From density to dissolution


Thomas Tronel-Gauthier was shown at the 55th Salon de Montrouge in 2010. Since then he has taken part in several group and individual shows in France and abroad. Until 14 February 2014 he presented Matière d’origines (The Matter of Origins) at the Galerie Saint-Séverin in Paris then from January to May he was offered a creative residency at the Yvetot agrofood vocational school in partnership with the Galerie Duchamp.

No doubt as a child he must have received as a gift the Perfect Little Alchemist Set. Indeed, ever since Thomas Tronel-Gauthier has been practicing experiments on matter, any kind of matter. His Paris studio is probably more like a melting pot where polyester foam volcanic sand, colourful candy, tiger balm and a jumble of resins are mixed and smelted. But the young artist, born in 1982, is not interested in changing lead into gold, his pursuits are elsewhere and though more modest they are still essential.

His work turns nature into artifice, the instant into eternity. His taste for tinkering with matter stems from roaming the studios at the Strasbourg Decorative Art School where he was trained and learned to handle, right from the start, wood, ceramics and metal. However, it was another aspect that drew the attention of the Salon de Montrouge, where he was shown in 2010: the sculptures he produced using elements normally found in kitchens that he re-appropriates with his poetic touch. Thus he scored a tree trunk with the type of red paste used for making sweets and hung fake fruit, actually candies, onto a real raspberry bush. He sometimes also uses gelatin. By gluing transparent squares onto the window panes, he tampers with our perception of the landscape thus composing a nicely myopic stained glass effect, “a skin which becomes alive with sounds as it retracts”.

Still the young man is not at all limited to culinary elements. He rapidly broadens his scope, starts fossilizing sponges and even manages to capture in paint the fog lacing the bay of Ha Long. “In fact, what I am interested in are the cycles of life, shaping deforming and reforming what has been destroyed”, he explains. Whether at the Villa Cameline in Nice or the Centre d’art de Clamart, he challenges the fleeting instant: the lines left by the tide on a sandy beach, even the wave itself. Thanks to a sophisticated moulding technique, he is able to reproduce elusive landscapes. They become, under his touch, fragments of dark waves, or again a wave captured as it is swelling within an old fashioned bathtub.

Unsurprisingly, his art bloomed during his three-month residency in the Marquesas Islands last year. Of Gauguin’s paradise he discovered the sad truth: a society seduced by the all-American, stripped of any original identity, a priori. However he probes deeper, hangs around, observes the children he organises a workshop for, and learns the ancestral technique of tapa bark cloth, studies the phallic shapes of the kitchen pestles carved from local lava rock, listens to hopes of renewing ties with the original culture. Then his work takes a turn. With the video, medium yet unknown to him, he captures the graceful beauty of the waters where the amphibious “sirens” – as an endemic fish is called locally – live, clinging to their rocks between sea and air. His photographs freeze the sudden impact of a wave on the black sand. But most of all, he reflects upon the ultimate taboo for these prudish – thanks to evangelization – islands: the consequences of the nuclear tests at Mururoa. He witnesses the unspoken words of some of the many cancer patients. And then, after his initial sculptures representing algae lacework carved in Japanese packing polystyrene, he begins engraving the carefully kept unmentioned nuclear mushrooms on the mother-of-pearl oyster shells. As Gauguin did, he questions the legitimacy of our presence on these islands while actually changing profoundly.

Clearly it is not by chance that his works speak of transition, the passage from density to dissolution: our contemporary paradises are they not made of such unstable matter.


Emmanuelle Lequeux

Published in The Art Daily News (december 13th 2013) and in the 59th Salon de Montrouge catalogue (May 2014)