Born and raised in Paris, artist Jérôme Lagarrigue now lives and works in the United States, exploring the subtleties and complications of race, identity, and representation. In his new series, on view at Driscoll Babcock Galleries this fall, Lagarrigue’s muse is the African-American albino fashion model Shaun Ross. In a number of intimate portraits, Lagarrigue depicts both Ross’s distinctive features and the close connection that developed between the artist and his sitter over the course of several months.
The exhibition’s title, “Visible Man,” alludes to Ralph Ellison’s 1952 novel, Invisible Man, in which the protagonist is rendered effectively invisible by the racial mores of pre-Civil Rights-era American society. Ross, having become a highly sought-after model and token, the first albino fashion model, has rendered himself uncommonly visible in American culture. This is not without complications and frustrations, as is evident in Lagarrigue’s LE CRI (The Cry) (2014), an oil-on-linen profile of Ross screaming. The intensity of the image is heightened by Lagarrigue’s bold, expressive brushstrokes and bright colors against a dark background. The emotive drips and swipes from his brush project the tension beyond the picture plane.
GENESIS (2014) is one of the most straightforward portraits in Lagarrigue’s series. Here, Ross stares resolutely at the viewer, posing with the kind of erotic vacancy that made him so desirable in fashion. The background is a flurry of blue swirls over an orange under-painting. This layering of chromatic marks suggests the depth of personality and experience within his subject. This is part of Lagarrigue’s strategy of exploring formal aspects of painting that parallel his conceptual interest in race. The artist explains: “One of the drawbacks is that if you talk about race in art, especially if race is not necessarily your primary focus, your work has to fall into a specific box that people feel comfortable with in order to understand the piece … it’s destabilizing.”
AMONGST FIREFLIES (2014), depicts Ross, his back to the viewer, standing in a clearing surrounded by fireflies. The mythic, magical lights illuminate the figure with eerie greens against lush reds and blacks, a lavender and cobalt-blue sky overhead. Lagarrigue’s paintings present an accumulation of loose, gestural strokes at once finely resolved and energetic—a direct reflection of his vibrant subject.
“Visible Man” is on view at Driscoll Babcock Galleries, New York, Sept. 4th–Oct. 18th, 2014.