Christine Safa: L’habitude du ciel | Praz-Delavallade

Christine Safa’s sensitive oil paintings employ a repeated motif that combines landscape and portrait. Her mysterious figures merge and meld with natural features.

Visiting her small exhibition at the Praz-Delevallade gallery towards the end of a long, cold winter’s day in Paris, I found myself moved both by Safa’s pictures and her words. The show notes emphasise the ephemerality of the moments she’s aiming to capture. It’s no surprise that she tends to depict the beginning or end of the day, with its changing orange-and-purple light. After a difficult and absurd day, the setting sun is full of promise, she writes.

Christine Safa - Le lac de deux visages

Le lac de deux visages (2021) above barely traces her subject’s face, the brushstrokes very economical, the paint translucent. Looking closer, we’re not sure whether the sea is veiling the face, or the face veiling the sea. And what’s obscuring the face - a cushion, an arm, a lover? - isn’t clear either. It’s mysterious, fleeting. Safa adds:

The landscapes we observe are informed by all sorts of sentimental values, impressions and emotions: as such, they become interior as much exterior.

Christine Safa - Source I

Things are clearer, though not by much, in Source I (2021). Two sleeping heads recline against a rich orange sunset. Blink and they become two mountains. Blink again, back to faces.

Time’s fragile: the current moment is over before we know it. Safa makes this point to us through paint.

The show’s notes contain a quote from the philosopher Vladimir Jankelevitch, making this sentiment explicit:

In a short while it will be too late, for this time lasts but an instant; the wind is picking up and it is now or never. Do not miss your only opportunity in the whole of eternity, do not miss your only spring morning.

I took this to mean, yes it’s cold and you’re feeling achey after a day of running around commercial galleries in the Marais. But that’s exactly what you love to do. It’s not something, living in a city, locked down, you could have dreamed of doing recently. And maybe very soon you won’t be able to do so again.

The streets outside are so pretty. Go out and enjoy them! Let these touching paintings pass into memory!

Christine Safa: L’habitude du ciel is at Praz-Delavallade (Paris). 06 November 2021 - 15 January 2022