'All art is at once surface and symbol.
Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril. Those who read the symbol do so at their peril.'
The exhibition Under the Surface at Luxembourg + Co. forms the first presentation of the work of Balthasar Klossowski (1908–2001) – better known as Balthus – in the UK since his 1968 retrospective at the Tate Gallery. Setting out to present new critical perspectives on the artist’s legacy, the show focuses on his engagement with ‘surface’ as both a material and a psychological quality. Balthus is known for his use of underlying layers of colour in his painterly work – predominantly shades of yellow, green and orange – which he considered an effective tool to generate or obstruct light, to create balance in the composition, and to undermine a sense of illusionist pictorial depth. But the notion of surface also relates in Balthus’s case to the artist’s attempts to strip his paintings of the possibility of sentimental interpretation. Exercising meticulous control over the form and placement of models, their bodily gestures, as well as the domestic or rural settings in which they reside, Balthus sought to create, at least in appearance, dreamlike scenarios, absent of time and devoid of emotional expression. Yet the restraint in his works results in suggestive and even violent relationships between elements or figures in the picture, as well as in their relation to viewers or the artist himself.
Balthus: Under the Surface is therefore an inquiry into the challenging conditions of figure painting, at once mere appearance and all that lies beneath it.