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Nicolas Party: Boys and Pastel

Inverleith House, Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh, May 2nd-June 21st.

Inside Inverleith
House, Nicolas Party and a small regiment of assistants are painting every
available inch of wall-space with rich blocks of colour. These will form the
scenic  backdrop  to a series of new works that will make up the Swiss-born,
Glasgow-trained, Brussels-based artist's first major solo show in a UK public
gallery. As a former graffiti artist, Party is used to transforming the
landscape, and in keeping with this, the murals will be as integral to the
experience as a stage set.

As the consciously effete and decidedly unmacho
title of the show suggests, the characters that eventually do appear are equally
theatrical and exclusively male figures. Whether seen singly or in
conspiratorial pairs, with their rouged cheeks and puffed-out, exaggerated
demeanour, if not for their unsmiling expressions that give them the air of ever
so slightly predatory Victorian dolls come to life, Party's boys might otherwise
be mistaken for seaside postcard caricatures.

“I'd never used pastels before
I saw a Picasso show in Basel,” says Parry of his own show's roots. “There was a
classic portrait of a woman which struck me, but when I started to do my own
portraits, I didn't want them to be of girls and fall into the trap of me trying
to make a fantasy girl or something. That's why I started to do boys and men,
and the make up on faces comes from rubbing in the pastel colours with your
fingers, so it's really like doing a massage on someone, so the make-up came
quite naturally.

“It's like painting a different face onto them, because they
don't have any personality. They're not real people. Like Picasso's pastels,
they come from these stylised Greek statues. They don't seem to be alive. They
look quite fascist, and are all looking at something, but with the make-up look
quite feminine, so they don't look dangerous anymore.”

In this respect, Party
acknowledges a loose-knit narrative at play, from the ground floor images of
barren rock formations and trees pushing through the earth and beanstalk like,
out of view, to the upstairs focus on man-made constructions – teapots, fruit, a
cluster of buildings – before the male figures themselves emerge as the stillest
lives of all.

Party grew up reading Tintin and other comic books, and such
influences are apparent in his male figures. In the Inverleith House basement,
meanwhile, older animated film works look to early, pre-blockbuster Walt Disney,
when technical experiments with what was still a relatively new form were set to
equally experimental soundtracks that drove the abstract narratives. While this
too points to a central narrative being framed by such a rich setting, Party
happily admits he's still feeling his way in using such an expansive canvas.

“It's a unique situation,” he says, “being in this beautiful house in the
middle of these beautiful gardens. That's why I wanted to work with the house,
not just the rooms, but the staircase, the lift, the basement, and everything
else, so you go on some kind of journey. But in a way I'm also hiding behind the
murals. I should maybe do less, but I'm not brave enough to do that yet.”

The List, May 2015

ends

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