Promise of the Frontier in Jules de Balincourt Exhibition Explores the Bond Between Man and Nature

March 26, 2016

Los Angeles, the city of dreams and promises that constantly reinvents itself, has always been so tightly interweaved inside the American pop culture. The landscapes, sunsets, freeways, canyons and residential spaces of this pulsing city have served as an inspiration for the painter Jules de Balincourt and his series Stumbling Pioneers. Victoria Miro in London will present this series as the second de Balincourt’s solo exhibition at this gallery. The series Stumbling Pioneers, painted upon his return to his hometown Los Angles after 20 years, explores the myth of the frontier, as arguably the longest-lived of American myths. With origins in the colonial period, it has maintained a powerful continuing presence as a charged concept in contemporary culture.

Left Jules de Balicourt exhibition
Left: Jules de Balincourt - Divides the City and the Country People / Right: Jules de Balincourt - Truck Stop Blues

The Myth of the Frontier

Representing the boundary between the wilderness and civilized nature, the notion of the frontier presented the unlimited free land outside settlements and thus unlimited opportunity, and being a frontiersman was idealized and mystified. Today, the myth of the frontier remained as a cultural artifact, which became transformed into recreational and tourism commodity. The city of Los Angeles always presented the limitless depository of American dreams and desires of the frontier. The city is a detached fusion of the human and the organic landscape, and the promise of the frontier stands for the ultimate opportunity for freedom. Presenting the hope of progress and the better life, this promise coexists with the reality of blurred borderline between man and nature in a completely colonized landscape. These paintings take the viewer on a voyage through this vast metropolis, portraying the man’s uncertain relationship with his environment.

Jules de Balicourt exhibition
Left: Jules de Balincourt - Canyon Kids / Right: Jules de Balincourt - Valley People

Dancing in the Dark

The paintings from the Stumbling Pioneers series are inspired by the vibrant Californian landscape. With diverse motifs like nature, sunsets, swimming pools or busy truck stops, the abstract remains visible between defined areas of representation, and the dreamlike associations present a link between large-scale canvases and smaller works. For de Balincourt, the process of painting itself begins with ‘a very intuitive dance in the dark of brushes and pigments’, creating an intersection in his mind where he abandons the unknowing primitive approach and finds something inspiring or worthy of pursuit.

Jules de Balincourt exhibition
Jules de Balincourt's studio, 2016. Photo: Lee Tyler Thompson

Jules de Balincourt exhibition at Victoria Miro

The practice of Jules de Balincourt ranges between abstraction and figuration on one hand, and the collective imagination and personal perception on the other. Analyzing and reimagining the social, political and economic landscape of the United States and contemporary westernized culture in general, de Balincourt moves through space, going from pure utopia to dystopia. Work of Jules de Balincourt’s has been presented in the number of international solo and group exhibitions. De Balincourt’s exhibition Stumbling Pioneers will be on show at the Victoria Miro in London from April 14th till May 14th, 2016.

Editors’ Tip: ‘The Fatal Environment: The Myth of the Frontier in the Age of Industrialization, 1800–1890’ by Richard Slotkin

Find out more about the myth of the frontier, one of the longest-lived of American myths. Its symbolic meaning created such moral, ethical, and emotional values in Americans, paving the way for a country’s growth from an East Coast settlement, to a coast-to-coast nation of progress. ‘The Fatal Environment’ is the second volume of Richard Slotkin's epochal study of the frontier myth in the cultural history of the United States. Richard Slotkin demonstrates how this myth and the enslavement of the Indians justified the America’s rise towards wealth and power. The archetype of the lone frontiersman has been used to rationalize the destructive excesses of American territorial expansion. Slotkin demonstrates how the culture of cowboy capitalism was steeped in the suppression of class conflict.

Featured image: Jules de Balincourt - Canyon Kids (detail). All images courtesy of Victoria Miro.

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