Early work - Charlotte De Cock
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Early work

My Black Sheep, Marie Antoinette series, 100 x 200 cm, 2009

This Could Be so BeautifulMarieAntoinette series, 200 x 150 cm, 2009

Sultans of Swing, La Chasse series, acrylic on canvas, 200 x 100 cm, 2010

240 Years before your Time, La Chasse series, acrylic on canvas, 100 x 80 cm, 2011

Baby, Feathers series, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 20 cm, 2013

Love, Feathers series, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 20 cm, 2013

I Want You, Feathers series, acrylic on canvas, 100 x 100 cm, 2013

I Want You (II),, Feathers series, acrylic on canvas, 100 x 100 cm, 2013

Three series of paintings, called respectively Marie AntoinetteLa Chasse and Native Americans, form what Charlotte De Cock calls her early work. 

In these canvases, her exercises de style, often painted in a searching manner, but wherein the joy of painting is clearly visible; and, of which Charlotte claims to have nothing specific to say, several revealing aspects of her style andpainterly technique, and the development of it,can be disclosed nevertheless.

In the first series, Marie Antoinette, all of these compositions are painted from existing images, stills from the eponymous movie made by Sofia Coppola. Unlike in the cycle Native Americans, where she literally embodies her subject, posing as an American Indian herself, in the Marie Antoinette paintings she sticks to the image, however puts so much of herself in the painterly execution of it, that we can easily recognize them ascamouflaged self-portraits, though the persons portrayed are actual actresses.

Marie Antoinette, an outsider at the last royal court of France, on the verge of revolution, a highly contested figure, a charming young lady, elegant, controversial in taste and manner, obsessed by fashion, trendsetting, fierce, humane, joyous, vain, lonesome, closed enterprising yet naive; the towering, pre-surrealistic wigs; the fancy dresses and smart furniture; the sparkling jewelry and chandeliers; the gastronomic excesses; the atmosphere of permanent partying, ….

It isn’t hard to see why these tableaux, filmed and interpreted by Coppola that is, in a rather romantic style, were so attractive to a young, burgeoning painter. Moreover, she paints them with great gusto, in a soft, cheerful palette, suiting the atmosphere of the court, in exuberant, ever so soft colors, the sweet, tasty, appetizing colors of the good life, of delicious food and wines, gastronomic voluptuous tableaux, where sex is a dessert; in courtly colors rich with smells, saturated with every shade of pleasure. They are funny and amusing, a pleasure for the eye. 

However, it is the use of her whites that catches the eye. And with this white, the perception of change, a change of mood, a certain darkening of the mood, the more intriguing because she expresses that darkening with the use of white, of light—a first hint of her controversial nature….

I will focus upon one particular painting. In it we see Marie Antoinette, spread out in the grass, in a moment of absolute happiness, a real Splendour in the Grass, a lively illustration of William Wordsworth’s poem (“…Thou Child of Joy”) unaware of any treacherous intrigue or revolt, lying amidst a bed of white flowers, saturated with happiness, a happiness so exuberant, so filled with beatitude yet tied to eros, which is explicitly an erotic happiness, and which is undoubtedly the purest form of happiness there is, contrary to what the diabolic nonsense of the puritans want us, want her to believe, that it seems like if these little flowers are sparkling bubbles, bubbles of pure, uncontaminated joy. 

A fountain of joy through the fountain of light through a fountain of white….No clue to her cruel end, everything in the scenery is lovely, no words of excuse, yet, for having stepped on the headsman’s foot. To have painted this in her newly required vigorous white makes the composition, and the joy expressed in it, all the more lusty and genuine. I suspect she painted it from and with the same energetic joy as is expressed in Marie Antoinette. Charlotte Antoinette. 

From now on—and I don’t allude to her episodes when literally living in castles, giving grand feasts—she is Marie Antoinette on her way to become Charlotte, the Queen. With the La Chasse series, also painted from existing images, Charlotte continues to explore the possibilities of the use of white. 

In Come Back Darling (100 x 70 cm, 2014), a smartly dressed hunter (Wellington boots, white jodhpurs, red jacket, cap) on a white horse enters the wood, surrounded by a pack of white- and-brown dogs, their tails in the air. The trees are dark, a dense, dark wood consisting of hardly elaborated, roughly painted bare trunks. There is a turning track surrounded by greenery and withered leaves; the scenery is quiet, though filled with life. The life is in the dogs, sniffing for game, but still packed together, in the muscled bum of the horse, and in the back of the disciplined, erect rider. Man, horse and dogs form a triangle of flesh, of lively, human and beastly muscles, bursting with energy, with dynamism, but perfectly in control, perfectly calm. Everything in this painting is vertical, erect: the trees, the man, the horse, the dogs and their tails. It is the beginning of the hunt. 

