Now open at Gallery 24, curated by Kayly Ilali, is a beautiful exhibition entitled The Portraits of Silas Merlin. And it is, in a word, magnificent.
Silas is better known in the physical world as Jean-François Le Saint, a Maître Pastelliste of the Société des Pastellistes de France. In Portraits he presents a number of his pastel studies from the physical world, all beautifully reproduced for in-world exhibition in a manner which loses none of their context or the power of his chosen medium.
Spread through the two floors of the gallery is a virtual treasure trove of his work, offering a unique and involving insight into Silas’ world as an artist who uses modern and traditional means to produce a portrait, mixing photography – while he does enjoy live sittings, he much prefers capturing his subjects on camera, often taking hundreds of photographs whilst visiting traditional or medieval festivals in Brittany – with the great tradition of pastel art.
Through the images, with their layered, textured richness, it is possible to appreciate just why pastels have been a favoured form of portrait art since the Renaissance period. The pale colour tones which are available or can be mixed result in incredibly life-like images which can often transcend the use of paints, capturing the very essence of the subjects in a study.
You might wonder why an artist established in real life might want to bring their work into Second Life, where the ToS is seen as being hostile. In talking to Kayly Iali about his work, Silas offers a more relaxed view on the benefits of exhibiting in-world:
Second Life is warm and cozy, I want to be here. Importing my real life work into Second Life and rezzing it on a virtual wall gives me a new perspective on it. By contrast sticking it on a website or posting on social networks does not add anything or give me new insight to my paintings.
Artwork comes into being in the virtual world, (especially when you don’t use the full bright lighting feature in Second Life), it is affected by the day cycle, local lights that can be coloured, projectors [that] cast shadows…
On a more practical level, Second Life offers him the opportunity to learn about using new mediums. He’s particularly interested in sculpture, and adapting some of his work into 3D pieces.
The platform also present Silas with the ability to socialise more easily with visitors to his in-world studio, something he notes isn’t easily achieved in the physical world, where he is often lost in the flow of his work.
There are many facets to this exhibition which are both fascinating and enticing – the presentation of physical world art; the insight into Silas’ work and talent, the glimpse we get into the lives of his subjects. Speaking entirely personally, all of these aspects for me come together in one particular piece Silas has chosen to display: his portrait of Russian actress Natalya Gousseva, as she appeared as a 12-year-old in the mid-eighties Soviet television mini-series, Guest from the Future.
There is something fabulously intimate and compelling about the portrait, while beneath it, a bright panel offers us a glimpse into its creation: a link to a time-lapse video of the piece being drawn. Taken together, portrait and film offer a wonderful insight into Silas’ world, and I again offer him my thanks for allowing me to embed the video here, hopefully as a further enticement for people to visit the exhibition.
As well as the pastel studies, Portraits includes a number of photographs featuring young subjects Silas sketched during live sittings, presenting a further means of witnessing his work. And for those who might wonder how their avatar might look rendered in pastel art, a trip to the rooftop terrace will reveal a number of avatar portraits, work he still does today on a commissioned basis.
All told, The Portraits of Silas Merlin is a compelling exhibition, one all lovers of art should make time to see. For those who, like me, become enamoured of his work, Silas has a gallery in New Babbage and a second on Escapades Island – do visit them as well.