ntroduction to exhibition «Sur l'eau» at the Galerie de l'Ancien Courrier, Montpellier 2006 by Sophie Bastide-Foltz


That is what you see in Oliver’s latest canvases. The shapes of a few figures here and there, watching the river, or diving into it as though to pierce its mystery, seem incidental. The artist, as we know, having examined the urban environment with an almost scientific eye, a subject which fascinated him, became involved in the study of human behaviour, in particular that of young children skipping in a school yard. Indeed up to this point, I felt that Oliver was telling some kind of story - perhaps his own. But in these, his most recent works, he invites us to enter into a state of contemplation.

The Cèze and the Gardon are undoubtedly his inspiration, but these rivers where I too have passed so many hours, have never seemed to me so physically present, so deep or so luminous as they do in his canvases. Water, as painted by Oliver is primordial, universal, inevitably evoking memories of Monet or Seurat, whose Baignade à Asnières so impressed him. But how can you paint water when you are an admirer of Monet or Seurat? Oliver admits to having needed time, plenty of time to take the plunge, so to speak.

On deeper reflection, I cannot help wondering if his daughters in these paintings are not letting themselves be ‘taken over by the mystery of it all’, as he put it to me the other day. Or is it perhaps the artist himself, who has let go of the world of structured, architectural forms, and of bodies in movement, in favour of an inwardness which speaks of that truth described by the Chinese poet King Hao as: “breath and matter carried to their utmost intensity”?

Despite my admiration for Oliver’s technical mastery and his sensitivity, sometimes to the point of being quite dazzled by them, particularly by the light in his well loved Tuscan landscapes, I often used to feel that I was not quite in touch with his former paintings. But the day that he invited me to the studio to look at his new work, I was enthralled; it was as if I too were diving into the canvas, as if his painted water were suddenly to reveal its secrets. Or maybe I would find myself in the interior world of the artist at a moment when he would divulge some aspect of his personal enigma? In Oliver’s words: “The work speaks of what is going on in my life; superficially it is a visual diary.”

Only superficially however. Even if these new canvases radiate an impression of pure beauty and peace, I believe I can detect in them a certain solitariness, a barely acknowledged need, to get away from human concerns and enter a world of light and shadows, (admirably disposed here), where all desire to dominate fades away and disappears, and where man is only permitted to exist in a state of renunciation and humility, a place which every artist wishing to mark his passage on this earth, must call his home.

copyright Sophie Bastide-Foltz 2006