"Fantômas" Caroline Achaintre, image courtesy: Rob Harris

Caroline Achaintre’s exhibition Fantômas, which was originally developed for the De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea, was presented in an expanded form at Be-Part, Waregem between 2 September and 2 December 2018.

We were delighted to see that Caroline Achaintre’s Fantômas, first shown at the De La Warr Pavilion from 20 January to 29 April 2018, toured to Be-Part, Waregem in autumn 2018. This was the first solo exhibition in Belgium by Achaintre (° 1969, Toulouse, lives and works in London). The exhibition, entitled Fantômas, included a dozen new ceramic sculptures and four large, hand-tufted wall hangings, in addition to a selection of drawings that had never been shown before.

Achaintre’s visually striking, witty works incorporate diverse references such as catwalk fashion, carnival, and death-metal iconography, as well as Primitivism and Expressionism. These early twentieth-century Western art movements borrowed heavily from non-Western and prehistoric imagery to find new ways of representing the modern world.

Achaintre’s work is colourful and potent, evoking the subversive spirit of Carnival and creating an atmosphere that is simultaneously playful and absurd. At times menacing, sexual and playful, her work also presents many contradictions between art and design, fashion and taste, abstraction and figuration.

The title of the exhibition, Fantômas, refers to the mask worn by the eponymous shape-shifting French criminal, invented by writers Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre in 1911. In the 1960s, a TV adaptation of the novel was made, in which Fantômas’ face was hidden by a rigid-looking blue mask. For Achaintre, whose work often resemble masks, the mask is a place where fantasy and reality can exist at the same time. Appearing in cultures throughout the world, masks have the potential to take on a life of their own, conjuring ‘characters’ in the mind of the viewer.

Fantômas was originally developed for the De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea, and was presented in an expanded form at Be-Part. The ceramics were created whilst the artist undertook a joint residency between the De La Warr Pavilion and West Dean College, an arts and conservation college founded by the British Poet Edward James, a keen art collector known for his patronage of the Surrealist movement.

Supported by the Elephant Trust.