Magazine article Artforum International

Elsa Sahal: CLAUDINE PAPILLON GALERIE

Magazine article Artforum International

Elsa Sahal: CLAUDINE PAPILLON GALERIE

Article excerpt

Over the past decade, French ceramicist Elsa Sahal has conceived a universe where ostensible contradictions--abstraction versus figuration, male versus female, adorable versus abject--are reconciled into a variety of unsettling biomorphic forms. In her most recent exhibition, Sahal expanded her repertoire of tubular phalluses and thick-lipped orifices dribbled with syrupy glazes, creating two new breeds of large-scale androgynous figures. Explicitly corporeal, if not always blatantly figural, the sculptures are perhaps best described as bodies of clay--insistently of and about their own materiality. Harnessing the innate physical properties of her medium, Sahal convincingly suggests varied skin textures, facial expressions, general fleshiness, and assorted bodily secretions. In her deft hands, clay (soft and pliant) and glaze (runny and warm) become biological.

The bodies in Sahal's 2009-12 "Arlequins" series occupy a precarious limbo between abstraction and figuration. With no obvious front or back, they encourage all-around viewing, whereby strikingly humanoid gestures and anatomies morph into nebulous blobs from one angle to the next. Sahal's complicated approach to figurative representation is indebted to Georges Bataille's concept of the informe. Although Saha! is clearly following in the footsteps of Dubuffet and Fautrier, who visualized this idea in the 1940s with heavily encrusted depictions of barely distinguishable ravraged bodies, her personages are less violently nightmarish and more whimsical and sensual than theirs. Her harlequins are headless child-size figures etched with the emblematic diamond motif and coated with a glossy bubble gum pink glaze. Thick dribbles of gleaming gold around the clowns' neck stumps are at once overtly painterly and undeniably scatological. Objectively grotesque distortions of the human form, these gooey, lumpy, knock-kneed creatures are also perversely endearing and aesthetically alluring. …

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