A three-cushioned drama. The billiard scenes painted by Jacqueline de Jong between 1976 and 1979 form a quasi-filmic sequence of visual intrigues and playful plots. They are the sign of an admirable power of observation; precisely that which the game - where one looks, perhaps even more intensely than in others - is able to cultivate. Here we are in front of the paintings, perched and omniscient, hands behind our backs, body bent forward to hope to see better, appreciating the strategy at work, scrutinizing the blow about to be delivered, calculating its future consequences. The spectators of the series thus become the referees-observers of a hushed theater, as close as possible to the gestures, nevertheless in a position of effacement. They rely on the elementary rules of French billiards, which is exclusively discussed here, and which is played with three balls (two white, one red) on a table without pockets. A preliminary reminder: the competitor's objective is simply to hit the other two balls with his game ball. He then wins a point and the right to consider the next one, condemning his opponent to the passive contemplation of his defeat.
The field of action is a flat and fundamentally abstract expanse whose overhanging lights, through the play of shadows they provoke, disrupt the monochromy.
De Jong seizes the canonical greenery of the carpet, sometimes dark and forest, sometimes clear and poisonous, venturing in certain compositions towards a Nordic blackness, in others towards an exceptional whiteness. The potential trajectories of generally disproportionate spheres, already shocked or about to be shocked, intersect. The action is in progress in Black Coup (1976-1978) and its festival of textures. The work projects the viewer obliquely into the frame, through an image dealing simultaneously with the two energies summoned, kinetic and mental.
Lustre and mattness, effects and reflections, motions, collisions and frictions, accompanied by irresistible tactile calls: here, painting is a game. The trompe-l'œil turns to the surreal by greed of exactitude, the varnished wooden sticks and the bandaged forearms, struck by light, give free rein to the expressive power of their ribbed surfaces. The railings, windows, colored tiles and other wavering checkerboards disturb the feeling of stability, however essential to the good progress of the game. Everything is tension, everything is rebound. Intricacies of lines and angles, bickering between planes and volumes, putting in contact fabrics alternately smooth or crumpled.
De Jong's approach is both intellectual and recreational, making two birds with one stone. Each framing encapsulates, through clever telescoping, the general environment of the billiard table on the one hand, and its small details on the other. Close-ups: chalky processes, cracked ferrules, table legs and rivets, lonely blue cubes, bracelets, glasses, pedestal tables and ashtrays. While depicting a critical moment, Marker (1977) features the point-counting tool embedded in the table frame, not far from the trio of marbles whose painted material generates unexpected miniature landscapes. Contortions and twists at all levels. Those of the spaces and the bodies, as in the representation of the legendary blow played the tail behind the back and its acrobatic surplus value. Those of the "crispy hands" (Crispy Hands, 1977) and of their twisted fingers, between which the cues - or the brushes - slide. There is no need to call upon the genealogy of painters who have taken up the subject through the ages. In a clever imagery, both absolutely original and implicitly referenced, De Jong achieves an agile compression of everything that gives billiards its aesthetic, erotic and gendered charge. She proposes a totalizing vision, where cognitive, social and semantic considerations play on equal terms.
In a way, it must be said that De Jong comes after the battle. Just when the centuries-old history of this activity, first reserved for the royal courts before spreading to the back rooms of gambling dens, was going through a certain remission. It was after a marked interest in pinball - another marble-based pastime that contributed to the fall into disuse of the popular practice of table sports - that it was propelled towards billiards. The latter combines the triviality of a bistro pastime with the survival of an aristocratic refinement, forming two poles between which De Jong's imagery constantly oscillates. The intrinsic elegance of the table and the dancing postures rub shoulders with vulgarity in various avatars, manipulated by the artist with irony.
From the same series, the portraits of finely inlaid erectile canes, presented erect on a neutral background, lead the investigation to the side of the male fetish of the small property. The trap is foiled in the intriguing Portrait of a Tail in its Foudrale (1976), which depicts an arrow and its shaft side by side, waiting to be screwed in. Adjacent to the dismembered tail, the case fits the height of the canvas, proudly displaying the red and white balls raised in Holy Trinity. An invitation to grab the tool, in order to be part of the game.
For in Jacqueline de Jong's billiard scenes, even when it is unoccupied, the table is never truly unplayed. Her faithful figurations of the moves and their typology (retros, sunken, piqué, massed, false cues...), are certainly the proof of an intimate understanding of the game, if not of a desire to play. Deploying a singular lexicon, the chosen titles, mischievous and multilingual, cryptic or evocative, confirm this intuition. They make language itself, like the table and its topography, an inseparable protagonist of the whole. If the artist maintains that she has no concrete experience of billiards, she asserts herself as a formidable competitor in the field of vision and its processes. She ensures the conquest of the plan of the painting, that the green carpet and its frame metaphorize.
Or vice versa. Occupying a special place in the series, the frontal Black Billiards (1978) definitely raises the table to the vertical of the picture, offering a zenithal view that allows an optimal readability of the game situation. The image immediately recalls the codes of its television broadcasting, just like a staggering sequence from Jean-Pierre Melville's Red Circle, combining minimalist aesthetics and virilist tension. The painting, even more than the masterful Mysterie (1977) currently exhibited in a traveling retrospective devoted to the artist, is oriented towards formal purity. Neither player, nor visible player in Black Billiards, whose distribution of the elements carries however the indices of a thought in act, seized at the threshold of its achievement, of the end of the tail. The work divulges both the enigma and its solution: possible readings of the table are pictorially suggested, by a network of lines escaping the insufficiently concentrated viewers. So let's play. Effect on the right on the cue ball, first touch on the white one, towards the red one by the small strip, after possible rebound on the big one. A point, and the series continues.
– Victor Claass
Galerie Allen is a unique model capitalising on the varied experiences of an independent curator, Joseph Allen Shea, and artist, Mel O’Callaghan, to create a platform where commercial is the structure of an entire ecology to support the ethical presentation, promotion and production of contemporary art.
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Boris Achour • Laëtitia Badaut Haussmann • Maurice Blaussyld • Jacqueline de Jong • Linus Bill + Adrien Horni • Mia Marfurt • Angelica Mesiti • Mel O'Callaghan • Colin Snapp • Daniel Turner • Natsuko Uchino • Emmanuel Van der Meulen • Trevor Yeung