Rancinan in London

One of France's best known art photographers exhibits for the first time in the British capital

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The Independent Culture

Gérard Rancinan takes huge landscape photographs which at first resemble fashion spreads but on closer inspection reveal themselves to be stark social commentary or grotesque spoofs.

The artist has exhibited at Palais de Tokyo in Paris, the Triennale in Milan and Museu d’Art Contemporani, Barcelona. But his first ever London show arrived at the Opera Gallery on New Bond Street earlier this week, filling the small white space with epically proportioned shiny images.

The top floor is dominated by examples of the artist’s angry and opulent Metamorphoses series. The pictures parody fashion, materialism, capitalism and religion by mimicking the set up of famous Masterpieces and subverting them. Gericault’s The Raft of the Medusa becomes the Raft of Illusions (above), for example, and its naked wrecked souls are gleaming models with ripped clothes and gold bling sailing on a sea of oil.

The artist gave me a tour of the exhibition and eloquently explained what each work represented. He is evidently a deep thinker, and had an impressive rationale behind each idea which was fascinating to hear. He and writer Caroline Gaudriault, who chipped in on the tour, have been compiling hypotheses which accompany the works. A text, entitled Hypotheses, written by Gaudirault , has been published to accompany Rancinan’s series of the same name.

Rancinan and Gaudriault were a little offended when I suggested there were comparisons to be made, technically at least, with the set up of his photographs and the style of some (very impressive) fashion photography. He agreed grudgingly that this was an influence but dismissed it as insignificant in light of the bigger ideas at hand. The former snapper for Time, Sports Illustrated and Vanity Fair has fully shed his background in favour of 'art'.

Inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper, The Big Supper is of a lot of very overweight people tucking into a table full of fries, burgers, fried chicken and colourful confections set against a bright white backdrop. Another funny one is American San Sebastian, in which the martyr saint, depicted in the style of Il Sodoma, has his face obscured by a plastic Mickey Mouse mask.

Some of Rancinan’s portraits are less playful than his pastiches. A beautiful portrait of Balthus sees him sitting serenely in a chair with a woman standing above him and a pot full of giant paint brushes at his right. But they can be whimsical too. The Paul McCarthy Triptych sees the artist looking fairly civilised, dipping his head into a bowl and emerging with his face, beard and hair dripping with bright red tomato ketchup.

It is understandable why Rancinan's work has such appeal. They are intelligent but embrace levity. Pretentious but so precisely rendered that the mocking style becomes multi-faceted. After just five days in London most of the pictures in the gallery have little red "Sold" stickers on them.

Rancinan in London is at the Opera Gallery until 2 October, www.operagallery.com

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