Paul Gervais’s exhibition consists of two different but related bodies of work; intimate portraits of people he knows personally, and paintings of objects that are wholly imagined.
Gervais is relatively new to portraiture. He was inspired by the exhibition Lucian Freud: The Self-Portraits, an exhibition at London’s Royal Academy of Arts, and by Lives of Lucien Freud: Fame, 1968-2011, a recent book by William Feaver. He was particularly moved by how Freud’s work captures the intimate relationships he developed throughout his lifetime and was inspired to take a similar approach to his own life and art. Gervais’s first portrait, made in March of 2020, is a likeness of Gil Cohen, his partner of 46 years, who he continues to paint. His practice has since expanded to include self-portraits, and portraits of friends and relatives, all created from photographs that Gervais shot. The intimate scale of these works forces the viewer to lean in in order to see the paintings’ fine details and to get an idea the sitter’s personality.
Although the “forms” referred to in the title of exhibition are imaginary, they reflect Gervais’s sensibility and experience and are closely linked to his portraits. These abstracted forms suggest objects that could be found in any time period or culture. They can sometimes be found embedded in invented minimalist interiors, and others suggest iconic abstract art. Others have personal relevance. For example, Sculpture and a Pool is an oblique homage to David Hockney who Gervais met when studying at the San Francisco Art Institute and who remains a close friend.
Whether real or imagined, all the paintings in this exhibition are an intimate reflection of Gervais’s life and perceptions.