Pierre Terrasson: Gainsbarre etc,
The Bru Sale,
40, rue Ravenstein,
Brussels until April 23,
11am-6pm Wednesday to Saturday.
For British rock fans, 2016 is marked by the death of David Bowie. In the French-speaking world, it has further significance as the 25th anniversary of the fatal heart attack that ended Serge Gainsbourg’s career as a hell-raising provocateur whose lyrics prompted President Mitterrand to compare him to Baudelaire.
To commemorate the poet of the French rock world, Brussels and Paris have both organised exhibitions of French photographer Pierre Terrasson’s portraits of Gainsbourg and of other major 1980s performers, including Bowie.
In Paris, they are displayed in the town hall of the 9th arrondissement. In Brussels, Terrasson’s immortalisations of those who never seemed merely mortal to their fans are on show and on sale in the Bru Sale gallery. Provided you can coincide with the limited opening hours and if you’re already visiting the city’s main arts museums nearby, it’s worth a detour – or perhaps even making an investment.
Prices start around 500 euros and soar to 10,000 euros for a tiny but unique print – number 1 of 1 – of Gainsbourg under arrest in a police station with light shafting on to the captive through a venetian blind.
Handcuffs are a theme and they conjure Gainsbourg’s appetite for challenging social and sexual conventions. Another is cigarettes, redolent of seedy glamour and self-destruction.
Terrasson created montages of Gainsbourg “a la clope” (with a ciggie) and “aux manottes” (handcuffed).
Gainsbourg also poses warily with a sturdy Nikon camera beneath his chin, with his hands in his jeans pockets, more out of attitude than in relaxation, and kissing Marianne Faithfull.
If Gainsbourg looks guilty and disruptive, another French icon Vanessa Paradis emerges pristine and dreamy, though not necessarily innocent, from Terrasson’s scrutiny; and whereas Gainsbourg tends to be indoors or against an indeterminate backdrop, Paradis is in the fresh air at the French coast.
She leans carefree on a hatbox on a beach, she walks on a beach of sand that looks hard as concrete while the sky is blank as a painted wall, making the main textual focus the white lace of her petticoats. Those are also to the fore when Terrasson pictures her at the Chapelle d’Houllefort, near Boulogne-sur-Mer, where he draws the contrast between the softness of Paradis and the iron of the chapel gates.
Paradis’ femininity stands out all the more in a gallery of strutting men, with the exception of Bowie. He too could strut, but here he is sensitive and ethereal beneath a mane of shimmering-blond hair with chiselled features that make him physically but not lyrically the diametric opposite of Gainsbourg.
Barbara Lewis © 2016.