The human figure is at the heart of Carolus’ paintings, more precisely the face, which she paints in an almost obsessive manner, through rugged and deliberate gestures that demonstrate its tendencies and almost reveals its true nature, and in which oscillations in the painter’s own nature may also be discerned. Profoundly touched by her travels to Asia, Africa and Latin America, where she became intimately acquainted with these far-off peoples, an approach that broadened her culture and stimulated her creative impulses. From the beginning, she concentrated on the face as the symbolic messenger of a range of emotions.
She opted for the series format to illustrate variations in her faces, although the faces ultimately mix one with another, as a result of both the singular technique employed and the spirit emanating from each. Only the titles of the theme-based cycles and certain aspects of clothing provide revealing clues, which goes well beyond that of simple representation. In the initial “Hat” phase, her faces, which may be indifferently male or female, are adorned with headwear, whether monochrome or richly colored with overhanging eye sockets set above thick lips, all held within oval forms divested of any neck and generally divided along the midline into two sections, one lighter than the other.
In this duality we glimpse a confrontation between what is readily showed and what is insistently hidden. For the art of the portrait is to be the bearer of secrets, revealing not so much what is evident in the face as the concern of the eye that contemplates this face, seeks to label it or allows itself to become haunted by it. Here, the sensations of suffering submerged in memories of a haunting face well up to the surface. Thus, the point of contemplation no longer offers its presence but only reminiscence. The image is transformed into a magmatic flow, an explosion of colors. Moreover, to convey her vision of people, Carolus prefers the blaze of contrasting colours and the principle of freshly applied materials, spread across the canvas via pieces of cardboard in place of brushes. What is lost in tonal gradation is gained in frankness of execution and in efficiency regarding the structural content of the frame. Enfolded in the swirls of rough materials, Carolus’ figures suddenly become filled with returning emotion that reverberates through their lost and enigmatic regard, encased in poignant solitude.
The period devoted to “Linen” marks the end of the “Hats” phase. The faces are now dilated and stretched, the colours intermingle, the materials have become splintered, splayed and stratified and occupy the entire field of view, while the impact of the eyes and mouths is heightened, as they take on a primitive quality. Finally, the “Poppy” series exacerbates the gravity of the faces, while presenting sequences of seemingly greater sophistication, in the manner of an effigy with sunglasses. However, while the medium becomes more concentrated and the materials crumble, beneath the interstitial rigidity of the controlled gesture, the tension of the atmosphere is unwavering, and the faces maintain their veiled distance and hieratic quality, derided by the occasional wry half-smile.
We may now legitimately enquire about the identity of these faces that keep returning. Might the subject of all these series not be ultimately one and the same? Carolus does not in fact deal in unknown figures, engaging instead in a deliberate and recurrent challenge: the creation of a composite drawing of a unique being that can only be unmasked through the very act of painting.
While this figurative approach seeking to express the real stripped of its multiple disguises may at first glance appear rooted in Realism, the paintings of Carolus remain more closely related to the grim tradition of Expressionism, this art of excess and exaggeration regarding its human references. In any event, we have before us a powerful and homogeneous work that combines reminiscence with the present moment, uniting the force of symbols with the purity of primitive inspiration.