house on the model of an airport of the 60's, from which he has direct access to his personally-owned Boeing 707 (of which he is a proud owner). Thus a majority of outside views chosen by Jacques Benoit in his Orly (Sud) series include the Control Tower, the only element that identifies the site as an airport, whereas any building of Brasilia speaks for itself. As for the interior scenes, they take advantage of the wide setting designed by Henry Vicariot, both functional and luxurious.
The painting of Jacques Benoit is underpinned by a logic that is of a cinematic nature: framings, low-angle views, action, scenery... all of which contribute to the impression of a current drama. The latter remains mysterious though, indefinable somehow, a fact that reinforces the feeling that the real subject is the architecture itself. It is not neutral that Brasilia and Orly Airport share the distinction of having served as an inspiration to many filmmakers, some among them being French, moreover. An example that comes to mind is the extensive “Cult” sequence from L'Homme de Rio (The Man from Rio) by Philippe de Broca (1964), showing the actor Jean-Paul Belmondo (whose virile stature is reminiscent of the male characters appearing in Jacques Benoit’s paintings), in full pursuit throughout Brasilia’s site under construction. As for the building of Orly’s West Wing, it opens the Jacques Tati’s film Playtime (1967), and serves as a pivot to the plot of Vivre Pour Vivre (Live for Life), directed by Claude Lelouch in the same year. This last example provides Jacques Benoit one of the few literal quotations in his Orly (Sud) series: Yves Montand and Annie Girardot stand on either side of the painting, while silhouettes in the painting’s center evoke Montand’s infidelity sealing the end of their relationship (an iconographic construction that borrows from medieval art, a willingly anachronistic wink in this ‘60s setting). This work particularly focuses on the interests of Henry Vicariot for new materials such as stainless steel and anodized aluminum, as well as the generalization of Neon - an element that Jacques Benoit takes advantage of, in order to emphasize the cold atmosphere of this scene of breakup.
This cinematographic dimension also allows us to better understand the unpredictable -to say the least- range of colors that this painter uses in his art. As a director of photography who would be given complete freedom, Benoit takes possession of the actors and props that he stages, imposing his own framings, his light, his own choice of colors. One can perceive the logic behind this explosion of highly saturated colors, like the reoccurring red skies, or the desire to create a strong contrast between realistic looking clothing and the characters’ wild skin color.
Consciously or not, Jacques Benoit here refers to experiments conducted in 1964 by Georges-Henri Clouzot for his unfinished masterpiece L’Enfer, which includes several scenes where the actors (including Romi Schneider) were literally painted from head to toe to make them look the way Clouzot wished they would in his film.
Nurturing a genuine passion for architecture, Jacques Benoit nevertheless remains guided by Cinema.
by Pierre-Yves Desaive
As in his Brasilia series, Jacques Benoit chose to gather his latest works under a generic title that does not evoke a place so much as an epoch. Orly Airport (its South Wing, as it is) and the administrative capital of Brazil were born at the same time, and both demonstrate their respective creators’ unwavering faith in modernity, seen as a radical break with the urban design of the previous era.
The choice of personalities such as Oscar Niemeyer and Henri Vicariot, demonstrates Jacques Benoit’s appeal for architecture issued from the Modern Movement. But the irruption in this series of a representation of Jean Bertin, designer of the Aerotrain, portrayed next to his invention at a dreamed Train Station in front of the Orly West Wing’s building, shows that the painter's interest is not only aesthetic, but also societal.
We all know about the Aerotrain’s doomed fate, a monorail powered by air-cushion sustentation and guided on a concrete beam, which reached a record speed of 422 km per hour during a test in 1969; the project was first supported by the French Government, but under lobbyists’ pressure, was later considered a danger to the steel industry and the SNCF’s monopoly; it was finally abandoned in 1977. A Caravelle jet and a Citroen DS car also appear in other paintings, recalling the enthusiasm for technological innovation that characterized France at the time.
Thus, the historic setting - the war boom known as the Glorious Thirty - is planted.
What about the architectural framework? Brasilia is not Orly, and Henri Vicariot may well be a worthy representative of modernist architecture in Europe, but it is not comparable to Niemeyer in terms of boldness and creativity. Jacques Benoit’s choice of both these architects, close to each other in terms of urban concepts, but quite different in the way they expressed them, is not without consequences for his painting.
Vicariot’s main contribution to the French architecture of his time is the “Curtain-Wall” system, imported from the United States, which allowed the creation of a building such as Orly to open wide to natural light but still to be protected from the weather, that is, adapted to French concerned latitudes’ inclement weather. By comparison, the Niemeyer buildings, which were to address the utopian project to establish a new town in the jungle, played on the alternation between transparency and opacity, the white color dominating anything else. In Benoit’s Brasilia series, these buildings appear for what they are: totems of modernity raised on a wild territory recently conquered. In Orly (Sud), the architecture is better suited as a backdrop for the glory of Aviation’s golden age (an age recently depicted in 2011, by the Pan Am ABC TV Show, or, in the same vein, by John Travolta -an actor happening to be just as well a licensed airline pilot-, who shares a famous passion for airports and aircrafts, and who chose to build his