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Sympathy for the Devil

by mana on October 15th, 2013


Vincent Dugast, "Paysage Cosmique II", 2013, Arches 640 g, 105 x 76 cm

Vincent Dugast, “Paysage Cosmique II”, 2013, Arches 640 g, 105 x 76 cm

This Halloween as I look at ghosts and monsters all around me, I think differently of devils and angels, evil and good, the ugly and the beautiful. A friend invited me to join her at the San Francisco Opera which opened its season with Mephistopheles. Even before the curtain went up, I saw an extension beyond the proscenium with angels’ wings, cherubs, sections of legs and other body parts. The desire of flesh with angels, all mixed together. This romantic set with a modern feel enticed me to enter into the story that was about to begin.

As the 90 adult choristers and 30 children sang Ave Signor degli angeli e dei santi, I was lifted up by the rising tones towards the sublime. The experience was both powerful and frightening. The choristers with their emotionless masks and golden crowns seemed like plaster statues, distant and artificial, yet their voices penetrated every cell of my body.

Vincent Dugast, "Statues de Poussière," Photo N&B Piezo, 40 x 60 cm

Vincent Dugast, “Statues de Poussière,” Photo N&B Piezo, 40 x 60 cm

The music came from all corners. The mystical chorus was a fitting opening for the epic drama of Faust. Arrigo Boito, the composer and librettist, based this opera on the great work of Goethe. My friend and I looked at each other both touched by the visual and musical statement of the prologue. Just then, Mephistopheles appeared in his red outfit. With his jacket half open over his nude torso covered with hair, he was a fleshy contrast to the heavenly atmosphere.

This devil, who happens to be Ildar Abdrazakov, was an entertaining, and attractive rogue with an enchanting bass voice. Mephistopheles presents himself as the spirit that destroys everything but he does not have to work hard to convince Faust to sell his soul. He will serve Faust but their positions will be reversed after Faust’s death. Faust’s condition is that he must experience some moment of joy so great that he cries out “Stay, for you are beautiful!” In the adventures that follow the two seem like equal partners and dueling monsters.

Vincent Dugast, "Duel de Monstres Bleus," 2013, pigments, encre de chine, café.  19 x 29,5 cm

Vincent Dugast, “Duel de Monstres Bleus,” 2013, pigments, encre de chine, café.
19 x 29,5 cm

Vincent Dugast is a French painter, photographer, and graphic artist who has studied the history and philosophy of art. His work explores the perception of images of the world around us. Through photography, he questions differences between the perception of the world and its interpretation, with the aim of making the spectator question what he thinks he knows. In his words, he tries to produce a simulacrum of reality.

In Dugast’s painting, the Duel of Blue Monsters, I see the conversation between Faust and Mephistopheles. The demon and the philosopher are adversaries yet feed each other. But who is a devil? In the traditional understanding, the devil is a universal archetype of evil and rebellion against God’s authority. This is an example of what the French philosopher Jean-François Lyotard refers to as a metanarrative.

Lyotard distrusts metanarratives which are untrustworthy because they can be created and reinforced by power structures. He advocates that they give way to petits récits, more modest and localized narratives. These bring into focus singular events, expressing the diversity of human experience. In this sprit, Dugast has investigated the interaction between a work of art and the spectator.

Vincent Dugast, "Le Spectateur et l'Oeuvre," Technique mixte, 18 x 24 cm

Vincent Dugast, “Le Spectateur et l’Oeuvre,” Technique mixte, 18 x 24 cm

From this post-modern perspective, the relationship between Faust and Mephistopheles cannot be placed in the context of a struggle between good and evil but is a quest for the expansion of human experience.

When you walk at night on Halloween your mind is full of images of ghosts and witches. This perception of the darkness is not universal but depends on the specific occasion. In a different setting, an embracing darkness can bring a great calm and feeling of well being, as Dugast discovered when he explored the primeval forests of Eastern Europe. He captured the experience in his painting “Forêt Primaire.”


Vincent Dugast, "Grande  Forêt Primaire," 2011 encre de chine, fusain, pigments, café

Vincent Dugast, “Grande Forêt Primaire,” 2011, encre de chine, fusain, pigments, café, 220 x110 cm

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