In his latest solo exhibition, “non-lieu, non sites” (which one might translate as “dismissed cases, dismissed places”), Algerian-born French artist Youcef Korichi (b. 1974) reveled unabashedly in the esthetic possibilities of oil paint. In the 24 canvases on display (all 2011 or 2012, ranging from about 12 to 98 inches on a side), he portrayed enigmatic subjects with remarkable technical prowess. Having studied art history after attending art school, Korichi maintains an ongoing dialogue in his work with Western masters of yore, from the Flemish primitives to Lucian Freud.
Desolate industrial landscapes as well as commercial containers and wastebins comprise the non-sites to which the exhibition title refers (a nod to Robert Smithson). Le lit (The Bed), En attente (Waiting) and Là (There) offer sober three-quarter views of the latter subjects. The sense of place implied in their titles suggests that they might double as ersatz dwellings for the downtrodden. These works also evoke dumpster diving, the contemporary practice of foraging through refuse to recuperate discarded food or other effects. Face and En deux (In Two) present close-up details of two other rubbish skips, their peeling, stained, rusted exteriors reminiscent of timeworn visages.
Also on view were 13 anonymous portraits and details of hands and arms. Isolated in somber, indeterminate environments, Korichi’s exclusively male subjects are cut off from the world; they are misfits, loners, society’s dismissed cases. Quatre en un (Four in One) presents a middle-aged man clutching a pole and staring far afield. His inscrutable yet penetrating gaze conjures Memling or van der Weyden, while the pronounced chiaroscuro calls to mind Rembrandt and Velázquez. A triptych titled Peinture (Painting) consists of three-quarter, frontal and profile views of a man’s face, his pursed lips, scruffy beard and furrowed brow emerging from a black ground. These nuanced renderings of such a disquieting demeanor echo 19th-century physiognomic photography or Géricault’s portraits of the insane. Another, untitled trio features a hand gesticulating against a reflective surface, recalling studies by Ingres and details of history paintings by David. Simmering with melancholy, Korichi’s Everymen appear trapped within themselves and within the no-man’s-lands they inhabit.
While a discriminating observer, Korichi eschews the popular tendency among his contemporaries to cull source material from our image-besotted culture. His human figures and urban scenes are purely products of his imagination, unfolding in his mind’s eye. In his evocative new works, Korichi demonstrates the continued relevance of canvas and paint to artistic self-expression, a project best summarized by one of his Romantic forebears, Delacroix: “What moves those of genius, what inspires their work is not new ideas, but their obsession with the idea that what has already been said is still not enough.”
PHOTO: Youcef Korichi: The Bed, 2011, oil on canvas, 13 by 18 inches; at Suzanne Tarasiève.