by Sanya Souvanna
The aesthetic of Christian Develter, in particular in his paintings of Asian women, is one of mystery. His paintings are portraits of women who do not speak nor appear to have any- thing to do if not if being contemplated by the viewer. Develter’s work depicts a beauty conceived on the principles of daydream and pleasure. His work does not have any explanatory ambition: it seeks neither to solve nor to decipher the enigma for which it stands. On the contrary, it answers by posing another question, as a mask one might merely substitute for another mask. Exemplary of the fascination the East has exerted on the West, Jim Thompson believed he unveiled the mystery of silk. Yet he eventually disappeared in the Ma- laysian jungle, caught by the very mystery he dared to defy. Develter, in modern contrast, is smarter. He does not attempt to demystify. For, aren’t you under the charm of these female faces? Stylistically, Develter ignores the cubist heritage of a modern painting, proud of its distorted, fresh and surreal way of feeling.
When photographs appeared, Cézanne was perhaps the first to understand what would survive in the era of photographs.
What good is it to paint a portrait, still life, or a landscape, when a photograph can reproduce reality with such fidelity, even if only in black and white? Cézanne, in his discernment, by his genius, managed to redefine the boundaries of his artistry, by focusing, quite logically, on colour and surface texture.
Develter’s work contributes to the history of painting, gripped in exploring new forms, colours and languages, in a manner that is not conceptual, traditional, nor even modern. His style defies being registered within a single category. These full areas, these impeccable flat tints, are they unfortunate? Is this completion more than perfect? Is his saturation of colour in- appropriate? That is not the question. Obviously, he could have imitated the execution of a David Hockney, or even of a jubilant Picasso, but this wouldn’t command more esteem. No, what is admirable in Christian Develter, beyond the choice of his subjects, is precisely that stubbornness, which characterizes him, to be adamant in that hyper-finished, almost exaggerated style, specific to the makeup of the stage, and of the cinema as we know it between the nineteen thirties and the Nouvelle Vogue. For, what Develter paints, is first and foremost a particular light, the very kind one finds on a stage or in a movie studio, intense and hard. There is no background in the shadows, no half-painted detail, no sinuous valley, no window nor door, not even a horizon. These figures are detached from reality, a reality that does not exist, which is not meant to be in his painting. What he paints is a surface, a mask, a figure that, before reappearing under his brush stroke, was almost faded, like a lost memory, in oblivion. Often painting subjects from photographs, Develter invites us to re-examine them, to re-experience them, through another spotlight, another flash. Hence the joy that emanates from the paintings, the recurrent light-hearted feeling, the absence of anguish, which can arguably reduce Develter to a “pop,” “glamorous,” or others will say, “fashion,” painter.
Yet beyond the choice of his subjects, is his calculated, almost mathematical use of colour, which brings to his works an intense vibration, a sensuality that is also festive. And what better way to portray the woman of Asia, painted from black and white photographs, filled with the colours of Develter’s brush? The Asian culture itself is one of colour. The richness of the fabrics, the depth of the hues, the scent of saffron and the intensity of burning incense – everything has a colour. From China, Japan and Thailand to Cambodia, colour is a language. It divides the sacred from the profane, the spiri- tual from the material. It symbolizes life and renewal. Black and white reflect mourning and death: the stage which precedes and which succeeds reincarnation. Develter is a reviver, playing with colours, his favorite ones, the most vivid and simplest ones. For Christian Develter’s aesthetic is also an aesthetic of simplicity: elegant and never boring.