbling water. Taken separately, even without knowing the places, these disjointed elements are familiar to us. Without the shadow of a doubt. Brought together on the same plane, subject to the laws of a particular composition, these objects seem on the other hand to be escaping us, while even the identity of the places becomes less certain.

The informed spectator, however, still in the wake of the artist, has no doubt over the authenticity of what he is shown. These distilled moments speak to him. They describe feelings he knows well. The atmosphere may become charged with sadness, gentle melancholy, or on the contrary it may fill with intense joy, or quiet serenity. Not only does the subject, the fountain and the city, correspond to each of these emotional states, but more importantly, so does the pictorial treatment of each of these paintings.

If Oliver Bevan favours the oil painting technique of working wet into wet, a process which consists of juxtaposing brushstrokes over a freshly painted ground, without mixing the tones, he knows instinctively when to go beyond the rules and adjust a tonal value or chase and push it still further to invent a new colour. Blends, sudden breaks, sweeping strokes, punctuation marks of pure colour, pigment pulled out as dry as fibre, the possibilities of paint handling are extended to the very limit.

These means match the ambitious scale of the project: to paint the evanescent light diffracted by water, to paint fountains, urban mirrors of our souls, lost at times

copyright Alexandra Bourre 2007