Erik Desmazières, born in Rabat in 1948, is described as “arguably the finest French printmaker of his generation”. Recently honored with a retrospective exhibition at the Rembrandt House Museum in Amsterdam and solo exhibitions at the Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris) and the Telfair Museum (Savannah, GA), Desmazières has received the Grand Prix des Arts de la Ville de Paris, and was elected to the Société des Peintres-Graveurs Français, where he currently serves as Vice President. Desmazières’s etchings are at once shockingly strange and profoundly realistic.
Employing fine technical skill, perspectival brilliance, and idiosyncratic imagery, his work is both recognizable for its antecedents—Giovanni Batista Piranesi (1720-1778), the Old Masters, and a childhood love of science fiction—and wholly unique. The psychological and aesthetic impact of Desmazières’s etchings are deeply rooted in the eighteenth-century notions of the “sublime.” Said to inspire the principal emotion of “terror,” sublime architecture was vast, dark, and awe-inspiring, for “terror always implies astonishment, occupies the whole soul, and suspends all its motions” (Alexander Gerard, Essays of Taste, 1759). This impression of terror and awe is particularly apparent in the Piranesi-inspired fantastic cities, with their massive scale and intense, dark chiaroscuro. But many of Desmazières’s other types of imagery provide a similar psychological effect, such as the dramatic, vaulted ceilings and distorted perspective of “Gallerie Vivienne.” Interestingly, even his depictions of ruins, a subject often considered to be “picturesque” because of their usual depiction of thick foliage, rough landscapes, and pleasing topography, are intensely sublime.
It would be difficult to avoid a feeling of overwhelming terror when gazing at, for example, “L’Ecroulement,” which extends its vastness and overpowering perspective all the way to the margins of the paper. Even a simple interior, such as “Atelier René Tazé V,” contains elements of the sublime because of its rich, deep blue wash, startling compositional perspective and stunning negative-space effect. .