The Galerie XII sits in a corner of the slightly hidden and sweet Village Saint Paul, in the fourth arrondissement of Paris. It is small and light and there are fifteen pieces of work on the walls by the Milanese artist Paolo Ventura. Each piece is numbered with corresponding scribbles on the wall that interpret, imagine, and narrate the much loved short story of Le Passe-Muraille by Marcel Aymé. It reads a bit like a storyboard. Through Paolo’s works, the tale of a man who walks through walls long enough to find himself trapped in one halfway through, comes to life.
He explains that the pieces are created by painting or drawing on top of photographs and collaging images together. It gives the work an impression of being neither a photo nor a painting. They are dreamy, surreal, and with Paolo’s early background in fashion photography, they are also quite stylish. He says most of the figures in his work are actually images of either himself, his wife or his son, who are all in attendance at this little gallery which feels like stepping into the pages of Le Passe-Muraille. Because he has used his own image to represent the titular character of Dutilleul, I ask Paolo if he relates to him or to the story. He says no, not particularly, and that he can’t even recall the story entirely, it is just an “excuse” to have made these pieces. He mostly just likes the idea of someone who can enter and exit private places undetected, and that he too is a flâneur- which is French for someone who likes to aimlessly wander or stroll. The space holds the same energy as listening to your parents read a bedtime story in the summertime when the sun hasn’t fully set. A space between awake and dreaming.
What struck me most when arriving in Paris, to Montmartre (where the story is set), was how claustrophobic it felt. Walking through staggering streets that were organized in no particular manner, down eight flights of stairs from my chambre de bonne, Google maps would direct me down the street, up a flight of seven sets of stone stairs, around a hill, through a passage, and accidentally down an impasse– just to go to the supermarché! While living in a shoebox that looked much like Paulo Ventura’s piece of the small room where Dutilleux lives, on a street that continues up to the statue dedicated to this story, I became obsessed with visiting new apartments and being let through new doors. Many years and many keys later, it is still exciting to enter a building from the street and never know what charming or strange (most often both) gardens, homes, and characters that those flat Hausmannian façades open to, and strolling through the city does sometimes feel like walking through walls.
Paolo Ventura’s show Le Passe-Muraille is open from April 15th-May 27th at the Galerie XII, located at 14 Rue des Jardins Saint Paul, in Paris, France.