In the Aladdin’s cave that is contemporary art, painting and its many traditions have long coexisted alongside more innovative approaches to art-making, notably those offered by new technologies. The young French artist Valentin Dommanget strives to reconcile the aesthetic possibilities of digital media with those of paint, while also leveling the hierarchy between image and support.
After studying fashion and textile design in Paris, Dommanget earned an MFA last year from London’s Central Saint Martins. His hybrid education informs his art, as his first solo exhibition, “Digital Stretcher Studies,” illustrated. The eight subtle, sensual abstract canvases on display (all 2014-15, except one student piece from 2013) dazzle and confound the eye. Their interwoven skeins, flecks and micro strata of pigments evoke boundless spaces—celestial, aqueous, cellular—and recall the warp and woof of fabrics.
The exceptionally smooth surfaces of Dommanget’s paintings look as if they have been printed. His artisanal technique, however, derives from the ancient Japanese practice of marbling paper known as suminagashi, in which colorful inks are dabbed onto the surface of water with brushes and then absorbed by a virgin piece of paper laid over them. Despite a general similitude, the resulting swirls and arabesques are unique, like fingerprints.
In his adaptation of suminagashi, Dommanget employs contemporary materials, including acrylic spray paint, diluted fluorescent and phosphorescent pigments, and chemical solutions to precipitate various reactions. He either places pieces of canvas on the liquid surface or submerges them in the water, which he then evacuates to enable the paint to settle onto them. During the latter process, pigments are applied individually, and the canvases are dried before being submerged anew. An adept colorist with remarkable dexterity, Dommanget nonetheless cultivates chance as part of the creative act.
In contrast to the traditional techniques employed to create his surfaces, Dommanget designs unique stretchers using a limited-capacity computer that he expertly “manhandles” (his term). Opening multiple programs and Web pages, he pushes the machine until it freezes. He then takes photos of the overlapping windows and, on a second computer, rotates them to varying degrees with 3-D-modeling software. The ensuing forms function as sketches from which he builds wooden stretchers. In Digital Stretcher Studies VI, Digital Stretcher Studies X8 and Digital Stretcher Studies X3, Dommanget wraps his marbled canvases around multiple stretchers placed one atop the other at different angles, creating slight recessions and protrusions, like facets of gems or crystals. The artworks’ distinct physicality as reliefs echoes the illusionistic depths of the compositions. Elsewhere, Balance hung askew from the upper left corner of its classic rectangular stretcher, with a second bare diamond-shaped stretcher next to it; the diamond’s apex leaned on the rectangle’s right edge with its base buttressed against the adjacent wall in a delicate display of equilibrium. Finally, Digital Stretcher Studies IV features an L-shaped stretcher that rested on the floor and hugged the wall.
While Dommanget does not embrace any particular historical influences, one cannot help but associate his explorations of the stretcher with like endeavors by his compatriot Daniel Dezeuze of the Supports/Surfaces group as well as those by Ellsworth Kelly or Frank Stella. At the same time, his abstract yet gestural canvases, which are decidedly free of impastoed bravura, conjure Helen Frankenthaler. As the title “Digital Stretcher Studies” suggests, however, the true source of intrigue when confronted with Dommanget’s work is not where he has come from, but rather where he is going.