When he was five, Hubert Duprilot asked his mother whether he could be an artist.
“At first, there was this connection that I made between an old schizophrenic uncle of mine and a tamarisk that stood alone in the middle of the garden. Both seemed tortured, locked up; the tree seemed to be covered in scars, he had been trimmed time and time again and what shocked me the most is that the other trees, around the garden, seemed free; they had been left in peace. My uncle, he too was locked up in a psychiatric hospital and one could see his unfathomable torment in his wild gaze”. At around the same time, this vision of the tortured man-tree was countered by another vision, a luminous one: that of an old painter that Hubert encountered during a trip to Saint Germain. Sitting on a stool, surrounded by his canvases, he too looked like the tamarisk in the garden: “A craggy face, with wrinkles that seemed carved up with an axe and, in the middle of the battlefield that was his face, two small, bright-blue beads, sparkled with life and light. So this Artist had the body of the tamarisk, but not the look in my uncle’s eyes and, above all, this Artist exuded freedom. One day, as I was watching the rain fall on the tamarisk, from behind the glass of the front door, I started following a droplet that flowed down the pane and I asked my mother if I could be an artist. I had made up my mind. I would be an artist and I would be free.”
Photo: Hubert Duprilot
The question that he asked at five years old would have to be phrased differently today: could he not be an artist? For Hubert, it would be the same as to no longer be able to see or feel. This hypertrophied, monstrously reactive faculty of feeling is the clay from which his tormented creatures burst up: zombie humanoids, post-apocalyptic beings that are evocative of a larval state of consciousness, of an age when emotion did away with artifice and circulated freely, without the hindrances of a civilization preserved in formaldehyde. Then, there are the mythological chimeras, the disfigured war veterans, the poor wretches trapped inside the merry-go-round of their day-to-day lives, so dreadfully banal and conformant, all the more absurd since the frame of mind of the artist’s generation is far from the standardized wellbeing sold in hypermarkets.
After completing his training as a painting restorer, a very young Hubert Duprilot discovered the Dapper museum and African art, by which he was immediately captivated: “Every sculpture seemed charged with a kind of mystical energy. In fact, I kept the empty eye-sockets and I hardly ever paint the eyes, which gives the impression that everything happens on the inside of the character”. Indeed, the lack of eyes makes even stranger the expressiveness of this falsely simple, seemingly crude figuration that he practices.
The turning point was the discovery, made by accident, like any discovery worth the name, of the art of Robert Combas and of the exhibitions at the Halle St. Pierre: an art that was simple, powerful and hard-hitting. Effective, to keep the word used by the artist.
Equally simple and striking, Hubert’s aesthetic language, informed by Expressionism and graphic arts, by Jean Rustin and Otto Dix, is nonetheless personal and coherent. Lines that are both precise and evanescent, hasty charcoal strokes, smudged inks and murky acrylics, disintegrating contours, all are kept in balance by the mathematical rigour of the backdrops or by the absence of any scenography. It is an aesthetic of ugliness, of monstrosity, through which that which is deeply human, heroic and fragile at the same time, finds its expression. Or maybe it is a sublimation of a Freudian impulse of death and destruction, to clear up the space for the free tamarisks of life. “The underlying purpose of my work is to capture what I could see in the eyes of my schizophrenic uncle. I try to speak for him. When I was a child, he called me cui-cui. It’s funny; I was a little bird to him. I was free.”