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Philippe Huart: Junkfood


Bonbons, those rewards for well-behaved children, turn corrosive in Philippe Huart’s world. He associates them with English-language slang words to create a real or colorfully imaginary diverted meaning centered around drugs and drug usage.  Nixon had said that Tim Leary, the promoter of LSD, was “the most dangerous man in America.” “Dangerous to whom, exactly? To a blueprint for an international police state under cover of a total drug war,” wrote William S. Burroughs, who, as a drug addict, painfully knew all about it. Bonbons as harmful as drugs? In this series called “Junkfood,” Huart does not preach but rather employs poetic metaphors wherein sweets, marshmallow candies, lollipops, liquorice, and bling-bling are made in the image of a society that is blind toward the evil gnawing away at it, like the sugar that hollows out cavities and rots everything.
After “fast food,” here has come the time of “junk food,” second-rate nutrients made up of cardboard pizzas, greasy peanuts, sour-tasting sweets, the whole panoply of the average “made in USA” television viewer.
The painter’s investigations focus on the quantity of the products, thus offering us a tender and moist popular world made from compact and colorful images of sugarcoated nuts, toffees, candies, caramels, pralines, and other sweets that unctuously blend dreams with reality. Bonbons invade every nook and cranny and pile up as in a candy jar. We have fallen prey to these boundless sweets, lured by their kitsch colors and materials which resemble those of synthetic stuffed animals, bright shiny toys, and various artificial products.
These sugary delicacies seem to penetrate the very fabric of the canvas, which is “tinted sky blue, iced pink, and layered with gold.” The porous canvas no longer gives off whiffs of turpentine oil but rather the scents of sweets and sours, like a Baudelairean reminder of the past set off by these little treats whose “intoxicating memory flutters about, dear poison prepared by the angels.”
The uncompromising details found in these works, which are concocted from reflections of translucent plastic bags and crumpled pink and mystic blue colored papers seem to mix sound together with light. The canvases give life to a phantasmagoric universe of bad dreams, of bad trips as powerfully evocative of death as some seventeenth-century vanitas. One sucks, chomps, and chews. The bonbon has replaced the hourglass or death’s head as a symbol of the vices of man, and its sweet treachery gives off an aftertaste of perdition and oblivion. The words inscribed at the center like a caption--“Dizzy,” “Rainbow,” “Dosed,” etc.--question us and accentuate the sense of malaise brought on by the meticulous loading up of a package wherein air will never circulate. One suffocates. Is evil that which debases us? Quite to the contrary, with Huart, the strange thing is that evil might not elevate us but would perhaps make us grow up.


Renaud Faroux (translated from the French by David Ames Curtis)




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