Through the Looking Glass: Swan Scalabre and the Imagery of Fairy Tales
An effective artist is a storyteller. Through the vibrancy of color, the balance of shadow and light, and composition of character, artists can create worlds in a visual medium. French painter, Swan Scalabre, (now on view at JoAnne Artman Gallery) has placed storytelling at the forefront of her artistic expression.
Scalabre’s small-scale oil paintings depict the common plights of women from classic movies and fairy tales as well as their iconographies. “She’s a universal woman,” Scalabre explains of the protagonists of her paintings. “I think the viewer can find themselves in these characters.”
Often portrayed in a delicate, dreamlike state, the heroines at the center of Scalabre’s impressionist art are symbols of the silent gaze placed on women. The universes of these paintings, constructed in collections like Jeunesse (“Youth”), Jour En Blanc (“White Day”), and Tempête (“Storm”), communicate an all-too-relatable desire to transcend reality and temporality and escape to a fairy tale world.
Take the protagonist of Scalabre’s Infiniment n°3 (2022). She is portrayed with dark bobbed hair and rosy cheeks, and she gazes at the viewer with a book in her hands, reminiscent of Belle from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Adapted from Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve’s 1740 fairy tale La Belle et La Bête, Beauty and the Beast presents a beautiful, bookish young woman who longs for something “more than this provincial life.” Eventually, through her courtship with the Beast, Belle ends up in a magical castle with her true love and achieves her happily ever after.
Scalabre’s artwork not only evokes icons and tropes from classic movies and fairytales, it mimics these inspirations in form as well; her paintings are composed in series like scenes of a film or chapters of a story. “Swan builds a rich pictorial universe,” her biography claims, “revealing step by step a world that belongs only to her.”
If the folkloric aspect of Scalabre’s art still seems unclear, just look at the exposed, wooden frames that enclose her paintings. These shadow box frames envelop Scalabre’s intimate paintings like a dust jacket over a winding story book; it is no wonder that she refers to them affectionately as her “secret boxes.” Indeed, like all great mythic characters, Scalabre’s figures have some secrets of their own. “There is a mystery behind the women,” Scalabre says, “that I do not necessarily understand.”
Now on View @ JoAnne Artman Gallery Laguna Beach + NY, NY