Claire Tabouret

If Only The Sea Could Sleep


HAB Galerie


Press release

Every year, Le Voyage à Nantes dedicates the spaces of the HAB Galerie to a single artist. Through this major solo show, a year’s given artist is invited to pursue their work by taking on the imposing concrete architecture of this former banana storehouse. Past exhibitions by Roman Signer, Felice Varini, Huang Yong Ping, Daniel Dewar and Grégory Gicquel, and Céleste Boursier-Mougenot more recently, offered an opportunity for an unprecedented exploration of an artist’s work, whether it is through video, sculpture, painting, or installation, by showing pieces that have been designed or created in situ. 

Based in Los Angeles for the past several years, Claire Tabouret has continued developing a figurative body of work since graduating from Les Beaux-Arts de Paris in 2006. In her paintings, drawings and sculptures, her main subject is the human body. Although she was first spotted for her series Maison inondée (“Flooded House”) where she was interested in aquatic and nocturnal worlds, then with Migrants, where solitary men drifted on makeshift rafts, Claire Tabouret eventually devoted her art to group and individual portraits.

In them, she captures the body, arresting it in a freeze frame, and telling intimate stories charged with memories – and the enigma of the world: “I’m constantly collecting images, and my painting is triggered when a question surges forth and I can no longer get rid of it. I paint what I can’t see.”

For Claire Tabouret, this exhibition at the HAB Galerie offers us an opportunity to see her painting on an entirely different scale than that of classical framed and stretched canvases. Here, she can extract the figures from her work and turn them into volumes within a custom-designed space. Every Claire Tabouret show is like the new chapter of a story set to paint. Los Angeles – city between mountains, desert and ocean, where she has lived for several years – has become her elsewhere. Imagining she had to cross  the seven seas to reach Nantes, Claire Tabouret went to the port of San Pedro along the Californian coast to find the cloth used for sails, which became the medium for her painting. Cut, stretched and re-stitched, the surface of these gigantic new canvases has become home to different human figures. Suspended throughout the gallery, these sails are left to dance freely to the drafts or slight winds caused by passing visitors. Stained and made threadbare by their various journeys, they are almost tanned like leather. Beige, raw and yellowish, they like skins tattooed by the artist’s collages and paintings.The figures – both feminine and masculine – walk towards the horizon, turn their backs, hold hands, kiss, embrace one another... Since there is no background scenery, these bodies float in a nameless world. Sometimes, out of these large, frameless canvases, these silhouettes take on three dimensions and become painted plaster sculptures. By contrast with the faded tones of the painted sails, these same characters appear in the acidic colours of the monotype hanging on the wall. These prints feature a dynamic composition of superimposed patterns – of bodies that come to life, writhe and struggle. Inspired by If Only the Sea Could Sleep: Love Poems – a collection of Syrian poems by the poet Adonis to whom she pays homage – Claire Tabouret uses the constant movement of the sea as a metaphor to translate the emotional ebb and flow of a romantic encounter.

With this in mind, she invited musicians Aska Matsumiya and Alex Somers to create an original sound composition evoking the slow calm of the ocean – but one that occasionally transforms into a massive wave that comes crashing down and floods the entire space. This exhibition is a dizzying, visual poem that could well turn into a brand-new love song!


Due to the Coronavirus outbreak, all galeries are temporarily closed to the public, but remain accessible by appointment.