At only 28 years old, George Rouy has attained an impressive level of artistic maturity. The young British painter already has a rich and diverse body of work—his distinct series all showcasing a great level of aesthetic depth. His latest exhibition Belly Ache at Almine Rech Gallery—which took place from November to December 2022 in Paris—was once more a clear display of talent. Not unlike many great painters of modern art history, Rouy showed he was prone to constant artistic evolution to explore new avenues, whilst simultaneously retaining his visual profundity and emotional acuteness. Upon seeing his works and learning how young he is, one might ask: “where the hell does this guy come from?” Let us begin by briefly answering that question.
George Rouy was born in Kent, England in 1994. After studying at Camberwell College of Arts in London where he got his BFA in 2015, the young artist started pondering the integration of technology within painterly production. By experimenting, he quickly discovered he would not be content with a form of repetitive and soulless process where technology becomes an end in itself. Indeed, such a mundane use of technology did not suffice to find and express the raw energy at play, in his eyes, in the activity of painting. In other words, technology had to serve the process—not the other way around. Photoshop hence became a natural tool for the artist. It made it possible for him to preempt certain decisions—the choice of colors or the general idea of composition, for instance—without endangering a direct and fertile confrontation with painting itself. It also lends itself well to new formal explorations, such as the digital blurring and distortion of human figures, which are then translated into paint. But this innovative and contemporary approach to painting of his should not overshadow that Rouy is also heavily influenced by a more ancient tradition: the artist has regularly cited 15th century masters Jean Fouquet and Rogier van der Weyden as inspirational.
The young painter’s work uses the human figure as a means of emotional expression, questioning ambiguous themes like gender identity or sexuality, without however becoming narrative: “it’s less about narratives and more about emotions – akin to life”, Rouy reminds us. In his own words, he aims both at making his artistic ideas “more refined” whilst at the same time battling against that, and trying to make everything “looser”, more “playful”. His figures thus acquire a mysterious appearance, bestowed upon them by the contradictory yet complementary dynamics at play: monstrous mutations and harmony, rapture and torment, distance and proximity. As Rouy explains: “I am constantly flirting with [contradiction]. It’s the basis of my approach and my work exists best when it exists between two realms: beautiful/ugly, emotional/non-emotional, figurative/abstract…”
In the years that directly followed his art school studies, George Rouy’s pieces were painted rather smoothly: color gradients were applied in a very progressive manner with acrylic paint, giving them an almost fuzzy appearance. Around 2017, he painted on small canvases and started to go through a refinement of his whole process as he significantly reduced his system of symbols, narrowing it down to a few key elements: the swan with a broken or bent neck, for instance, was “a symbol for confused masculinity; of the ego, sex, pain and silence.” This pivotal moment enabled him to produce distinct series of works based on such and such elements, exploring the various formal possibilities offered by each theme, in different colors and at different scales. Consequently, between 2018 and 2020, the painter produced many big paintings on a small number of themes, and with a limited palette. At the same time, he started using entangled figures more to express bodily tensions in plain backgrounds of imposing colors.
Then, around 2020/2021, Rouy’s art evolved once more, taking an increasingly expressionist turn: his brushwork became reminiscent of the works of great artists such as Willem de Kooning or—more recently—Adrian Ghenie, and he started to use colors more and more glaringly. The abstract nature of his paintings was heightened to an unprecedented degree. The backgrounds in his paintings, for instance, evoke either closed rooms or imprecise, dreamlike landscapes—not unlike the blurry and transformed memories that exist at the edge of our psyche. But far from being a formal intellectual whim, such a use of paint was purposefully aimed at expressing psychological content and bodily feelings more directly and acutely. The shift apparently came after he witnessed a few dance pieces by choreographer Sharon Eyal: “When I saw Sharon’s pieces, it was a concentrated experience that really hit me hard,” Rouy said in an interview. “It was like the ultimate form of what I wanted to achieve or what I loved about art … it was all about an intuitive response, an emotional thing, not intellectual.” At first glance, the resulting works might superficially seem at odds with the smoothness of his previous series of paintings. In truth, they constitute a maturation of Rouy’s longstanding intent towards painting: going beyond narration and tapping directly into the human psyche to exhibit corporal and psychological sensations at the core of human condition.
These somewhat “expressionist” paintings are exactly what the young artist has become acclaimed for. Since 2021, George Rouy’s career has been booming. The painter exhibited at the Triennale Milano that year and, in 2022, he had a solo show at Gladstone Gallery’s headquarters in New York. Currently represented by Hanna Berry, Peres Project and Almine Rech, George Rouy is well taken care of by the three galleries, which keep helping him get shows in reputable institutions such as the Cartier Foundation in Paris (2019) or the X museum in Beijing (2020). During his latest solo show Belly Ache at Almine Rech in Paris, the canvases on display were once more testimony to the artist’s capacity to continue to evolve formally by going further down the road of his intimate intuition. All of this is rather encouraging for the artist’s future. However, we believe the rise of George Rouy is only starting. The young painter has a depth of talent which might well catapult him to levels of recognition of current stars of contemporary painting such as Christina Quarles or Adrian Ghenie. Indeed, there is a common thread between these two highly successful artists and George Rouy which cannot be understated: they are all producing striking and emotionally authentic works on the verge between figuration and abstraction.