Fabien Mérelle

Edouard Malingue Gallery, Hong Kong

December 6, 2016

Fabien Mérelle

December 9, 2016–January 14, 2016

Opening: December 8, 6–8pm

Edouard Malingue Gallery
Sixth floor, 33 Des Voeux
Road Central, Hong Kong

T +852 2810 0317
mail [​at​] edouardmalingue.com


A figure suspended mid-flight; a mother and child, coiled beneath the tentative comfort of a wooden hut; two figures, man and woman, flung off the precipice of an island’s rim: these are but flickers of the visual narratives woven by Fabien Mérelle (b. 1981, France). Étreindre, Mérelle’s second solo exhibition in Hong Kong, develops the notion of tight embrace: a close relationship one builds and harbours with oneself, others, nature, the known, and perhaps most crucially, the unknown. Presenting a selection of recent drawings, the exhibition exquisitely spells with ink and watercolour on paper the innermost musings of Mérelle’s mind. Amidst the drawings lays a sculpture, bringing into three dimensions the artist’s fantastical visions. Individually yet collectively, each work in Étreindre touches upon the sensitivities we possess to our synthetic environment and how we tentatively navigate it with uncertainty, transformation, and even humour.

A graduate from the prestigious Beaux-Arts Academy in Paris, Mérelle spent five months on exchange at the Beaux-Arts Academy in Xi’an, China in 2005, a sojourn that would mould his future artistic practice: “When he arrived in Xi’an, Mérelle was immediately invited to abandon the plume in favour of the Chinese brush, and has discovered an array of possibilities since.” (1) The work of a master draughtsman, each of Mérelle’s pieces is delicately detailed using Chinese brush techniques to a surgical degree of precision, though translated into the artist’s own Western vernacular. A series of juxtapositions, each work melds anatomical accuracy with fantastical realism, a duality that creates a running paradox: at first glance his monochromatic drawings appear true to reality, yet, upon closer inspection, the viewer discovers a dreamlike realm.

Blurred lines between realism and myth, and contradictory notions of protection and exposure are cornerstones of Mérelle’s practice. One such example is Elle m’envole (2016), which captures Mérelle’s daughter floating up into an empty sky with Mérelle himself just behind her, poised as though he too might drift off into the void. Logically impossible yet visually commanding, Mérelle’s subjects are depicted to such a degree of intricacy that the viewer is helplessly drawn into his mystical landscape, fearing at once for their safety whilst challenging the scenario’s fiction. Crocodile (2016) further depicts this idea: Mérelle and his daughter appear crouched together riding on the back of a crocodile; a curious image as the very creature that might warrant Mérelle’s protection over his daughter appears to provide them with a form of sanctuary. These repeated interactions and juxtapositions, which touch on relationships and the notion of trying one’s utmost to protect those closest to us, allow Mérelle’s fantastical world to cross the boundary into reality.

Metamorphosis and affinity to nature are also important themes throughout Mérelle’s work. Homme volant 1 (2016) and Homme volant 2 (2016), for example, each depict a man—Mérelle himself—wearing wings and a bird mask, displayed from three different angles. In Homme volant 1 (2016) the man’s wings are clearly a human construction whereas in Homme volant 2 (2016)—perhaps a development from Homme volant 1 (2016)—the wings are coated in feathers suggesting a melding of man and animal. Following upon this avian transcendence Flamant Rose (2016) portrays Mérelle wingless, yet arms spread, in full flight, following a great bird. The seeming state of suspension in the drawing hints to a sense of freedom that can only be found in nature, suggesting that we should seek to mimic rather than capture it. In contrast to the light mobility witnessed in Étreindre, Mérelle additionally presents another angle of his practice, a sculpture. Placed on the ground and divided into several pieces Fragments d’une étreinte, père et fils (2016) represents a fragmented embrace, arms and bodies contorted yet intertwined as if in a state of metamorphosis between shift and break.

These notions of protection, affinity and evolution in Étreindre present Mérelle’s nuanced and delicate investigation of the world as he knows and imagines it. By projecting himself and those close to him into his work, each piece bears a unique sense of person, whilst equally becoming a broader exploration of the self and relationships. Ultimately, Mérelle stands as an omniscient narrator, sharing an insight into his own reflections on humanity and its interaction with nature from multiple perspectives, whilst remaining true to the panorama seen from solely his own position.

Fabien Mérelle has gained international recognition and been exhibited internationally at institutions such as Lieu Unique, Nantes; Drawing Center, New York; UQ Art Museum, Brisbane; Musée des Beaux Arts de la Rochelle, La Rochelle; Centre Pompidou, Paris. He was granted a residency at Casa Vélasquez in Madrid and has been the recipient of multiple awards including the Sanofi Prize (2014) and Canson Prize (2010). A monograph on his practice was published in 2013 with essays by Kaegan Sparks, Dr. Chia-Ling Yang and Bertrand Dumas. Moroever, Mérelle’s work has appeared in various prestigious publications such as Art Actual, Beaux-Arts Magazine and Le Monde. His work is held in several private and public collections including the Centre Pompidou, Paris and Daniel and Florence Guerlain contemporary art foundation in Paris. He currently lives and works in Tours and Paris.
(1) Dr Chia-Ling Yang, Aperture into the World – On Fabien Mérelle.