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Catalogue Essay

Updated: Oct 12, 2018

Nicolas Dhervillers Road Movie by Jennifer Dean

Traction Avant DE Citroen 1934, 'Road Movie' by Nicolas Dhervillers, Courtesy of School Gallery, Olivier Castaing

Exhibited as a Core Artist for the 2015 Ballarat International Foto Biennale, Nicolas Dhervillers Road Movie is a series commissioned for the 2014 International Automobile Festival held in Paris, France.

Dhervillers gives new life to his pictorial guests, their latest stories providing them a renewed vitality within an alternative existence

Nicolas Dhervillers Road Movie

Declared “the most beautiful car of all time” by Classic & Sports Car magazine in 2009, the Citroen DS achieved legendary status early. Described as “the most technically gifted… and the most quintessentially modern” automobile of it’s time and scorning “all that was familiar in pre war design”, the DS was heralded as revolutionary; an inimitable feat of aesthetic design and engineering. (Neil, 2015) Pronounced ‘day-ess’, a clever pun on 'déesse' the French word for goddess, the luxurious DS was also revered as other-worldy due to its futuristic and enigmatic design. Beheld by car enthusiasts as a picture of glamour amidst picturesque Parisian streets and gentle country roads, it is not surprising that photographer and artist Nicolas Dhervillers in his series Road Movie sought to return this sturdy, French low rider to perhaps its most true and natural domain. Gone is the air of submission to man’s forced pomp and splendour. The DS having escaped the safe haven of suburgatory is depicted by Dhervillers as having achieved what all good cars long for; a solitary adventure along a deserted yet precarious road, churning up dust and stone in an exploration of its revered agility and skill. Originally debuted to Parisian audiences as a picture of luxe and glamour, Dhervillers reconnects audiences with a different version of the DS, one who now proudly boasts a dust covered shassy as it glides purposefully across a rugged landscape, unbridled and unafraid.


Within a society controlled by rules and regulations, automobiles since Karl Benz invented the first production vehicle in 1886 have become widely accepted as embodying notions of freedom, individualism and power. They have become the revered tools of independence, the assumed method of mobility and more often than not the distinct statement of identity. Yet Dhervillers apparent personification of history’s legendary automobiles in Road Movies lends greatly to a notion of the automobiles’ own quest for freedom, perhaps from the clutches of human servitude. Self-realised, they are more than simply objects of desire; they are vehicles of purpose. However it appears one might assume, that the process towards self-actualization is not without hindrance. Citroen SM Maserati 1970 like a fugitive, speeds surely away from a ferociously burning building nestled in a calm valley of lush green. Traction avant de Citroen 1934, like a panicked steer, circles, donuts and slides around arid shrubs on a deserted rocky road in a determined effort to avoid the clutch of a fast approaching cowboy; perhaps a last ditch effort of the car to avoid certain capture, while Rolls Phantom 1934 Jonckheere sits motionless in silent thought at the edge of a cliff, the only witness to its implied dejection a petite Christian chapel transfixed.


Commissioned for the February 2014 International Automobile Festival in Paris, the carefully constructed visual narrative of Road Movies, not unlike Dhervillers previous works including Tourists, Hommages and My Sentimental Archives, employs a cinematic-inspired style that has become synonymous with his creative vision. A graduate of photography and multimedia, Dhervillers collaborates with international museums and art centres, his work greatly inspired by film, literature, theatre and paintings. Employing a meticulously selected cast of solitary beings, Dhervillers stars are removed from their original surroundings finding themselves carefully rehomed into the artists’ “created fictional collages”. (Morel, 2014) Dhervillers gives new life to his pictorial guests, their latest stories providing them a renewed vitality within an alternative existence.


Director? Liberator? Champion for a cause? Road Movies was created as original work for a festival that celebrates the beauty and innovation of concept cars for the adoration of an eager public, yet Dhervillers intentional liberation of these legendary vehicles from their human captors is somewhat intriguing. Is Dhervillers suggesting a glimpse into an alternative life for these inspired and celebrated vehicles, a life far beyond the prying interception of enthusiasts worldwide? Like celebrities today who remain scrutinised and judged by an infatuated public, seeking cherished respite and selfless freedom from the clutches of a society who seem to own them. Is freedom in fact possible for those who are beheld as iconic in the public eye? Perhaps in fact he simply reasserting the literal meaning of the automobile as a ‘self-propelled’ vehicle of which we occupy simply as passenger.


Neil, D (2015) ‘The Citroen DS 19: Why It’s the Ultimate Classic Car’, The Wall Street Journal, May 1st 2015


Morel, S (2014) ‘Trends: Nicolas Dhervillers Road Movie’, L’Oeil de la Photographie, January 23rd 2014

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© 2018 by Jennifer Dean