The series « Street View » (2019..) by Sabien Witteman inaugurates a new stage in her visual arts research as well as an innovative approach to contemporary painting in which she transposes, while using the visual vocabulary of digital photography, the pentimento painting technique *.
After devoting herself to the genre of portraiture to deliver an ironic and sarcastic representation of politicians, she now analyzes the notion of public space within the urban landscape. « Street View » is a continuation of the artist's concerns centered on the exploration of collusions and collisions between painting and photography. She combines framing – a representation circumscribed within a screen – with pictorial effects of transparency and erasure but also with the assertion of an artistic approach exposing a dysfunctional society.
Sabien Witteman proceeds in two stages. She begins with doing what she describes as google map “walks" during which she observes and then selects, for their uncanniness, photographs of towns from the region of Flers. What will provide the basis for her pictorial intervention consists in a “Big Brother” version of the urban landscape.
In addition to sliding between the interstices neglected by photographers, the google map camera generates by all sorts of deformations.
On the basis of this deformed reality fragment, Sabien Witteman strives to further disrupt reality by applying the pentimento technique to all the components of these "street views": some subjects or areas of digital photography are left unaltered, others are painted over according to their original tones to enhance their visibility, and still others point to the ghostly existence of certain urban elements through the use of successive layers of transparent paint.
The discontinuous superimposition of these two types of visual languages highlights the atypical lack of differentiation between painting and photography. The association of an unstable realism with the destabilization initiated by this hard-to-pin-down representation provokes the emergence of a disconcerting, incoherent and discordant universe. With her series « Street View » Sabien Witteman unveils a hybrid, uncanny manifestation of the urban landscape, a palimpsest image in which naturalism and visual falsification intermingle.
Visually, when faced with these dehumanized urban scenes reconciling yellow and pale green tones, we are reminded of Edward Hopper but also of Francis Bacon's physical deformations; of René Magritte and Giorgio De Chirico's surrealist architectures, but also of the work by Futurist painters who transcribed the effects of speed on objects.
The digital photographs are derived from screenshots made from images filmed by a camera. Graced with true cinematographic nature, this series notably conjures up Alfred Hitchcock's anxiety-generating way of framing architecture and David Lynch's use of the fantastic, based on a specific exacerbation of reality’s deficiencies.
Cécile Desbaudard, 2019
* A pentimento (plural pentimenti) is an alteration in a painting, evidenced by traces of previous work, showing that the artist has changed their mind as to the composition during the process of painting.