The Stranger- European Carnival Creatures Take Over Belltown's Phylogeny Contemporary

The Stranger Seattle Blog

The Stranger Seattle Blog


European Carnival Creatures Take Over Belltown's Phylogeny Contemporary

by Jasmyne Keimig • Jan 11, 2019 at 5:26 pm


"Donceila", a print featured in Les Bonshommes COURTESY OF THE ARTIST

There’s something about French artist Didier Hamey’s figures—or perhaps it’s better to call them entities—that’s a bit mystic. These beings, on display at Phylogeny Contemporary, seem to inhabit several different planes all at once, taking forms that blend leaves, animals, and human heads to create something almost outside recognition. The truth is, these figures don't come from another planet, but are inspired by the characters that appear during Carnival celebrations in the north of France and Spain.

The tradition of Carnival runs deep in Dunkerque, anglicized as Dunkirk, where Hamey grew up. “Being born in Dunkerque means being born to carnival, festivals, music, dance, weird little personae, amusement, feast,” Hamey says in his artist statement. This celebration that harkens back to the 17th century, when men went on a 6-month fishing journey in Iceland unsure if they’d survive the treacherous voyage. Carnival provided the perfect opportunity for fisherman and the greater Dunkirk community to revel in the carnal and earthy delights of this pre-Lent time. Drinking, parades, dancing, people dressing up in elaborate masked costumes—anything goes.

During a one-year residency at the Casa Velasquez in Madrid, Spain, Hamey became aware of an entirely different tradition of Carnival and thus a whole new host of characters, mostly from Basque Country. Partly riffing off these European Carnival traditions and partly in homage to French Symbolist painter Odilon Redon, Hamey then created a series of 30 drypoint prints, what would become Les Bonshommes.



Hamey's figures are haunting and dreamlike, culling together aspects of different Carnival characters. Like Momotxorro, based on a Basque Carnival costume whose suit is made of found cans that rattle loudly when moved, the sound meant to keep out witches. In his version, Hamey substitutes the cans for bunches of flowers, rendering the character much more delicate.

Or Irritsua, another Basque character, which Hamey depicts in a lush forest background with a scary mask and body made of hectic scratches. This is a print that immediately reminded me of the opening scene of the art-horror film Begotten, where a masked figure is stabbing itself and bleeding out in the corner of a room. Perhaps it's not the most accurate comparison, but the unsettling feeling I got watching that film feels similar to what some of Hamey's characters evoke in me.



Co-curator of the show, Sophie Lefebvre Blachet, assured me that Hamey didn't intend for these figures to be scary, that they are just an exploration of a concept that the artist is fascinated with. But I think that a combination of fear and fascination are what makes Carnival characters so compelling.

When I lived in Galicia, a northern region of Spain, for the last two years in a community with a strong Carnival tradition, I was terrified of the men dressed up as medieval tax collectors called cigarrones. In their masks with their small beady eyes and a permasmile, the cigarrones ran around Carnival celebrations whipping partygoers, the bells that were harnessed to their belts loudly signaling their arrival. People would scatter, screaming with a mixture of terror and glee, spilling their drinks trying to get out of the way. I think this terror inflicted upon people celebrating Carnival is meant to remind people of the solemn 40 days ahead.

Les Bonshommes is scary, fantastical, and strange. The amount of detail Hamey packs into such small prints is impressive—if you scooch up close you can almost see the feathers on the characters gently flutter in the wind. The opening reception is tonight at 6 pm and the prints will be up at Phylogeny Contemporary until Feb. 16th.

Les Bonshommes will be up at Phylogeny Contemporary until Feb 16th LORI JOHNS


Wide Walls Magazine

An established part of the annual art calendar, PULSE Contemporary Art Fair provides its international community of emerging and established galleries with a dynamic platform for connecting with a global audience. PULSE Miami Beach now returns to its oceanfront home at Indian Beach Park this December for its fourteenth strong edition.

Under the guidance of Director Katelijne De Backer, the event will bring together over 70 galleries, including exhibitors from Canada, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Netherlands, Scotland, South Africa, Switzerland and Ukraine among others.

Housed within two spacious pavilions on the beach, the fair will offer a multi-faceted and engaging experience with a range of works from national and international artists. PULSE’s North Tent will highlight established galleries presenting multi-artist booths, while the South Tent presents SOLO exhibitions, whose artists are eligible for the PULSE PRIZE, as well as CONVERSATIONS, dual-artist shows encouraging galleries to explore conceptual dialogues between artists they represent.

“…There will also be the first time exhibitors such as Arusha Gallery from Edinburgh, representing new and established artists, whose work ranges from bronze sculptures to figurative paintings; Galerie Koo from Hong Kong, representing established and emerging artists from different parts of the world—mainly Hong Kong, Asia & Europe; Phylogeny Contemporary from Seattle, generating a creative dialogue between artists, gallery and the public through solo and group shows of cutting-edge, forward-thinking art; and PYTHONGALLERY from Zurich, representing national and international contemporary positions that are covering a wide range of media; among others….”

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