Composites both practical and conceptual are at the center of the Stéphane Calais’s process in his second exhibition with ZieherSmith Flowers for America. The installation features paintings and sculpture as well as the artist’s own multifaceted approach to drawing.

In Pleiades, Calais morphs by superimposition eight watercolor drawings of “famous” men from three centuries into a sequence of eighteen pulsing, frenetic silkscreen portraits. Hanging in a formidable grid, their antique stateliness is, in fact, a mockery of identity and power, each sitter’s visage illegible; crumpled into seven others like last week’s news. These apparitions also question traditions in portraiture drawn by hand, considered by some today as almost quaint. The individual value of each precedent artist’s work and the sitter themselves are equally dismissed and enhanced, each silkscreen acting as a reverse palimpsest. This process could be seen as a critique or demystification, an understanding of tradition as cumulative, or as sheer delight in the capabilities of having everything at once.

In a series of sculptures Calais calls Ornaments, crimes and delights, macramé plant hangers filled with basketballs, feathers and plastic leaves hang from the ceiling like storks delivering Calais’s creative spawn. These collages of found and repurposed materials embrace lowly, crafty supplies and employ a symbolic, embroidered veil for the toy at the center of a multi-billion dollar industry. Undaunted by the decorative, Calais also approaches the ornamental with exuberant floral still lifes executed in tondi form and collectively titled Flowers for America. Not your typical flora, these abeyant blooms appear to smoke cigarettes, implode and spontaneously combust at once. They float on backdrops of dueling color amalgamations, blurred as though seen through a prism, laid over with vectors of saturated color. .

Calais turns away from handy categorizations, urging “It’s better to be incomprehensible,” embracing aspects of a playful, absurdist tradition. Here he translates into French e.e. cummings’s lines “since the thing perhaps is/to eat flowers and not to be afraid.” The text piece acts as an anchor to the installation, as the wall drawing continues in a splatter of black paint on a length of white carpeting that buckles and heaves along the floor, extending the long poem of his perpetual creative evolution. Recognition tends to drift from painting to painting, sculpture to sculpture. Soon plants become portraits, ready-mades turn organic, and the printed page becomes a graffito wall in which poem begets drawing that morphs into the sculpture of the very ground beneath us.

Stéphane Calais was a finalist for the 2008 Marcel Duchamp prize and has exhibited widely at an international list of galleries and museums. In 2009, he has also had solo exhibitions at the Ashdod Art Museum, Israel and, in Paris, at Galerie des Multiples and at Espace Claude Berri.

Installation View: Stéphane Calais, Flowers for America, ZieherSmith

Installation View: Stéphane Calais, Flowers for America, ZieherSmith

Installation View: Stéphane Calais, Flowers for America, ZieherSmith

Installation View: Stéphane Calais, Flowers for America, ZieherSmith


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