Why is the message of Jean Daviot's figures a feeling of selfness? This feeling comes from the erasing of otherness, otherness that vanishes into the picture ground, leaving only a halo seemingly laid down with the fingertips – but by the model, not by the painter. Broken through by the model, this infrathin zone generates interference on the line. The erasing of the model's otherness is heightened by the false colour-match that throws the figure-ground relationship out of kilter, like an editing glitch in a movie. It's not that the colour is false, rather that it's bantering with us. In the picture it plays the part of Marivaud's "False Servant": so we find the figure pitting its falsity against the colour, threatening to drag it down like a cloud into a pit.
Here the figure becomes a landscape of silken shimmering, of dispersion, of mist. You can't say the picture is traversed by the figure, as in a mirror; rather it's cancelled out from the bottom up. From the bottom line up depth has to be understood not in relation to the picture ground, but to the ground we stand on. The figure is in the ground, head downwards, naked or dressed, "foot to foot" as if on a double-ended playing card. Who else ever painted this way, digging a pit so as to paint the top part of the canvas with the lower half in the ground? Cézanne had to knock an enormous hole in the wall of his Chemin des Lauves studio to get his Bathers in and out. Pictures are never quite where you expect them. In Vincent's Bedroom in Arles the picture is there, but where's the bedroom?
It's worrying the way these figures slip underground and slip away. You'd like to drop by the studio at night, to see if they come back. But these pictures are painted simply to make them happen.
The figure rises out of the ground supernaturally. It has forsworn everything, emerging internally widowed and uttering a solo on a sweetly celestial scale: don't, raze, me, far… As the photograph of the feeling of the model, the picture comes to us in a state of transparency that gives it another local colour, a certain fixity. The watcher must realise that the figures are in a state of trance, ecstasy, somnambulism, distraction. These are apparitions! At issue is something sudden, something that vanishes, and it is the figures themselves that must provide this astonishing suddenness.
In other words the duplication of the model on the canvas, taking place as the painter follows the outline of the body, is no mere recording: it is a re-creation obtained by means intrinsic to painting – to be precise, a set of signs produced purely by colour. Daviot's point of focus here is what seems to him painting's core reality, the fact that it functions via imprint, mark and trace. You could say he defines the pictorial as a signifying mark whose link with the thing it represents is its having been physically produced by its referent.
© Éditions Paris-Musées / Actes Sud, 2004.