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I start my paintings on the wall with acrylics and then I lay them on the floor to coat them with resin", she explains, "after reinstalling them on the wall, I then use oil paint". It is as if a choreography emerges in this elaboration of her paintings, where each medium "is used systematically for its own qualities". For the artist, the idea is to "create something singular, an object, a physical presence". The energy of dance, the lightness and strength of a grand jeté, for example, animate Racana-Weiler's dynamic compositions, and generate an undeniable musicality.
The best way to understand the works of Olympe Racana-Weiler (born 1990), if one must distinguish one, is through the whole body. The pulsation and breadth of her canvases painted on prepared linen come from the human form, its internal and social rhythms, its movements that are both awkward and transcendent. 
Racana-Weiler studied ballet as a child, but then made the decision to take the public's gaze away from her skin and onto her huge canvases. Her works of material-induced gestural abstraction and an idea of the figure begin leaning against the wall, forming a scenography, as it were, in the huge sun-drenched studio where she works in Montreuil. "I start my paintings on the wall with acrylics and then lay them out on the floor to coat them with resin," she explains, "after reinstalling them on the wall, I then use oil paint. It is as if a choreography emerges in this elaboration of her paintings, where each medium "is used systematically for its own qualities". For the artist, the idea is to "create something singular, an object, a physical presence". The energy of dance, the lightness and strength of a grand jeté, for example, animate Racana-Weiler's dynamic compositions, and generate an undeniable musicality. Woodcutting has become just as crucial to the artist, a medium she uses to tackle composition and surface in a way that is as meticulous and fierce as in her paintings. 
 

Winner of the Prix Antoine Marin and the Prix Pierre Cardin, Racana-Weiler has had solo exhibitions at Galerie Jérôme Pauchant and Galerie Eric Dupont, and her work has been shown abroad in Singapore and Bucharest. An assistant to the American painter Jim Dine, Racana-Weiler also studied printmaking at the renowned Steindruck Chavanne Pechmann studio in Apelton, Austria, where the prints in this exhibition were made. The artist's practice has expanded further since last spring, when she worked on her fresco Le chant de la Sybille, commissioned by the Fondation GGL Helenis in Montpellier, for the double-height ceiling and walls of a light-filled room in the Hôtel Richer de Belleval. To be in this place is to enter the mystical Gregorian chant to which Racana-Weiler's title refers. This medieval chant, with its spectral beauty, tells of a prophetic apocalypse. The artist reappropriates this vision, transferring the soprano's song and silence into this form and vivacity of colour. Racana-Weiler's approach to the fresco work led her to confront the structure of this seventeenth-century building, and it was perhaps in taking up this challenge that the artist began to clarify further the architectures that have long structured her own paintings. Thus, despite their great breadth, Orange Magnet and Pretty pink, baby blue, which she painted last summer, like the paintings she showed in her solo exhibition Behind the Eyes last autumn, reveal an even more powerful and tighter sense of composition. 
 
Joan Mitchell's and Helen Frankenthaler's paintings are said to have been the largest paintings in the founding exhibition of Abstract Expressionism known as the Ninth Street Show. By painting canvases of more than two metres, they had transgressed the limits set by the exhibition organisers. In this event with more than 72 artists, two of the dozen or so women in the exhibition literally fought for more space and visibility. In the following decades, it would become the practice in the United States to downplay the work of these women, even though they were present from the start. Similarly, Grace Hartigan's The Persian Jacket (1952) was the very first post-war Abstract Expressionist painting to be acquired by MoMA. An honest study of American Abstract Expressionism compels the recognition that the monumentality, boldness and vigour of her treatment of the figure was all the more powerful and crucial because it was female.  

 

Racana-Weiler's working process is also muscular, it is almost possible in the prints, the sinews and fibres of her paintings, the foundation of their skeleton. Her woodcut Rock the Ink is like an x-ray portrait. If in the 1950s the strength and vigour of Racana-Weiler's work could have been called abstract expressionism, today it could be called maximalist, a term used by the contemporary American painter Rosson Crow to describe the immensity and complexity of her paintings. In the February 2022 issue of Art Press, Richard Leydier states that Racana-Weiler's paintings are 'exuberant' and 'baroque'. I object to his use of the term 'seductive' because it reduces the artist's work to an expected vision of female sexuality, but that's another story. Because it evokes a desire for movement, ornamentation and magnificence, the Baroque - born in Rome in the early 17th century and vigorously promoted by the Catholic Church against growing Lutheran austerity - is a useful historical reference for Racana-Weiler's work.
 
Vibrant, golden colour was an important element of the Baroque, just as it is essential in Racana-Weiler's work. Here, the artist's search for the possibilities of colour harmony is in full swing. Palenque, for example, is a densely woven Mayan tapestry. And Coyote Radar is composed as Elaine de Kooning (another woman to be included in the Ninth Street Show) might have done: form and colour are woven together to create a core of energy. Like parachutes pulled by their opening cable, Racana-Weiler's compositions have acquired a new tension in the past year. Her works are structured, they constitute complex spaces where sky and sunshine abound, overlooking inhabited landscapes, this time Mediterranean. They are the prowess of a body, determined. 
 
Lillian Davies
3 March 2022

 

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Exhibited artworks

My Name was Paul

60 x 73 cm

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Mermaid

65.5 x 81.5 cm

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Poets long ago

60 x 73 cm

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Palenque

180 x 240 cm

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Sail of Change

100 x 160 cm

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Time I pass in Cuba

110 x 130 cm

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Rock The Ink

150 x 180 cm

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Table de Fleurs II

120 x 210 cm

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FM3

140 x 100 cm

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Shows

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