Every time I see the work of Johan Tahon again, I am overwhelmed by various, often-contradictory impressions. On the one hand his sculptures invoke an almost ominous quietness, a purity, a longing for the absolute. On the other hand there is the impression of an exhausting, laborious struggle with the metier. This struggle serves the creation of an overall picture. Problems with the plasticity merge into a desperate quest for his true identity as man and artist as well as for his current position between past and future.
Even though the concept of man is crucial in his sculptural constructions, there is no reference to a reality outside the artist. His vision on mankind is strictly the result of the relationship between sculpture and space – the classical medium. This approach gives us insight in who the artist is, what he is searching for and what he strives after.
We are struck by a certain mood, one of underlying turmoil, human tragedy and sometimes even impotence. This can be observed in the process of moulding.
Fractures, coincidence and recovery alternate in a rhythmic way. The unravelling converses with the construction. At the anatomic level we find stretched, swollen parts that are fragmented and reconnected – it seems like the anatomy has to be rediscovered over and over again. Or are we jumping to conclusions and is it just sheer stubbornness by the artist who wants to free himself from the classical anatomy and the rules of perspective? In any way, the shapes possess a permanent tension.
These sculptures neither have an obvious centre on which we can focus. The eye wanders, adapts to the curves and the irregular shapes. And still, once the figure is entirely explored, like a mule does with a mountain path, there is stillness and immobility.
Adding to the visual tension are the small contradictions, the unexpected twists in the manipulation of the plaster. Tahon uses fingers, brushes, spatula but also, surprisingly, non-sculptural elements. Tools that were originally used for stability or an increase in scale, now become part of the sculpture. We forget their functionality. Whether it’s a crate, a chair, or a bucket that supports the figure, these elements are all assigned new roles. What used to be a pedestal, becomes an ally in the battle with space.
The strenght of Johan Tahon lies in his stubbornness. He refuses to erase the traces of this battle that is mainly fought in his studio where his work reaches its full potential. The studio is embedded in his work, and always remains visible, even in the neutral environment of a museum or art gallery. The work is present, vulnerable and yet vital. Unfinished, but on its own.