28-year-old French painter Sophie Varin likes to describe her canvases as what you see immediately on waking from a dream, when reality is distorted in your barely opened eyes. In her atmospheric work, the effect is achieved through the vivid greens, oranges and purples of incandes- cent meadows, celestial pools and magical doors, oneiric situations peopled with blue and violet silhouettes haloed with bright light. The worlds she depicts are vast, yet it is the miniature that she has chosen as her medium, her post- card works as pocket-sized as a smartphone.
Initially attracted to video and sculpture, Varin turned to painting at the end of her studies in Rotterdam, imagining for her diploma a short detective novel that encouraged her to develop a more narrative practice. But it would be wrong to read her paintings as a silent storyboard for a linear script, since each scenario in a series has neither beginning nor end and is only related to its fellows by the author’s state of mind at the moment she made it. Working rapidly, almost impatiently, in a sort of frenzied spontaneity, Varin lays down her scenes in a single coat of oil which she dilutes on a non-stretched canvas. Wet, porous and applied with large brushes, the paint shuns all sharpness of line, haloing its subjects with diffused light. At once humble and greedy, Varin saturates her canvases in paint, which covers the sides and part of the back once they have been stretched onto the chassis.
Today based in Brussels, Varin continues to refine her pic- torial rhetoric of imprecision. While her substantial image bank is ever expanding, she never lets it take over her point of view, always drawing inspiration from the hazy imprint such images leave in her memory. Her meadows are devoid of flowers, her paths and mountains lose their angularity as though drawn with the rounded strokes of a child, while her interiors are pared down to the essential, vibrating to the accidents of approximate perspective. As for the little figures that people her scenes, they have become almost spectral: gender melts away in a process of disembodiment that produces a neutral silhouette, vague and mechanical gestures, and faces frozen into grimacing masks.
In an era that celebrates the individual identity, Varin swims against the tide, towards the universal, an ideal that as a child she found in folktales. Drawn into her world, the viewer is caught up in the web of work whose subject and emotion can be neither identified nor authenticated, trapped as it is in un- certainty, an ambiguity that was nicely encapsulated in the title of her first solo exhibition in Paris: Ni Bien Ni Mal (Neither Good Nor Bad)... Instead she haunts the in-between, where art is at its most fertile.
Sophie Varin is represented by the Sultana Gallery in Paris.