Utque manu lata pendentia nubila pressit,

Fit fragor

His great hands press the hanging clouds,

Loudly the thunders roll

Ovid, Metamorphoses

Refusing to use fire for fear of setting the heavens ablaze, Jupiter decides to flood the world with winds and waves to decimate a human race living in excess. Described in the Metamorphoses, Genesis and even the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Flood is a mythical tale with apocalyptic overtones that calls for a rethink of the history of humanity, and refers as much to the climatic imbalance that precedes annihilation as it does to the consequences of that disruption: “And now one vast expanse, the land and sea were mingled in the waste of endless waves — a sea without a shore.”

Entitled Pendentia Nubila [The Hanging Clouds], Emmanuel Régent’s first exhibition at Dilecta, featuring a dozen unexhibited Indian ink drawings and watercolours on paper, is in fact marked by the notion of disruption.One the artist sometimes witnesses, when he depicts places or situations that bear the consequences of human hubris in its many forms — ancient relics as well as contemporary cities in ruins, shipwrecks, or plane crashes — and other times causes, when he sands down his paintings, dips his own drawings in a bath of black ink or tears up his watercolors, at the risk of losing them. For Emmanuel Régent’s work has as much to do with suspended time that it does with the suddenness of thunder or the violence of the fracture from Ovid’s verses. This structural ambiguity infuses his entire practice, both in his subjects and in the form he chooses to give them.

One of the series on show, the only spot of colour in the exhibition, depicts sunsets, in the tradition of painting from the motif, trying to convey an impression as faithfully as possible. But Emmanuel Régent follows this tradition without conforming fully to it: the best of each of these watercolours, painted daily, is systematically torn up, as much to impose a certain distance from the subject - a theme that has been over-figured in the history of art, between sublime’s embodiment and postcard cliché - as to remind us of the limits of representation and challenge its illusionist power. These sunsets are then given a form of abstraction once they are broken up, deprived of all the usual reference points for mimicry, so that they remain solely in colour. The fragments that result from this process are either scattered, the partial image becoming a work, independent of the initial whole from which it came; or they are joined together in such a way as to leave a visible trace of the tear, in the form of a white margin of varying size, like a lightning bolt or a scar.

Emmanuel Régent, Le dernier soleil, 16 mars 2023, 2023. Watercolour on paper, 30 x 40 cm. © Emmanuel Régent, courtesy Dilecta / photo : Nicolas Brasseur

If fragmentation materialises the limits of painting on the surface of his works, it simultaneously authorises the artist to start again the next day. And every day, he paints the sun, tears it apart, then gives it a meaningful title, always the same – Le Dernier Soleil ("The Last Sun") - except for the date, the only indication of repetition. This becomes the foundation of the artistic experience, as if to go against the grain of the idea that art should obey a principle of pleasure. Emmanuel Régent likes to liken his creative process to the absurd cycle of the myth of Sisyphus - didn't he name one of his series, begun in 2008 and depicting the rocks and sea adjacent to his studio, Le Chemin de mes rondes (“the Path of my walks”)? But a Sisyphus more Camusian than Homeric, because lucid but finding a form of liberation in the recommencement of his ceaseless toil. And it's hard work he's really talking about when, in his ink drawings this time, he covers surfaces that are sometimes quite monumental - the largest pieces in the exhibition measure 130 × 110 cm - with a multitude of cross-hatching in fine black felt-tip pen to form false flat areas surrounded by almost blindingly white empty spaces. This graphic process, based on the slowness of the gesture and the long time it takes to produce it, enables him to evoke the sizzling of the digital pixel. Some of these drawings, once finalised, undergo a final metamorphosis. Immersed in the ink, the image, so painstakingly constructed, is partially obscured. More than a cancellation or destruction, this gesture should be understood as a form of completion: just as the photographic bath stabilises the negative image to reveal it, superimposing the ink on the black felt-tip pen brings out motifs and material effects. Between repetition and chance, intuition and accident, a veritable transmutation through black takes place - while suggesting that there is a reality to the drawing that is hidden from the viewer.

Emmanuel Régent, Pendant qu'il fait encore jour, 2 janvier 2024, 2024. Indian ink on paper, 30 x 40 cm. © Emmanuel Régent, courtesy Dilecta / photo : Nicolas Brasseur

In a society of immediacy, Emmanuel Régent proposes images that are not perceived as such: deliberately partial, they invite us to skirt around reflections, to approach as well as to stand back. In content as in form, he creates spaces for supposition, rambling and wandering. Signs without slogans, crowds without faces, wrecks or ruins extracted from their contexts, encourage us to fill in these absences - absences that almost form a system in his work. Ruins in particular - the subject of the series Pendant qu'il fait encore jour (“While it’s still daylight”) - are more than just a motif, they permeate the whole of his practice, insofar as they bear witness to the impact of time on civilisation and concretely inscribe its passage in matter. Firstly, because each of his works, like archaeological remains, presents a piece of reality frozen in a crystallised time - "hanging clouds", to borrow the Ovidian phrase. But above all because the ruin, as intrinsically incomplete, is one of those figures - like the shadow, the spectre and other material memories of their models - that simultaneously manifest absence and presence, remembrance, and oblivion. Like so many metaphors for the experience of memory, Emmanuel Régent's ruins connect reference, when he chooses to draw inspiration from current events, with invention, figuration, and abstraction.

Shreds, snippets, and gaps, as much as the subjects themselves, are part of the construction of an imaginary archaeology, made of oscillation and mystery. For these meticulous vanitas, fossils and images of another time, speak of an unknown spatio-temporal territory, which is neither the immediacy of the present, nor a nostalgic past, nor a projection into the future, but all three intertwined. Profoundly humanistic, Emmanuel Régent's work speaks of our way of being and inhabiting the world, with a view that is aware of the full breadth of history, but neither disillusioned nor amnesic. The "Pendentia Nubila" exhibition is about seeing ruins not just as the scars of a fracture we caused, but as the driving force behind a re-enchantment and a source of creation.