Eugène Leroy: Beware the Tragic Sublime

Eugène Leroy, Untitled, 1994, oil on canvas, 39 1/4 x 39 1/4 (courtesy Michael W
Eugène Leroy, Untitled, 1994, oil on canvas, 39 1/4 x 39 1/4 (courtesy Michael Werner Gallery)

Gwenaël Kerlidou reviews the exhibition Eugène Leroy: Nudes at Michael Werner Gallery, New York, on view through January 5, 2013.

Kerlidou writes that an interesting aspect of Leroy's work is "the insistence not only on the verticality of the standing nude but also on frontality. In that sense, we are not as far as we may think from the mainstay of cutting edge abstract modernism, where critique of the figure is front and center. What Leroy is doing was not so far from what Rothko (born in 1903), for example, was doing around 1949: inverting the tenets of the figure-ground equation, flattening them on a single plane; the painting becoming its own figure... transferring the spiritual presence of the figure to the painting itself, also shifted the emotional weight of the painted drama from a spectacle to a process, from the viewer to the painter; it is not a shared convention with the viewer anymore. The flattening of the plane of representation to that of presentation also turns the painter into the first emotional victim of his own work. In a certain scenario, Rothko dies because he is alone to bear the emotional weight of the impossibility of painting what needs to be painted. Leroy survives because he still shares the burden of the impossibility of representation with the viewer, because there is still a safe distance between the painter’s emotional involvement in his work and his subject matter. In hindsight, Leroy’s warning to young painters can be understood in terms of the dangers of the tragic sublime... There is no need to look for another sublime in Leroy’s view, as it is and always will be right in front of us, in the figure’s presence."