Jeff Schaller: Popping Back to Switzerland

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“Lindt” Beeswax paint on wood, 61cm x 61cm

Geneva’s queen of pop, Isabelle Dunkel has enticed Jeff Schaller back to Switzerland for his seventh exhibition here. I arrive at Galerie ID as the doors open. I first spy a beautifully executed pop image comprising nods to Swiss chocolate, a black and white film that I should know the name of and a hugely successful British TV comedy series. I stroll around. This show is classy, cool and consistent. Each work is immaculately framed and hung. But the maestro is yet to arrive; the normally unflappable Ms Dunkel shows a flicker of anxiety.

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“Swiss Miss” Acrylic and screen print on wood, 28cm x 28cm.

The Schaller family roll in a few minutes after fashion o’clock. Jeff and Désirée greet me warmly. Their three young’uns are immaculately turned out for the occasion and immaculately polite.

Jeff explains his European translation of the themes he would normally pick out with his trademark encaustic (hot beeswax paint) technique. He still “takes something and adds to it.” To images of beautiful women (this time, Brigitte Bardot,) his dots and screen prints he now adds skis, snow, Fellini movies, Absolutely Fabulous and… well… Switzerland in general. I find this refreshing (and deliciously un-Swiss!) given that “Pop Art” has been so firmly drenched in JFK, Marilyn, Stars and Stripes, Harley Davison, Coca-cola etc. This transatlantic sleight of hand still recalls the pop era but the fact that it is here in Geneva now means Jeff’s work has deftly shifted from retro to contemporary and so, most probably, is in a class of its own. I love it.

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“Geneva Geneva” Acrylic and screen print on wood, 28cm x 28cm

There is also a technical transition. Bringing the exhibition from the USA has demanded some smaller pictures to which encaustic is less suited. This has pushed Jeff to experiment with heated acrylic. The results are no less accomplished.

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“Helvetica.CH” Acrylic and mixed media, 33cm x 33cm

The picture that catches my eye, causes a double-take and draws a smile is “Helvetica.CH.” This is a delightful tongue-in-cheek take on one of the world’s most commonly used typefaces, Helvetica, developed in Switzerland (of course.)

The exhibition is very satisfying; it just comes together nicely. It is unique in that it represents American “pop art” at its approachable best but nourished by Europe. The exhibition runs until the end of May. No excuses!

More Geneva cave paintings!

One of our readers, Sari Setiogi, has photographed and curated a fantastic collection of Geneva cave paintings on her Instagram. Which one do you like the most?

Art Geneva 2017 opens on a frozen lakeside

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Geneva’s waterfront is blisteringly cold. A bruising north wind still blows off the water after last night’s storm. Swimming is definitely forbidden!

Well, it’s that time of year… but, exceptionally, it’s -6 degrees. Some hardy souls struggle to set up the fabulous lakeside big-sculpture extension of Art Geneva 2017 that opens next week. What I see enthralls me; imaginative, meticulous and outsized beautiful stuff.

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A massive white orchid turns away from the dull grey waves. Despite its pure glacial whiteness, it is delicate and bi-sexually erotic. I search in vain for a little plaque bearing the name of the master-sculptor.

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Just a hundred metres away is a  timber-diamond construction with windows (as yet unattributed). Again, somehow this gels with the subzero settings. I feel I am invited to climb into the mineral heart of this absurdly large wooden gem for shelter and to peer out. An after-thought arrives; whilst inside, I might even be able to make it roll in a semi-circle by a kind of lop-sided hamster-wheel effort.

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Really! How do people think these things up? I can only admire the fantasy-addled mind that created this three-chimneyed hobbit house with its five rooty entrances. If I was rabbit-sized I would hop in without doubt. What I love about it is that the invoked fantasy places me as the in-dweller observing today’s vicious elements from behind the thick glass of a ship-style port hole that, with arrival of the year’s first warm days, could be opened for the spring clean. Brilliant!

After ten minutes my frozen hands can no longer take photographs. I head for cover in a nearby café. I trust other works will appear when the weather permits. Give it a few days and take a stroll by the lakeside. Just admire the creative spirit behind this stuff! Wrap up warm!

Cave paintings in the twenty-first century?

Isaac calls me. “Hey, buddy, what going on with the advertising spaces in Geneva? Half the billboards are just covered with plain white paper. People have started to paint on them.” I grab my camera, hop on my bike and head into town.

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My first stop is right outside the University Hospital. Brilliant! This rapidotriptych by p2 recalls those ubiquitous questionnaires. So…. after your visit to hospital, were you unsatisfied, more-or-less satisfied or very satisfied with your treatment?

It’s cold. I freewheel down to the Plain Palais area.

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I find a bit of inner warmth in this rather beautifully designed rainbow-love-eye. Next to it is RZINO’s grotesque zombie face.

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This is fascinating. I think it most likely that an ad agency has gone bust and not having material to stick up has simply painted its billboards white. I’m a sucker for street painting but there’s always the reasonable debate whether such work is beautiful stuff or vandalism. In my view, if someone leaves open white spaces like this all-around town, then those shadowy figures armed with brush or spray can would reasonably see this as an invitation to set about their business. It’s difficult to call this vandalism; my pendulum of judgement swings towards beautiful stuff.

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This is by “Charles drawin'”?? Clever! Is his work the outcome of natural selection? Charles has been busy; he has covered about twenty billboards. His slick, rapid brush strokes hang between abstract and the figurative. Here, I sort of see a lady running in billowing skirts with a dog hurrying along beside her. I’ve seen less interesting stuff in the most exclusive of galleries.

