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July 7, 2015

Jef Bourgeau, Zombie On the Wall at Galerie Camille, Detroit

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Jef Bourgeau, Zombie On the Wall at Galerie Camille, Detroit — thru 11-July-2015

Jef Bourgeau possesses the rare ability–and discipline–to see and sense everything at once. To capture a snapshot of a thing in his mind that retains the essence of its revelation. Narrowing his gaze, he zooms in–not for clarity but for a deeper view of the near-infinity of detail swirling below the surface of what the rest of us call solid reality. Bourgeau knows better, knows that what we perceive persists only in flux, perpetual change, perpetual motion. And all of it–everything we perceive afresh and everything we remember–surfaces, descends, resurfaces in our consciousness through subjective filters, a little different every time we sense or recollect. Bourgeau–either gifted or cursed depending on circumstance–possesses that elusive capacity to feel as he sees rather than feel after he sees, and see through the layered fluttering veils of sensory noise that obfuscate perception.

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The pictures up at Galerie Camille in Bourgeau’s solo show, “Zombie On the Wall” (12-June through 11-July-2015) all reflect abiding attention to process as much as to perception. Bourgeau does not screw around. These pictures are not experiments. The experiments remain back in lab. These pictures come masterfully crafted. And finished. They range back in time five or ten years and they vary in style but all are digitally manipulated prints–blurred, fragmented, reassembled and tidied up through digital means. Bourgeau was a forerunner in digital image creation and enhancement methods and he continues to apply them more with the grace of brushstrokes than mapped pixels.

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Bourgeau cites Van Gogh as early inspiration, but seems to admire and reference numerous notable members of the 20th century artistic timeline. Engage Bourgeau in conversation and he pulls specimens from his collection, from narrow clefts of art historical context racked away in his mind, and delights the interlocutor with detailed and pointed narratives that illuminate Bourgeau’s observations. When the time comes to work, his left-brain organizes and archives art history for referential access, but his right-brain charges into the carefully organized collection and kicks the books and images fluttering to the floor to coalesce and self-ignite into an intoxicating bonfire of ideas.

Standing before the pictures at Gallerie Camille, you feel good. You feel energized. You feel invigorated like you just drank one of those energy drinks laced with caffeine and the regenerative vitamins B. But you also feel a bit as though the extraterrestrial who made these pictures and brought you here to see them might be doing more than making you feel good. He might be probing you, provoking you, goading you to react. He doesn’t care how you react, only if you react. Are you still alive? Who’s the zombie now?

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Go ahead and react. Go ahead and feel good. Let the pictures probe you. No one’s looking.

The patterns in these pictures are abstract, some fluid, some geometric, all graceful, all suggestive of a world in motion. A world where mass tangibly does equal energy, a whole heap of it: (E=mc2). It’s one thing to know about physics, it’s another to know physics. Gaze into these works and you will know.

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Pay attention. You can detect the artistic timeline informing Bourgeau. Van Gogh is there in the palette as well as the wondrous distillation of reality; Matisse, Derain, Leger, Picasso in the patterns and light and fragmentation of perception; Seurat, Lichtenstein, Chuck Close in the digital atomization that trademarks Bourgeau’s work. Meaningless comparisons all except to say that the work of a well-informed artist can not conceal the phantasms of preceding works that haunt their own. If you live with your eyes and mind open, you personify the continuum you inhabit. That suffused awareness in turn lends your work deeper subconscious resonance with viewers. Think of that tremulous feeling that saturates your senses when you step into a room continuously inhabited for a thousand years. Phantasms dance just out of sight and you know it. The same holds with great art created by well-informed artists enveloped, engrossed… inhabited but not co-opted by the art of others.

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Bourgeau’s images suggest, without crass mimicry, structures we witness daily but take for granted and breeze past too quickly for our own good. Cellular structure in a story about influenza maybe; or patterns in agriculture dictated by geography, geology, and hydrology; patterns woven into textiles or etched and embossed in architectural material; coral reefs and gravity-free sea creatures. Faces distorted by reflecting water. Things we trip over daily but miss for their familiarity. Shame. See these things afresh; see them with a child’s eyes. Awestruck reverence for this world will overtake you.

And that defines Bourgeau’s gift, the wellspring of his self-taxing generosity: to see afresh. To see what we always have seen but hardly registered: truth and beauty.

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