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Jean-Marc Bustamante

You won’t find many people in Jean-Marc Bustamante’s work. If you can
see the wood for the trees in his multi-format array of working
materials that form an architectural whole, the impression, as should
be seen in much of ‘Dead Calm’, a major solo show which opens at
Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket Gallery this month, is of a solitary onlooker
taking documentary snapshots of dirty back roads and deserted
Ballardian swimming pools. Early work especially looks culled from
extensive visits to assorted building sites, Bustamante’s more recent
output seems to have found a play-room to call his own among, or
usually within, the debris. All of which sounds at odds with the French
artist’s personality as much as form and content rub up against each
other in the work.

“It’s nice to be in a foreign country,” Bustamante muses down the line
from Munich, where he teaches painting. “I’m not the sort of artist who
works all day in the studio. I need to go out and see things and
exchange ideas, so for me to come to Munich and be confronted with all
these new ideas from young students, it’s fresh air.”

Born in 1952, Bustamante remains little known in Britain, but has been
feted in France since his early days assisting film-maker and
photographer William Klein in the 1970s. Bustamante began to find
recognition in his own right for his monumental ‘Tableaux’ series,
which fused photography and sculpture in a set of contrary gestures
that seemed to set worlds within worlds.

In the 1980s, Bustamante worked collaboratively with sculptor Bernard
Bazile before more recent works introduced Plexiglass into an already
foundation-heavy mix that the word ‘installation’ doesn’t really do
justice. While Bustamante is loathe to use the word retrospective, The
Fruitmarket show, which features several new Plexiglass-based paintings
alongside work from the 1980s and 1990s, is nevertheless a large-scale
introduction into his world. As a primer, ‘Dead Calm’ transfers to its
co-producers, the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds, prior to a new show,
‘Take Something Hot and Cool It Down’, which opens at the Timothy
Taylor Gallery in London the same month.

As Bustamante himself acknowledges, some kind of location, however
opaque, is crucial to his output. Even the title of the show has a
simultaneously barren and soothing serenity to it.

“I like words related to meteorology,” he says. “The phrase ‘dead calm’
means that nothing is moving. Everything is within gravity and moves
within a particular position. There is no wind. Nothing. My work is
really related to the notion of place. There’s this absence of the
body. I don’t like to go back to old work too much, but it’s also
interesting to follow the line of the work. Now, I’m much more playful.
I’m more interested in the idea of being colourful. Now I think much
more about light. I‘m always interested in the relationship between the
suburbs and the city. So the first floor of the show is very colourful,
but the basement is very black and white. So in a way the whole show is
as if you’re moving up from the ground and towards the sky.”

Jean-Marc Bustamante – Dead Calm, Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh,
February 4th-April 3rd

The List, February 2011

Ends

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