Entering Stéphane Zaech’s imaginary realm and his studio are equally reassuring experiences. The visitor feels a sense of familiarity on seeing genres canonised by art history such as portraits, landscapes and history paintings and joy at witnessing a solid mastery of the artist’s trade, judging the ambition of his formats, and seeing the classical techniques of drawing and oil painting still in use. Yet the sense of celebration soon dissolves: there is no trace of Greek beauty, harmonious proportions, or transparent subjects. Zaech’s art seems to hang together solely by its virtuoso execution, playing with references to the geniuses whose work he has studied in depth, from the Baroque masters to Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon and Alex Katz.
The painting’s title is another take on his approach, combining literary ideas and caustic reveries. It conjures up the Second World War (Pearl Harbor) and the Venice church decorated by Tintoretto and where he lies buried (Madonna dell’Orto) – two times and spaces that collide on the canvas. In concrete terms, the work features the almost forced inclusion of a figure inspired by the seventeenth-century Spanish painter Diego Velásquez, with contemporary faces, attitudes and clothing. The preciosity of the cross-dressing figure (‘Pearl’) contrasts with the bucolic countryside panorama (‘orto’, the orchard).
‘The beans come straight from the neighbourhood kitchen gardens, and the mountain landscape is also based on my surroundings, corrupted by my memory that arranges things to suit itself as it goes along’, the artist explains. All sorts of ‘arrangement’ and ‘corruption’ are apparent in this sardonic pastiche of an eighteenth-century masquerade, influenced by classical Chinese landscape painting, down to its very composition and even the artist’s signature.
Stéphane Fraetz (ed.), Stéphane Zaech. The Crossing, Lausanne, art&fiction, 2013.
Philippe Pirotte, Florence Grivel and Stéphane Zaech, Stéphane Zaech. Loyola, exh. cat. Bienne, Centre PasquArt, Zurich, Niggli, 2009.