Jean-Baptiste Besançon’s solo show at Francis gallery, is titled The Blue Hour, and exhibits the Bordeaux-based painter’s work for the first time in the United Kingdom. The title refers to the period of twilight that occurs each morning and evening; the name was selected by gallery director, Rosa Park, as the use of blue hues in Besançon’s work felt evocative to her of this moment, when there is neither daylight nor complete darkness.
Inside the Bath gallery, Besançon’s works are hung along one side of the space, grouped tightly together in the style of a traditional portrait gallery. An antique bench in the centre of the room invites viewers to sit and contemplate the works. Colours converse across the paintings, the kinetic brushstrokes almost transcending their wooden frames. Paintings of deep midnight blue and inky navy suggest the dim light of a crepuscular sky, or the shimmering depths of the sea, with lighter flecks of blue like flickering sunlight refracted in the water’s surface. Panels of golden ochre and touches of pinkish red smoulder against the deeper shades.
In the back room, a work by Besançon rests above the dado. The beige tone of the linen canvas reflects that of the Bath stone visible through the gallery’s windows on either side of the work. Dramatic navy brush strokes sweep across the canvas, imbuing the painting with movement, an effect all the more enhanced as the viewer’s shadow passes over its surface.
On the edge of the show’s main display, beside the gallery window, a dark painting reveals its full magnitude as the viewer approaches. Subtle lines of ochre create swirling movement in the depths of the enigmatic composition, like an inky pool of eddying water, or the mysterious haze of the Milky Way. Below the painting, red and brown branches of leaves and bracken spill from a large terracotta vase, alluding to the autumnal undertone of the show. Lining a low plinth, a group of ancient stoneware jars, bowls and vessels from Morocco, Rome and Korea catch shadows in their rough surfaces, recalling the texture of the raw linen and cotton canvases. As daylight dims in the gallery, the paintings become both more ambiguous and alive, shifting in the subdued light of the approaching blue hour.
Words: Ollie Horne
Photos: Rich Stapleton