Los Angeles, CAMatthew Marks Gallery
July 14 – September 29, 2018
Vincent Fecteau’s sculptures feel intimate but conflicted. Elegant in form but grimy in finish, his painted papier-mâché sculptures and photographic collage creations are painstakingly handmade—obvious in their materiality yet cagey in their references. Fecteau works by slow, attentive exploration, and his untitled papier-mâché and collage series (from 2016 and 2014, respectively) at Matthew Marks Gallery in Los Angeles recall car parts, animal carcasses, or grade-school dioramas gone wrong—as if Fecteau found the pieces in fragments on the side of the road baking in the sun, and tried to fix them as best he could. The results are arrestingly but uneasily alluring; the sculptures’ abstract, irregular bends and hidden crevices seem like comfortable places to hide, until they abruptly give way to hard drops and open expanses as viewers circle them.
Ultimately, Fecteau’s sculptures are charming in their illogic—there’s a breathy fragility to their heavy but hollow forms, vaguely scaled to the body—and are relatable for anyone who’s ever lost a spark, or had intense feelings suddenly dissolve into confusing apathy. His work is affecting in its restraint: Fecteau doesn’t give you everything at once, whether by hiding certain textures on the side or back of a sculpture, or choosing found and taken photographs for a collage that depict something familiar but still unrecognizable. The sparse, thoughtful installation also adds an air of uncanny mystery. Each papier-mâché sculpture is positioned on a simple pedestal, paired with a tiny wall collage nearby—the space around the works, coupled with the bright, curious details in each piece, pulls you in close to appreciate their careful craft.
Untitled (2014) layers photographs of what seem like building ruins, an ad for sleeping bags, and a picture frame with its picture cut out; this last image tilts out diagonally, and a thin piece of cardboard wraps around and holds the collage together like a skin. A popsicle stick extends erect from behind the cut-out frame, pushing out over the cardboard, so formally in-your-face it feels cheeky and suggestive. The red, bulbous material in the background image of building ruins could equally be spray foam insulation or the roof of some stranger’s mouth, and this uncertainty makes the work all the more risky and exciting.
Fecteau often uses photographs of lonely rooms with overdone decor throughout his collages, creating spaces that feign hominess but are really just cold and artificial. Every detail in Fecteau’s collages is so considered and nimbly assembled—in a different untitled work from 2014, a dark photograph of a waiting room or airport boarding gate is doubled and seamlessly joined, the silver armrests of each chair glinting deep into the dark. The picture is cut off at the top by a flat metal bar with nylon pulled through it and tucked neatly behind the collage; it looks safe and preventative, but maybe is just repressive.
While Fecteau’s collages depict empty spaces and only suggest what once happened in them, his papier-mâché sculptures give material form to activities’ traces—they are shadows made to stay longer. A bodily association permeates the sculptures, and I think of how the work was made: Gooey strips first laid over each other, then left to harden and slathered with paint. Trembling ridges are traced by frayed rope, sometimes so covered in papier-mâché and paint they lose their definition—appearing like the outlines of someone’s collarbone, pressing up out of a gently pulsing sculpture. Other times, a scumble of pink or blue paint, or a dirty black stain seems to hide beneath or cling to the surface, making the forms feel more natural and honest. Untitled (2016) perches like a vulture. It is painted solid black, with certain edges poking out sharply while other curves shy away into pockets that recall the folds and ridges of your ear. On the opposite side, two pieces of cardboard, lightly sprayed with yellow paint, jut out like tensed shoulder blades. A piece of rope dangles down the center of the sculpture but just rests languidly, glued in place—never to swing or twist or bind again.
Papier-mâché—the act of using glue, something usually intermediary, ancillary, and rarely seen—to create sculptures with such real presence is reaffirming. Fecteau’s sculptures are like stand-ins for bodies and identities in limbo—giving the insecure and immaterial something to hold onto. Another sculpture, Untitled (2016), is painted an even tan, until it is suddenly interrupted by a messy dash of midnight blue that threatens to spread. But this work has a more literal element than the others: adhered to a little slope of the sculpture is a toilet paper roll, smooshed and kinked in two different directions. It’s a piece of trash, no different from Fecteau’s other found materials; but here, he’s made no attempt to camouflage or shape the roll into another form—it’s just glued on brashly, almost as an afterthought. A phantom limb, an abject remnant full of pain and joy—similar to a proud, gaping hole left from being punched in the teeth—added on just so you remember how plain and real the sculpture really is.
All of Fecteau’s sculpture is characterized by this in-between feeling; something tender but cautious, nervous but sure. The works engage viewers in a back and forth, making them wait—they offer coy suggestions of their meanings while simultaneously shrouding them. They are playing a game similar to the one we undertake when we meet someone for the first time, and withholding some information, don’t reveal everything—particularly the intense parts—about ourselves yet.