Unpicking identity and its complex oppositions, Claire Tabouret’s serene portraits scrutinise the relationships between childhood, adulthood, the group, the individual and the “tenderness and cannibalism” of love. With a raft of esteemed solo shows including at the Galerie Almine Rech in Paris and Perrotin in Hong Kong, significant auction results at Sotheby’s, and works now held in collections like that of François Pinault, Tabouret is swiftly moving far beyond being an important emerging talent.
At four years old, Tabouret encountered The Water Lilies from Monet’s Nymphéas series. Overwhelmed by the work, this early experience kindled her need to paint, later reflecting that “I always wanted to be a painter. That’s the only thing I’ve never doubted.” Tabouret’s youthful dedication to art saw her enrol at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, which involved studying for a year as an exchange student in New York at the Cooper Union School of Art. After graduating, she won a series of prestigious awards including the Prix Yishu 8 residency, which sparked her move to China in 2012. There, Tabouret began documenting her face daily with ink on rice paper. Obscured by layers of black liquid and often missing large portions of the face entirely, the self-portraits were different each day: the repetition of the same routine paradoxically revealing the relentless shift and flow of identity and further shifting her public identity as an artist through widespread acclaim.
Tabouret became best known for her arresting portraits of individuals and groups. Her 2018 solo exhibition, Les Veilleurs at Collection Lambert, Avignon, was a powerful selection of large-scale paintings, smaller portraits and individual busts made in enamelled terracotta. A highlight of the show, The Red Carnival, depicts a cluster of children dressed in various costumes including clowns, princesses, Snow White and Peter Pan, standing together staring directly out of the painting. The frozen group, with hunched postures and blank faces, appear trapped in a scene that they do not want to be a part of; stuck in a limbo between the supposedly unburdened life of a child and the impending disappointment of adulthood.
Now based in Los Angeles, Tabouret’s process has adjusted to the space and landscape of her new home. The city’s relentless sunlight has reversed her fluorescent chiaroscuro: previously layering dark colours onto bright backgrounds, she now builds light onto darkness. This shift is also apparent in her 2018 solo show, I am crying because you are not crying, presented in two parts: at the Almine Rech, and at Picasso’s summer home, Château de Boisgeloup. While evoking the expanse of LA, the broad washes of luminescent greens, blues and yellows elevate Tabouret’s paintings to a new environment that is neither physical nor geographical. Instead, as Tabouret describes, “tragedy plays out in a mental space and no longer in a landscape”: throughout the exhibition, the motif repeats of two men locked into each others’ shoulders, half way between a fight and an embrace, uncovering an enduring inner psychological conflict. Delving into the contemporary psyche and taking on binaries of self and other, love and loss with subtle complexity, Tabouret’s work is one of the most exciting new forces anywhere in the art world.