Fruitmarket fêted Jean-Marc Bustamante exhibition Dead Calm

Documentary snapshots of back roads and deserted Ballardian swimming pools

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Fruitmarket fêted Jean-Marc Bustamante exhibition Dead Calm

As a large-scale exhibition of his work comes to the Fruitmarket fêted artist Jean-Marc Bustamante talks to Neil Cooper about his need to get out of the studio

You won’t find many people in Jean-Marc Bustamante’s work. If you can see the wood for the trees in his multi-format array of working materials that come together to form an architectural whole, the impression is of a solitary onlooker taking documentary snapshots of dirty back roads and deserted Ballardian swimming pools. Early work in particular seems culled from extensive visits to assorted building sites, while the artist, in his more recent output, seems to have found a playroom to call his own, among, or usually within, the debris. All of which sounds at odds with the French artist’s personality.

‘It’s nice to be in a foreign country,’ Bustamante muses down the line from Munich, where he teaches painting. ‘I’m not the sort of artist who works all day in the studio. I need to go out and see things and exchange ideas, so for me to come to Munich and be confronted with all these new ideas from young students, it’s fresh air.’

Born in 1952, Bustamante remains little known in Britain, but has been fêted in France since his early days assisting filmmaker and photographer William Klein in the 1970s. Bustamante began to find recognition in his own right for his monumental Tableaux series, which fused photography and sculpture in a set of contrary gestures that seemed to set worlds within worlds.

In the 1980s, Bustamante worked collaboratively with sculptor Bernard Bazile before more recent works introduced Plexiglass into an already foundation-heavy mix for which the word ‘installation’ doesn’t really do justice. While Bustamante is loathe to use the word ‘retrospective’, his forthcoming Fruitmarket show, which features several new Plexiglass-based paintings alongside work from the 1980s and 1990s, is nevertheless a large-scale introduction to his world. As a primer, Dead Calm transfers to its co-producers, the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds, prior to a new show, Take Something Hot and Cool It Down, which opens at the Timothy Taylor Gallery in London the same month.

As Bustamante himself acknowledges, some kind of location, however opaque, is crucial to his output. Even the title of the show has a simultaneously barren and soothing serenity to it.

‘I like words related to meteorology,’ he says. ‘The phrase “dead calm” means that nothing is moving. Everything is within gravity and moves within a particular position. There is no wind. Nothing. My work is really related to the notion of place. There’s this absence of the body. I don’t like to go back to old work too much, but it’s also interesting to follow the line of the work. Now, I’m much more playful. I’m more interested in the idea of being colourful. Now I think much more about light. I’m always interested in the relationship between the suburbs and the city. So the first floor of the show is very colourful, but the basement is very black and white. So in a way the whole show is as if you’re moving up from the ground and towards the sky.’

Jean-Marc Bustamante: Dead Calm, Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, Fri 4 Feb–Sun 3 Apr.

Jean-Marc Bustamante: Dead Calm

  • 3 stars

A rare UK showing of the renowned French artist's work, including some new paintings on plexiglass completed in 2010.

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