Jean-Charles de Castelbajac: Phantoms of Eden

The Cartoon-Inspired Paintings of Fashion’s King of Pop

Jean-Charles de Castelbajac’s whimsical collections have encompassed Lego sunglasses, Obama-print dresses and outfits for Pope John Paul II; now the designer and artist showcases a new series of paintings on the Caribbean island of St. Barts. Inspired by its infamous boutique hotel, Eden Rock, his paintings are bright and bold, with references to cartoon characters alongside the iconography of death, religion and revolution. Earlier in his career, de Castelbajac befriended Keith Haring, Andy Warhol and Malcolm McLaren. But in contrast to the knowing, urban work of his late friends, Castelbajac’s Phantoms of Eden is a response to a tropical, hedonistic playground. “In my paintings I combine elements of normality, elements of history, elements of pop culture,” he says. “I combine them to create accidents and inspire a kind of mystery in the eye of the spectator.”

What drew you to Eden Rock, St. Barts?
Jean-Charles de Castelbajac:
Eden Rock is a place where a lot has happened, from its discovery by Rémy De Haenen, his friendship with Howard Hughes, and Greta Garbo and the fact that treasure sank there in the 17th Century. It is a place where the past encounters the contemporary, and that clash is extremely inspiring.
Cartoon characters feature several times in Phantoms of Eden. What was the thinking behind them?
: The subjects I chose, like the Disney or Charles Schulz characters, are like little ghosts embodying what our childhood was. I also like primary colors. They seem very happy and childish, but they are a reference to the history of painting. They are the colors of Calder, of Picasso, of Mondrian, but they are also linked to medieval flags and coats of arms.

Your work in both art and fashion often combines high art with popular culture. What is it about this combination that interests you?
I don’t see the difference between taking a picture for Instagram or starting work on a new painting that I spend weeks on. In art, the main preoccupation is to crystalize new images. I like the power of images in our society—I love the fact that they can appear very fast, but I also love that you can spend seven days on one painting in the hope that it will be treasured in the future.

Phantoms of Eden is on show at Eden Rock Gallery through August 4, 2013, supported by the Association Art Saint Barth

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Conversations (1)

  • tintoy
    Brilliantly bold and simple but with deep references. At last, a return to painting. Not a whiff of conceptualism in sight either! If only I could see the exhibition now!
    • Posted By tintoy
    • July 24, 2013 at 4:51AM
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    Deep in Vogue

    New York Ballroom Legend Dashaun Wesley Proves Paris is Burning Brighter Than Ever

    Voguing master Dashaun Wesley maintains his composure through fierce dips and spins in today’s black-and-white short by photographer and filmmaker Michael Hemy. In the 1980s, when the grandfather of voguing Willi Ninja still ruled the New York scene, the dance style was an underground movement among the city’s black and Latino gay communities. Today, thanks to YouTube’s global reach, awesome battles and jaw-dropping performances are just a few keystrokes away, inspiring a whole new generation of voguers from Finland to Taiwan. Leading the pack is 28-year-old Wesley, a member of the House of Evisu community who frequently travels to far-flung places preaching the voguing gospel and insists there’s more to the style than meets the eye. “People only see the floor slams, the layouts and the dips,” he says. “It’s not about that—it’s about your personal experiences, which you display through your body movements.” In today’s film, co-conceived by New York journalist and entrepreneur Robert Cordero, Wesley weaves a compelling narrative based on his ballroom antics. “You can almost feel the camera shaking and hear the crowd go wild when you see him perform a drop,” says director Hemy of his subject’s delirious Vogue Femme technique, evolved from previous generations’ methods. NOWNESS caught up with the dance hero for some more insight into how and why voguing has become a worldwide phenomenon Willi Ninja would have been proud of.

    What’s the biggest difference between voguing in the 1980s and now?
    Dashaun Wesley: YouTube has had the biggest impact on voguing. Social media such as Facebook, Myspace, Tumblr, Twitter, etc. have all played a part in making it more popular. Although Madonna kicked off the whole trend, today people can just type in a few letters and you can get a voguing video. The energy is so high.

    Why is voguing so incredible to watch? 
    When a person vogues, their character comes out. It’s like telling a story, and the way I align my body or throw my hand may be different from someone else.

    Can it be taught?
    DW: You have people teaching voguing who have never walked in a ball. When you get someone from the scene, you get the real stuff, so I think it’s important that I travel and teach. I found that people only think that voguing is what they see on YouTube—and it’s really not.

    How do your students outside New York react differently to the hands-on experience? 
     In the US, my students can’t do a lot of things I teach. But when I go to Russia, they do everything. I also teach them there’s a difference between knowing how to do things, and knowing why you’re doing it.  

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    Taryn Simon: The Picture Collection

    The Lauded Contemporary Artist Talks Memory, Technology and the Image With Pinterest Innovator Evan Sharp

    “Hand-shakes,” “Swimming Pools,” “Veils” and “Rear Views” are just some of the 12,000 subject categories that organize the vast visual archive of the New York Public Library, brought to life in Taryn Simon’s latest body of work, The Picture Collection. Addressing the notion of the catalogue and how it has evolved with the advent of the internet, New York-born Simon’s new photographs reveal the subjective, idiosyncratic and sometimes ambiguous ways in which we classify our world. On the occasion of the series’ recent premiere at John Berggruen Gallery in San Francisco, the photographer—whose bright-burning career has already included a Guggenheim fellowship and monographic exhibitions at London’s Tate Modern, the Whitney Museum in New York and the Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin—sat down with Pinterest co-founder Evan Sharp. Silicon Valley darling Sharp’s popular website and app allows users to collect and share images, acting as an online counterpart to Simon’s more analogue source in the NYPL. Together the two 21st-century archivists untangle the often arbitrary process of categorization in this original audio slideshow.

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