Painting constitutes by reconstituting bits of material. In Julian’s plate paintings, the broken shards of china are the carriers of the marks that reconstitute the sitters’ likenesses. At their best, these works are neither decorative nor purely “scenic” but have the freshness of something coming into being as we observe it, a quality that speaks to the phenomenology of the seeing eye and of the self finding form. Similarly, in The Diving Bell’s cinematography, Julian reconstitutes Jean-Do’s visual field not just through the direct correspondence between the shot and the character’s monocular gaze but by using the material of cinema as freely and spontaneously as he did his smashed plates. Commercial cinema is a recalcitrant medium. While a camera is capable of recording the minute shifts of light on a wafting curtain, which is to say immediacy, a movie set is a terribly difficult environment in which to locate these sensations, making Julian’s achievement all the more remarkable.
As with other painters of his generation, Julian’s aesthetic has always been about the freest and most surprising juxtaposition of images and an ability to see images and pure form as part of the same continuum. What set his work apart was his use of a fragmented, physically demanding surface, which gave his version of free association a kind of flickering, tentative quality that insists on the materiality of the painting. In this new film, we can feel the same aesthetic impulses at work. It flickers too. The gorgeous light that passes through the window and makes Jean-Do’s curtains glow is the artist’s material. Subjective experience and narrative come together in his movie’s astringent and luscious gaze.
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