Chris Beraet’s work is often compared to that of one of the great 20th century British artists Francis Bacon, whose work has a similarly raw, unsettling and spontaneous feel. Like Bacon, Beraet doesn’t paint to please, he paints from his guts, without a premediated plan: to put down on canvass something about his inner universe, not to fit some calculated commercial niche.
And while the Londoner found inspiration on the Mediterranean, the Niçois has a deep affinity for that colder northern island, which is at its best in its eccentrics and originals. We can see it in his bohemian ‘Camden Market’ style and his love of Bacon himself or of the singer David Bowie, whose androgyny, bisexuality and originality find echoes in Beraet’s life and work.
The very name of his new studio – Atelier Mars – partly from the street on which it so serendipitously sits, Place Antony Mars (a French playwright of the Belle Epoque) also recalls one of Bowie’s great tracks, Life on Mars. A song which was once described by the BBC as consisting of a ‘slew of surreal images’ – a description which could well fit Beraet’s intriguing, multi-layered paintings too.
Yet while comparisons to Bacon spring to mind in contemplating these – often large, bold, distorted images – we do not find so much in them of darkness and bleakness.
There is difficulty and pain there, yes, but there is also a warmth in the colours – reds, oranges, violets, yellows – and a sensuality in the soft contours that come partly from Beraet’s use of (his own and his partner’s) bodily prints, a gentleness, a twinkle in the eye and a lightness of touch, perhaps more femininity, than in Bacon’s starker style.
Something more hopeful, more human, I think.
We find in them images both of spikiness and pain, of dismemberment and distortion, but also of relationships, birth, transformation and flow, even, at times, serenity.
After many previous artistic explorations the artist has plunged into the theme of the androgyne in his latest work; the blend of the masculine and feminine, beyond the binary, with deep roots in our cultural history, recalling the Greek myths of Hermaphroditus or Tiresias or Plato’s myth which suggested this unity of opposites to be a primordial nature of humans, before they were split into so-called opposites seeking the other to make us complete.
We sense it is deeply personal to him and it is no surprise perhaps that the androgynous faces that people his new works, with their long lashes, fine features, red lips and bald heads, bear some resemblance to certain of his self-portraits that like the bigger works, also spring from his fertile imagination rather than being copied from life.