Huguette Caland

Face to Face

1971

Not on display

Artist
Huguette Caland 1931 – 2019
Original title
Tête á Tête
Medium
Textile, thread, wood and paint
Dimensions
Object: 1877 x 550 x 316 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased with funds provided by Middle East and North Africa Acquisitions Committee 2019
Reference
T15259

Summary

Face to Face (Tête à Tête) 1971 is part of a series of kaftans made by the painter Huguette Caland in Paris during the 1970s. Caland often wore kaftans of her own design, which foregrounded the artist’s own relationship to the body and the female form. As with most of her paintings and drawings (see, for example, Body Parts 1973 (Tate T15207), the kaftans combined abstracted images of the body; however, in this particular case, Caland focused on designing facial characteristics such as lips and eyes in more detail. The pattern on the fabric evokes the soft lines of two figures. The design shows two faces gently touching, with their lips almost kissing. Using two highly contrasting shades of yellow and blue for the eyes, Caland amplifies the connection of the two bodies and the erotic element of the composition. The graphic nature of the design also links to Caland’s simple linear drawings where forms suggestive of body parts collide (see, for example, the ten drawings in the Flirt Series 1972, Tate T15164T15173). The kaftan is positioned on a black, wooden model, which Caland also designed. The model shows two tightly connected heads, with one eye each, facing the opposite direction. This sculptural installation is a rare example in which the artist employed diverse formats and media to comment on the body and the nature of erotic relationships, which are common themes in her output.

Caland has observed that the period of the 1970s and 1980s that she spent in Paris was her ‘most productive time’ as a result of being socially isolated in a new city (quoted in Abillama and Tomb 2012, p.317). She has also stated that she created her most important works during this period. Set against a backdrop of the feminist art movements that emerged in the 1970s, works such as this kaftan take into consideration the politics of representing the female body, sexuality and desire, an interest that Caland mapped onto her own body and introduced to her immediate surroundings.

In her works of the 1970s Caland experimented with colour, line and form. Her abstract compositions echo the colour fields of abstract expressionism, while presenting their own distinctive play on pictorial representation and personal abstraction. From the mid-1970s onwards Caland withdrew from abstraction altogether, so that sometimes what was uncannily suggestive in an earlier work becomes explicit in a later one. Instead of biomorphic forms, colour fields and lines, Caland explored the physicality of the body, focusing on distinct elements such as eyes, lips, breasts and faces in profile, painted, drawn or designed with a delicate, soft touch. Face to Face is representative of these attitudes in her practice. It sits within a tradition of closely cropped images where body parts fill the frame, an approach that recalls the modernist photography of artists such as Max Burchartz (1887–1961) and Man Ray (1890–1976). The three-dimensional element of the kaftan when worn or displayed on a stand brings to the fore the relationships between forms and their sculptural qualities. Pre-eminent French fashion designer Pierre Cardin was an admirer of Caland’s kaftans and in 1974 Cardin and Caland collaborated on the production of a collection for his fashion label.

Further reading
Nour Salame Abillama and Marie Tomb, ‘Huguette Caland’, in Art from Lebanon: Modern and Contemporary Artists 1880–1975, vol.1, Beirut 2012.
Dana Goodyear, ‘The Playful Provocations (and Erotic Kaftans) of the Lebanese Artist Huguette Caland’, The New Yorker, 7 June 2017, https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-playful-provocations-and-erotic-kaftans-of-the-lebanese-artist-huguette-caland, accessed November 2017.

Vassilis Oikonomopoulos
November 2017

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