Nicolas Party: Boys and Pastel
Artist makes Inverleith House his canvas for first major solo show in a UK public gallery.
Inside Inverleith House, Nicolas Party and a small regiment of assistants are painting every available inch of wall-space with rich blocks of colour. These will form the scenic backdrop to a series of new works that will make up the Swiss-born, Glasgow-trained, Brussels-based artist's first major solo show in a UK public gallery. As a former graffiti artist, Party is used to transforming the landscape, and in keeping with this, the murals will be as integral to the experience as a stage set.
As the consciously effete and decidedly unmacho title of the show suggests, the characters that eventually do appear are equally theatrical and exclusively male figures. Whether seen singly or in conspiratorial pairs, with their rouged cheeks and puffed-out, exaggerated demeanour, if not for their unsmiling expressions that give them the air of ever so slightly predatory Victorian dolls come to life, Party's boys might otherwise be mistaken for seaside postcard caricatures.
‘I'd never used pastels before I saw a Picasso show in Basel,’ says Party of his own show's roots. ‘There was a classic portrait of a woman which struck me, but when I started to do my own portraits, I didn't want them to be of girls and fall into the trap of me trying to make a fantasy girl or something. That's why I started to do boys and men, and the make-up on faces comes from rubbing in the pastel colours with your fingers, so it's really like doing a massage on someone, so the make-up came quite naturally.’
‘It's like painting a different face onto them, because they don't have any personality. They're not real people. Like Picasso's pastels, they come from these stylised Greek statues. They don't seem to be alive. They look quite fascist, and are all looking at something, but with the make-up look quite feminine, so they don't look dangerous anymore.’
In this respect, Party acknowledges a loose-knit narrative at play, from the ground floor images of barren rock formations and trees pushing through the earth and beanstalk-like, out of view, to the upstairs focus on man-made constructions – teapots, fruit, a cluster of buildings – before the male figures themselves emerge as the stillest lives of all.
Party grew up reading Tintin and other comic books, and such influences are apparent in his male figures. In the Inverleith House basement, meanwhile, older animated film works look to early, pre-blockbuster Walt Disney, when technical experiments with what was still a relatively new form were set to equally experimental soundtracks that drove the abstract narratives. While this too points to a central narrative being framed by such a rich setting, Party happily admits he's still feeling his way in using such an expansive canvas.
‘It's a unique situation,’ he says, ‘being in this beautiful house in the middle of these beautiful gardens. That's why I wanted to work with the house, not just the rooms, but the staircase, the lift, the basement, and everything else, so you go on some kind of journey. But in a way I'm also hiding behind the murals. I should maybe do less, but I'm not brave enough to do that yet.’
Nicolas Party: Boys and Pastel, Inverleith House, Edinburgh, Sat 2 May--Sun 21 Jun.