Claude Goutin Sketches the Mystery of Death in his “Battle Between Day and Night”

Mar 23, 2016 2:21AM

“This here is the battle between day and night. I see black light.” So, according to legend, were Victor Hugo’s last words—fittingly poetic for the author of Les Misérables. At Galerie Michel Giraud in Paris, Claude Goutin’s new show takes its title from Hugo’s final words and transforms the sentiment into a series of haunting drawings.

Goutin is known as a sculptor who transforms bronze and cement into stoic portraits of nudes. Whereas his sculptures feel heavy and considered, his drawings showcase a different artistry, one dominated by an expressive style composed of light and fast pen strokes.

Each of Goutin’s drawings is like a small parable, a glimpse of story for unknown figures and spare landscapes. Interestingly, horses are a recurring motif. Les Cavaliers de la nuit (2015) imagines the encroaching night as a group of ghostly horses, while Le jour repousse la nuit (2014) offers a more literal interpretation of Hugo’s utterance, with a black horse and rider lunging against a white horse. For Goutin, the horse becomes a symbol of isolation, a companion for lonely riders caught on a long, unending journey.

Many of Goutin’s other scenes focus on groups confronting tragedy together. Nuit tragique (2014) shows three figures huddled together, spying a calamity in the distance. Though the distant disaster is shrouded in mystery, their faces convey shock and horror.

La nuit des morts vivants (2015) more overtly embraces the supernatural themes that linger throughout Goutin’s drawings. Here, a black cat arches its back as skeletons emerge from their graves and crawl forward. As suggested by Hugo’s words, the scene captures the sense of unease we all feel as death lurches toward us.

—A. Wagner

Battle Between Day and Night” is on view at Galerie Michel Giraud, Paris, Mar. 24–Apr. 16, 2016.

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