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Reality check: ‘Illusions’ exhibit plays games with the viewer

GREENWICH — Neon shapes, noses and lips protrude from the portraits on the walls of the Gilles Clement Gallery as the paintings in the “Illusions” exhibition challenge the viewer to determine what’s real and what’s not.

The stars of the show, Parisians artists Marina Kamena, 72 and Serge Clement, 85, who now live in Westport, allowed viewers into their collective mind’s eye with layers of illusions and reality, lies and truth in the exhibit.


“This was done with epoxy,” said Kamena, pointing to a portrait of two figures whose lips, chins, clothing and hands rise up from the surface of the canvas on a movie set — the first painting to the left upon entering the gallery.

“These are two people in a moment where nobody is filming,” she said, “but it is billed as a classical construction.”

With the male figure lying almost limp in the lap of a matrony female, the viewer is reminded of the classical image of Jesus looking up at his mother Mary.

And “Day for Night” is a term used to describe filming a night scene during the day, Kamena said.

The effects barely begin to uncover the tip of the iceberg, the myriad ways Kamena and Clement use illusions in their work.

An opening reception for “Illusions” will be held at the gallery at 45 E. Putnam Ave. at 6 p.m. Thursday. An event dubbed a “Rendezvous with the Artists” will be held April 25 — a co-event and pre-opening of the Greenwich Alliance Française’s 14th Edition of Focus on French Cinema.

When visitors walk farther into the gallery, they become vessels through which the illusions are traveling, Gallery Manager Dianne Niklaus said. Clement and Kamena are serious about the interactive experience that is art.

White hot neon burns to the left and right. Two pieces are aptly named after literary works: “Ophelia” and “Farewell to Arms.”

The former has a white skull over a Mason jar carved in wood, white and filled with bubbly flowers. The latter has a large peace sign popping off the wall, over another white jar filled with gun carvings.

“You could think of Ophelia,” Kamena said. “The Shakespeare ‘Death of Ophelia’ has been painted by a number of artists. ... In the past, in the 19th century, you had all these paintings with the death of Ophelia, and she was painted with flowers because the death ceremony is always done with flowers. It’s like another language using the neon (to depict that).”

The neon Mason jar pieces play

off the duo’s painted “Jar Memory” series, which takes iconic artworks from all periods — such as Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” Michelangelo’s “Sibyl” and Jeff Koons’ “Diamond” — and conserves them in the equally iconic jars. There is also a “3D Jar” series, with sculptures encased in glass Mason-like jars with clear lids.

“It came with an empty jar,” Kamena said, “and you use the same word, ‘preservation’ ... for peas, tomato, or for the role of a museum. A museum ‘preserves’ the art.

“In this word ... we could switch consuming a product with art,” she said, “and it also, this idea that ... we have to hurry to look at everything because it’s going to disappear. So these disappearments, we hear it today with the scientists telling us that oceans are going to disappear, species, flora, everything is going to disappear. So it’s a real concern. We are artists, so our concern was related to art. And ... it’s not to be serious, but it is to play with art and real concern.

“For instance when we put this peace and love on the guns, and we call it ‘A Farewell to Arms,’ it’s a play of opposing terms,” said Kamena.

Across the gallery, a larger-than-life portrait of Nicole Kidman as Satine from Baz Luhrmann’s “Moulin Rouge” offers viewers another illusion.

Colors mixed to depict Kidman’s light skin, lime green, purple and blue, come out opalescent as moonlight. As “Moulin Rouge” fans know, Satine dies at the end, and there is a sadness in the portrait that descends like the dusk of her short, glamorous existence.

Ornate jewelry around her neck juts out of the painting like silver chainmail or armor.

And although it is made of diamonds — which Kidman boasts throughout the musical are a girl’s best friend — “the viewer immediately accepts it” as her appropriate attire, Kamena said.

Other familiar faces in the portraits include Scarlett Johansson as a modern-day “Girl with a Pearl Earring” and Robert Downey Jr., with his face, sweater and zipper texturized above the canvas, is the tragic hero.

The exhibition will be on display at the Gilles Clement Gallery from April 19 through May 26. More information on both artists can be found at and

E:; T: @jturianoGT; IG: @greenwichgreen

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