What can painting can say about the working class is the question that has been on Laurent Proux’ mind since he started to paint. Originating from photographs, his works portray workplaces emptied from their occupants. Since a couple of years, Laurent Proux has also added humans to the industrial spaces of his works, arising the questioning of the body from the point of view of social relations. His work is currently at a point where these humans are put into nearly empty landscapes, that make them the primary subjects of the paintings and place emphasis on the inter-human relations.

Throughout his body of work, his work has stylistically evolved as a crash course in twentieth-century art history. Resembling influences from cubism, futurism, surrealism and early twentieth-century American art, his work has developed over the years across stylistic eras, now having reached a painting style of abstract figuration and a playful misleading of our perception of depth. His current work is a logical epitome of both his stylistic and thematic development, bringing the human social relations to a pinnacle.

His current large paintings are set in desert wastelands, surrounded by reeds and withered shrubbery, where the burning sun has dried out both vegetation, soil and all its inhabitants. In these settings, Proux places people in semi-grotesque positions that reflect the desolate nature of the backdrops. They appear to be sleeping or resting, but in such a manner that it does not seem to be relaxing at all. They breathe an air of desperation, of uncomfortability, and of tension of mind and body.

The Shelter II shows us an elongated head taking shelter between somebody’s legs, whether it’s their own or somebody else’s. Despite the fact the owner of the head is taking refuge for something, their head is facing towards the light, coming in from the left of painting, and has their hands placed on the other person’s ankles for stability – whether literally or symbolically. Their expression shows curiosity, squinting their eyes to look closely to something that is left out of the composition and only for people in the painting to see. It leaves us to wonder; what is this person looking towards, what are they taking shelter from, and why under somebody else’s legs?

In The River, all water seems to be absent. A hot afternoon sun burns the crops and the people taking refuge in its shade. We don’t know who they are and what brought them here, but their body language screams exhaustion. We see no faces: even the face of the person facing us is covered by another person’s hand. We are omitted the expressive face features to determine the specifics of this exhaustion: it is from hard work, from drought, is it a peaceful sleep? And where is the river that is mentioned in the title?

The exhibition title Salt refers to des mauvais gens, bad people, whose salty attitudes leave a bad taste in our mouths. It also refers to how salt water is not potable for us humans, and how two simple elements that are necessary for us to survive become completely useless when combined, since saltwater doesn’t quench our thirst but only increases it. It is a paradox, a contradiction, that is visible in the paintings in which we see the portrayed people laying down in the hot sun, waiting for rain, relocation, or some other kind of relief.

Text by Linda Köke