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Nicolas Party (b.1980)
Nicolas Party (b.1980)
Nicolas Party (b.1980)
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Property from a Significant Private Collection
Nicolas Party (b.1980)

Still Life

Details
Nicolas Party (b.1980)
Still Life
pastel on canvas
66 7/8 x 70 7/8 in. (170 x 180 cm.)
Executed in 2015.
Provenance
The Modern Institute, Glasgow
Acquired from the above by the present owner

Brought to you by

Jacky Ho
Jacky Ho

Lot Essay

Spanning almost two meters across, Still Life is a captivating large-scale canvas by Nicolas Party, who uses the medium of pastel with precision and wit to re-energize traditional artistic subjects. The well-worn formal “characters” he invigorates include portraits, landscapes and still lifes: the present work is from the latter category. Six stalked, organic forms—including what look like slender, candle-shaped fruit, stylized apples and a plumply curving gourd—pose on a pale grey surface against a backdrop of dark chocolate brown. Shaded into appealing sculptural presence, they glow in candied shades of pink, purple, yellow, orange, red and green. Working without reference to real objects, photographs or specific images, Party instead begins his compositions with impulses from memory, weaving art-historical echoes—from the centuries-old vanitas tradition to Giorgio Morandi’s monastic still lifes and the crisp, bright visions of Matisse—into a playful idiom that is entirely his own.

Rather than depicting the real world, Party’s works explore the elements of genre, and how any given artwork exists in relation to the continuum of art history. “If you decide to paint an apple,” he says, “you will have a dialogue with everybody who has painted an apple before, which is a lot of people. Looking at one painting through the lens of another is very natural. Everything we look at is compared to what we know. I think that’s how we value objects and ideas: by comparison. Instead of the word ‘acquaintance’ I would use ‘dialogue’” (N. Party, quoted in R. Vitorelli, “Interview Nicolas Party”, Spike, no. 44, Summer 2015).

The qualities of pastel mean that Party must work with great care, condensing his voyages through art history into crisp, immediate compositions. He takes haptic pleasure in his medium, massaging the powdery pigment with his fingers to model forms into three-dimensional relief. “I love pastels so much”, he says. “I came to them because at one point I was doing oils, and my main problem was that I couldn’t stop editing the painting. Oils allow you to endlessly retouch. With pastels it’s kind of the exact opposite. You can layer and layer, but you can’t start over. The nature of the medium is much more direct. Nothing dries or is wet – it stays exactly how it is” (N. Party, quoted in T. Loos, “Artist Nicolas Party Revives the Language of Pastel”, Cultured Magazine, March 17, 2019).

This material finality is particularly apt for a still life: Party understands the genre as inherently paradoxical, arresting on canvas that which cannot be still. “It’s like a life drawing class where the model has to stay still, like a Greek statue … Clay or glass or any kind of material is also always moving and transforming, just at a different pace. If you look at Morandi’s paintings, you can see that everything is moving and that the pots are in the process of transforming into something else. I guess the word ‘still life’ (or ‘nature morte’) is a good example of what art tries to achieve: merging two opposite notions into one object” (N. Party, quoted in R. Vitorelli, ibid.). Still Life captures precisely this sense of suspense and contradiction. Wearing his learning lightly, Party distils a timeless, placeless picture from the metaphysical idea of the “still life”. Its forms are at once vividly defined and deeply mysterious; they feel recognizable and yet utterly unreal.

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