The Fractured and Dancing Bodies of Nick Mauss

The show at Galerie Chantal Crousel in Paris is filled with motifs of choreographed movement and figures created from slashed lines

BY Andrew Hodgson in Exhibition Reviews | 20 MAY 24

Bodies caught mid-choreographed movement, forms in absence, figuration emerging from an accumulation of slashed lines: these are the core motifs of Nick Mauss’s debut solo show at Galerie Chantal Crousel, which explores the interaction between lightness and density through variegated actions of daubing, cutting and burning in ceramic, fabric and glass.

The title of the show, ‘Close-Fitting Night’, recalls the artist’s past presentations drawing on the works and lives of costume designers for Paris’s famous Ballets Russes in the early 20th century, including Léon Bakst and Christian Bérard. Mauss has sought to reclaim both from historical obscurity over the last decade in a series of exhibitions, including ‘Portraits d’Intérieurs’ in 2014 at the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco. The influence of modernist ballet design can be found here, too, in new pieces such as Breath Caught (2024). This work contains thick black velvet that absorbs light like theatrical curtains, with swatches of silver satin hung over it. 

Nick Mauss
Nick Mauss, Untitled, 2019, ink, crayon and gouache on paper, 42 × 59 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris; photograph: Jiayun Deng

The satin is burn-out printed using sodium hydrogen sulphate to create a network of slashes and scribbles that suggest human bodies. The corrosive has eaten away the strands of fabric, leaving a fine mesh. The contrast of the thinned lines in the satin against the dense backing material gives the ghostly sensation of dancers twisting in bright light across a dark backdrop. In A Line that May be Cut (2024), Mauss also mounts on the fabric two stoneware ceramic tiles coated in manganese oxide; set against the velvet, the tiles have an uncanny valley aspect to them, as though they are gleaming under UV light.

Nick Mauss
Nick Mauss, Held, 2024, stoneware and terracotta, 2.4 × 1.3 m. Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris; photograph: Jiayun Deng

The ten ceramic works in the show also echo the illustration style employed by the Ballet Russes, with erratic lines cut into the clay or drawn on with wax. These wall-mounted tile works emphasize the moving body, its angles and parts as it is thrown from one stance to the next, describing the human form lost within itself through vigorous motion. This is exampled in Untitled (2024), where Mauss has drawn in wax on the cut and warped surfaces of the tiles before they were glazed and fired, leaving raw lines in the black stoneware glaze.

This figuration of accumulating lines is continued in the four mirrored works in the show, including Misremembered (2024), which each comprise back-painted glass tiles adhered with reflective film. Slashed with black scribbles and patches of smudged brown and blue paint, these works have the look of large, tarnished mirrors from an old Parisian brasserie. The mirrored tiles are warped and have different concave and convex aspects. The reflections of visitors who stop to take their photo in them appear discordant, their bodies stretched out of recognizable proportion and form, the mirrors rendering them malleable material to be cut up and reconstituted in motion..

Nick Mauss
Nick Mauss, Misremembered, 2024, reverse-painted glass, mirrored, 2.2 × 2.7 m. Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris; photograph: Jiayun Deng

The foundations of this exhibition rest in subtraction, reversion and the creation of form from what is removed from an object. The work here develops from the artist’s experimentations with wax-resist watercolour, as seen in Split Time and Film (both 2023). These beginnings in blind drawing speak of the human body as a spatial void, presented as something in matter removed or hacked out of clay and glass. ‘Close-Fitting Night’ demonstrates Mauss’s studied intimacy not only with the myriad materials of the works but with the quiet figures he depicts, who go about their choreographed motions seemingly unaware they are being observed. It is an intimacy of chance, absence, askance looks and sharp cuts in repetition. 

Nick Mauss’s ‘Close-Fitting Night’ is at Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris, until 25 May

Main image: Nick Mauss, A Line That May Be Cut, 2024, satin, stoneware and manganese oxide on velvet, 1.5 × 2.7 m. Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris; photograph: Jiayun Deng

Andrew Hodgson is a writer, researcher and artist based at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales, Paris. He published the book object New Forms of Art and Contagious Mental Illness with New Documents in January 2023.