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More Subtle Than You Thought: Pierre Louaver’s Painting

First of all they aren’t “simply” paintings. Nor are they “pure” abstraction.

Part of the problem in talking about Louaver’s paintings is to say what they are about without falling into clichés. It would be easier if I identified what they don’t have: canvas, bohemians, graffiti, nudes, etc.

But neither are the paintings contemporary flat, modernist formalist, death of metaphor and illusion.

He is an artist who would agree with the statement, “I prefer to avoid anything circumstantial in the subjects I paint,” although he has little else in common with the man who said it (Dubuffet).

Pierre Louaver, "Screensaver #10."

For what it’s worth, both Gauguin and Andre Breton were also from Brittany. The rebels from that part of the world make their work as they please. The world will catch up later.

There is, to start with, the recurring image of a window. To climb into or out of?

The typical Louaver painting is made out of silk (or nylon) on stretchers. The early paintings in the current series were large single panels, some as large as five by six feet, with the single image of a window painted on. Now they are much larger, spreading out as far as eight by ten but made up of two, three and sometimes more discrete panels, each with a slightly different color silk, with his complex window painted on in increasingly smaller dimensions. They are about the size of your palm now.

The color of his windows, which he currently calls “Screensavers,” varies ever so slightly within each canvas and are one of the main pleasure of looking at his work. The painting in the Exhibit A show entitled “Screensaver #6” might just as well have been called “Autumn Jazz,” or another “Coral Screen (Screensaver #7).”

“Threshold,” from 1991, is a canvas doorway big enough to walk through—which must have been the intent.

Again, even the word “canvas” is wrong. Silk is a living entity, and very difficult to work with. It spoils easily. When you walk into a gallery showing his work, or into his studio, you enter a space filled with brilliant, subtle colors, painstakingly applied whatever the dimensions. The various frames seem to bounce off on another across the room until all the canvases are in motion. Perhaps that’s why he titled one small painting with a large window in it “Still”—as in a movie.

Louaver achieves his effects through contradictions. To point out a few: the painting is a rectangular box sitting on a wall—but here it is a transparent box, whose inner frames are visible and whose paint casts shadows; as an idea, “painting” versus silk; severity of conception versus the opulence of color. All this leads you to a door that is simultaneously open and closed.

If Louaver learned his geometry in school from Barnett Newman, for color he’s drinking at the same bar as Gauguin.

The windows in their various sizes play off each other as in a grand game of theme and variation. It is the subtlety of the color differences that creates the movement that occurs in a large room filled with his work. And yes, they really do need to be seen en masse.

Perhaps the things that most impresses me about Louaver is that he goes about his life in the simplest manner possible, he works and he paints as if these were the two most important things in the world. His output is prodigious. New York’s legendary distractions don’t seem to stop him. He doesn’t take vacations…in any case, how can an artist take a vacation? From what?


James Graham

James Graham writes and photographs New York artists at work. You can reach him at


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