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And take a look at this! @CRBZ.TYPO has covered the white with mat black and then overlain sumptuous interwoven arabesque golden curves. I am reminded of the liveries of exclusive Middlle-Eastern airlines. Amazing to encounter this “on the street.”

I head over to the other side of town. I find two billboards taken over by half a sun.

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In orbit around our blazing sun are three planets. The blue planet (Earth), the red planet (Mars) and what is obviously a bigger Saturn. A lonely little voice says “Allo”!? reflecting our constant search – or hope – for some kind of cosmic life-form that, we believe, will understand our greeting and respond appropriately. I also love the little random splashes of blue paint. A little bit of chaos theory thrown in?

What is happening on these cold white ad spaces is really exciting. It has a raw appeal. It’s straight from the guts. At the same time, much of it is technically accomplished. (It beats the edndless ads for health and beauty spas, visiting circuses, luxury watches and political parties.) What makes this different from other “art forms” is that it results from people doing their beautiful stuff unbidden and unpaid. Many of us would not even recognise it as “art” (whatever that might be.) I reflect on some aboriginal rock paintings I saw last year in Australia and, in turn, all those famous cave paintings that cause such excitement. So, here’s the question: If there’s no element of vandalism, does filling these empty billboards represent a primal human urge to leave a mark for others? A mark that indicates what I see, what I fear, what I hope for or what I believe in? Are we looking at the equivalent of cave paintings in the twenty-first century?

Maybe other readers of Talking Beautiful Stuff have taken an interest in what is happening on our streets? Have you got photos of other billboards that you think we should see? Send them to us. We’ll try and find your favourite, contact the modern cave-painter and do a feature on his or her work.

Before you go….. look what stared out at me from the shadows as I waited for a tram last night!

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He photographs the songs of Charles Aznavour!

This is photography in a league of its own. Imagine you have the words of songs on paper with no opportunity to hear them sung. Imagine also that the songs are amongst the most iconic of French songs sung by one of the most iconic of French singers. In his exhibition “Viens voir les comédiens,” photographer Patrice Fileppi sets out to deliver via images the passion, heartbreak, despair, nostalgia, jealousy and love-misery that the songs of Charles Aznavour engage. Does he succeed? You bet!

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Fileppi gives me a tour of his exhibition. His iPhone allows me to hear Aznavour croon the most famous line of franglais: “You are the one for me, for me, for me formidable!” The corresponding photo is immaculately and beautifully staged. It radiates the misty-eyed moment of madness when a frenchman declares his love for a freckle-faced English beauty. The pigeons and the bronze horses share the startled excitement as she runs towards her new amour to throw her arms around his neck. The dress and indeed the freckles reflect the texture of the polished marble of the fountain (that in turn subtly alludes to multiple ejaculations.) A London bus goes by. It bears an advertisement urging us to fly British Airways; this is maybe how our gallant arrived in London. Was he invited over by a call from an O-so-British telephone box?

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An elderly gentleman watches old films at home. We have no idea what is being projected. Whatever it is, it has reduced him to a kind of stupefied half-smile of nostalgia and regret. His hands are clasped as if in anticipation of a particular moment in the film. He is twenty years old again. Aznavour’s “Hier encore” is about times passed, time lost on stupidities, loves lost and a life that has achieved only a well-furrowed brow. In creating such a poignant image, Fileppi surrounds the man with fragments of his past but denies us, the viewers, a glimpse of what is moving him so. A large oil painting shows a half-open garden gate with nothing beyond. Despite its extravagant frame, the painting sits on the floor leaning against the wall. It is not hung because preference is given to a jumbled gallery of small photographs of people. The man wears a thick woollen pullover that gives warmth and protection against a cold and menacing loneliness.

Whist on a relaxing holiday in 2011, Fileppi’s mind idled. He then heard an Aznavour song. He then found himself really listening to “Comme ils disent.” He was profoundly moved. In his mind a scene appeared. He then wanted to photograph this scene… but first he had to create it. And so the story starts. This former electrical engineer – self taught in photography – tells me the exhibition “is a visual reflection of the emotion I feel while listening to the songs of Charles Aznavour. It is a tribute to him.” The exhibition comprises twenty large square photographs each representing a song that has touched him most. Why the square format? It is a timely allusion to those old vinyl album covers!

Fileppi is welcoming, modest and generous with his time. I spend a couple of hours discussing his work. I come to appreciate his creativity and attention to detail. Both are admirable. I begin to understand the days and energy invested in these twenty images and why the whole is the culmination of four years work. I realise that, above all, Fileppi is a photographic story-teller. This is why I am drawn to his exhibition; it is strong on narrative. And I am always drawn to the narrative behind beautiful stuff. Furthermore, the narrative of Fileppi’s beautiful stuff is intriguingly layered. There is the narrative of the whole project. There is the narrative of each Aznavour song. There is the narrative of the interpretation from words to image. There is finally the technical narrative of Fileppi’s scene-setting for each photo.

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For a modest sum, Fileppi sells a sumptuous catalogue of these photographs in high resolution next to the words of the parent song. For fans of Monsieur Aznavour, my copy just happened to fall open at the pages dedicated to “La Bohème!”

This exhibition is hosted by “Images de Marque” at 12, Grand Rue (Old Town) in Geneva.  It runs until Friday, 28th October. Don’t miss it and don’t simply wander around looking. Seek out and let yourself be carried away by those wonderful narratives!