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in medias res

megan kincaid
noel de lesseps

Noel de Lesseps, Penultimate, 2021. Courtesy the artist.

Noel de Lesseps’s paintings traverse.

Across craggy terrain, amid eerie landscapes, and through thickets of reeds, the artist’s constellation of characters, including mischievous mice and wizened birds, track through space. The central figures are often seen sojourning—a fawn traipsing along the horizon line, leaving hoof prints in its wake, or a protagonist moving from left to right, coming of age as it crosses the canvas. de Lesseps describes his own artistic process in similar terms—each compositional or gestural decision undertaken like a traveler, the next step executed “in the environment, seeing the next thing.” In turn, the painterly journey is made palpable for the viewer either in the visual scan of the landscapes or in the creation of story through the assembly of disparate vignettes that populate these worlds.


In works like Penultimate, signs are made fugitive by sheer force. Threads of narrative spool across the surface; what is cut off in one scene might be tied together in another or abandoned altogether. Ultimately, the prevailing sentiment is one of narrative instability. de Lesseps’s breach of linear storytelling is intensified by his phantom-like figures, cast in a grisaille palette and rendered translucent with dry brush and other solely developed techniques. In this way, the artist activates what Jacques Derrida called the hauntology—the lurking persistence and intrusion of memories past. The multiple registers of time that coexist through the relative agedness of symbols finds its coeval in the artist’s infidelity to a single temporality.

Some figures appear like specters in a dream, others as real as our fingers and toes.