“And let the helm and steersman of this power to see be the light of the sun, the light of your eye, and your own hand: for without these things nothing can be done systematically.” Cennino Cennini,The Craftsman’s Handbook, 15th Century.
When I was new to Paris and first met Cédric Rivrain, I thought to myself — he is the Paris I am searching for! In his countenance, his manners, his craft, he suggested a vanished monde. He remains both au courant and retardataire; between worlds, there is a sliver of a purgatory just small enough for him. A similar place once housed the likes of Augustus John, Ronald Firbank, and Rex Whistler.
Cédric, remarkably focused, prolific though succinctly self-editing, goes well beyond the themes of beauty and representation, exploring the otherworldly and the grotesque. But draftsmanship is his subject and his content follows.
There is something of genius in his technique: his mania for unique papers and his unorthodox mixing of traditional artist’s materials with make-up. The brillance of blush as pastel set him apart as an artist in possession of a unique spirit of invention.
Cédric Rivrain produces drawings that—while traditional in their sense of aesthetics— can reward the viewer with the discovery of something remarkably conceptual at the core. Within them are many slightly radical elements at work, for as much as they have been employed fashion they contain a contradictory position of being anti-fashion. Consider first that the oeuvre consists only of drawings, finished works in themselves, and slight in size; then their sinuous, fragile yet staggeringly adept line; and finally the feminine subject, which is treated in a startlingly reverent tone. Consider these as they provide an antidote to so much of what takes center stage in contemporary art — the brash, oversized and hyper-masculine. The unassailable strength of Rivrain’s work is in a particular defiance of its times and its special atavistic relationship to French drawing.
Rivrain seems to skim the surface of different ponds, like a water beetle, kept above the various reflecting pools of the fashion world and the art world alike, each perilous for their inward, fawning gaze. Can we really rely on the old clichés of depth versus surface when so much of art has abandoned skill? Where to sign Cédric? To the surface. His work is a joyous celebration of surface concerns — surface tension.
The hallmark of his work are the eyes, both beautiful and horrible. When beautiful, they are liquid, heightened with white. Each face is a vignette with the eyes as the center, from where the outward lines deftly disappear. In more recent work we see the horrible eyes, disembodied, rolling and consuming, harnessed in some sic-fi structure that belongs to the past, some some weird Renaissance invention. These, all of them, are the eyes of the artist, abject and scopophilic, beautifully lashed, mystic and fey. They have an aspect of being between the sexes, of looking and being looked at. The mirror and the image are in contradiction; between them, transmuted but locked, we find the art—and the artist, hovering.
There is the touch of Ingres’ line here, and the touch is precisely that which is the work’s triumph, as a billet-doux from the past, in present, living, looking form, which expresses, by starting display of mastery, the general erosion of the connection between the eyes and the hand. Can one really know form without tracing it with the eye and seeing it with the hand? these caresses bring me finally to the odd contours of the facial plasters that adorn his models, which we might imagine are the artist’s attempt to trouble the beauty of his portraits. But instead we find yet another device between the air and the skin, just like Cédric’s sharpened pencil and the uncanny feet of a water beetle.