In a similar painting, 240Yearsbeforeyourtime (100×100 cm, 2014), set in a magnificent snowy landscape, a nobleman on his horse returns from
a hunt, dressed in a sharp, red jacket, quietly seated on a quietly stepping brown horse, his dogs freely running around, no less relaxed than man and horse. There is no tension or nervousness whatsoever related to a hunt.  
A majority of the painting is white, but it is of such a rich variety of white, what I call her “shades of white” that it gives this utterly quiet, utterly white landscape a tension and nervousness nevertheless. The trick, perhaps, lies in the variety of forms, the perspective, in the depths. You have the road that turns into the forest, with a clear cart track; the snow-clad leaves left of the road, like a shrubbery of white gloves with the fingers down; the snow-clad pine trees on the right have a totally different, flatter pattern than the leaves on the left, finer and denser, a more solid foliage; then there are the branches, filling the upper part of the painting, and although a lot of them must be dead branches, their freakish shapes and sharp ends, pointed to each other like swords, give the composition tension; then there is the white, the light at the end of the road, like a mist, a misty future. This is the end of the hunt.

Game: the very word, already, indicating that for these upper-class folks not only to hunt is a game, but the prey itself, the poor persecuted animal, is (a) game; and killing became a ritualized sport, where one is neatly and properly dressed up, like soldiers, especially the soldiers in Maria Antoinette’s time, in finely tailored costumes, well-groomed men fit for the kill—a game indeed. In another, utterly charming composition, we see a fox—the game—looking in surprise, perhaps challenging the approaching horseman, who is aiming to shoot it. Again, the setting is an overwhelmingly serene winter landscape, consisting of bare, snow-clad trees, giving no shelter to the poor, hunted fox. Yet, there seems to be no threat, mainly because of the white branches, radiating peace. In these early compositions, already, nature is overwhelming, breathing freedom or the cry for it, something she will further refine in her Journeys and American landscapes, and anticipating her events and festivals, such as the Barefoot festival. 

In her Native Americans, or Feathers-series, Charlotte, painting herself as a Native American, becoming that chief, even when depicted in provocative, erotic poses, as in that diptych where she re-doubles herself in one, elegant movement from one canvas to the other, she handles her whites in an almost sculptural way.  Where, in the beginning, these whites contain little softening specks of color, as in the Marie Antoinette paintings (still full of courtly smells from lying in between silken bed sheets), with the nature of the subject changing, slowly these colored specks disappear, and the white becomes a pure, hard, unsophisticated, militant white, requiring a harsher style of painting, a tougher kind of brush technique, this palette and technique better fitting her new subjects. The use of white, of light, of blinding white light. Perhaps it happened by accident, whilst depicting these stills from the movie: the white dresses and white, powdered wigs and faces; or whilst painting the white dogs following a white horse, or the white fleur-de-lis in the field, the little white sheep, the snow on tree- branches, or the Indian feathers. 

There is, of course, a long tradition, in the Low Countries (The Netherlands and Flanders), to which she belongs, of painters of light, of painters of white. Contrarily to what one may think, the intensity of the light, in The Low Countries, on a normal clear day, is harder, fiercer, than in for instance California or Nevada, on a very sunny day, under a burning hot sun. The reason for that is quite simple: because there is so much water in The Low Countries, nearly every place borders on water, the air is permanently saturated with very fine particles of water, like water-dust, reflecting the light, spreading the light, even with a weak sun, in a kind of turbo-charged way, spreading it all over the picture. That kind of light, very specific for The Low Countries, is unique. Films have been made about this phenomenon.

All the seventeenth-century painters knew about this phenomenon. There is another De Cock from Antwerp, a sixteenth-century painter, who knew already how to apply this light, this white. Charlotte discovered it whilst painting her early work. Her artistic roots are there.

Le tout Charlotte est là, déjà!

(léon lemahieu)

Early Work:

  • My Black Sheep, Marie Antoinette series, 100 x 200 cm, 2009
  • This Could Be so Beautiful MarieAntoinette series, 200 x 150 cm, 2009
  • Sultans of Swing, La Chasse series, acrylic on canvas, 200 x 100 cm, 2010
  • 240 Years before your Time, La Chasse series, acrylic on canvas, 100 x 80 cm, 2011
  • Baby, Feathers series, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 20 cm, 2013
  • Love, Feathers series, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 20 cm, 2013
  • I Want You, Feathers series, acrylic on canvas, 100 x 100 cm, 2013
  • I Want You (II),, Feathers series, acrylic on canvas, 100 x 100 cm, 2013