Ronny Delrue

Delving for the spirit

Michaël Zeeman

1994

Unlike a great many of his fellow painters, Ronny Delrue has no qualms at all about allowing the genesis of his work to shine through his work. His paintings are not just completed projects, they are also records of working method. As well as seeing the end result, the spectator learns about the steps leading up to it and the many forms they may take.

Delrue employs a systematic approach and this is indicative of the compelling need for him to think in terms of series: ‘Kroon en krater’ (Crown and Crater), ‘Anonieme namen’ (Anonymous Names), ‘De blinde koning’ (The Blind King). It is as if with these he is exhausting all the possibilities of a chosen theme of strategy. The result is a series of paintings where it is difficult to isolate one work from another one. Together they represent the painter’s quest, as if each separate work also speaks for the series as a whole. Rather than a definitive answer, what is being shown is a medley of viewpoints.
In some cases he even goes as far as to treat the viewpoints that are produced as momentarily contingent. Alongside and in each image are points, each one of which is a potential starting point for a completely new approach. The other, non-depicted yet conceivable canvasses are, in theory, already present in the painting.

It is significant that one series seems to emerge from another one. The path being followed by the painter is obviously a fixed one, even though he discovers it solely through his discipline and his artistic curiosity and not through mystical foreknowledge or a dispassionate programme. Those who see his series of paintings of Mexican temples first of all and then the portraits produced at a later date, actually become accomplices in the voyage of discovery. The later temples in fact already fit in with the faces, for the paintings have become portraits of buildings that carry so many secrets they almost spring to life. They have almost lost their architectural significance now and instead belong to the world of nature. To have seen the temples in reality, swallowed up by the landscape, is to understand that this is the very essence of their mysteriousness.

The painter fails to uncover this secret in his painting, no matter how hard he tries. In the series of portraits that Delrue is working on at present, the secret is brought in the canvas, but in a paradoxical way, for it involves painting a portrait that is as stark as possible. Like a blind skull which in reality is nothing more than a blurred outline, a filled up skull, a head-shaped lump of stone.

The titles of the portraits are derived from the monuments found in the famous graveyard Père Lachaise in Paris. The impressive monuments display the names of dead people who in many cases seem to have held grand titles and positions. They are immortalised in stone, but at the same time they wither away to nothing more than pieces of bone.

During their own epoch, the people to whom the names refer must have been held in high esteem, but over the passage of time they have been stripped to the bone and even the monuments erected for them are eroded and subsiding. Bit by bit, they have become nothing more than a name and, strangely enough, it is precisely for this reason that they have become complete anonymities again. Only in the case of Modigliani, who painted faces so expressively, faces almost devoid of features, has the name survived as more than a series of letters.

Delrue in fact delves into the past with his portraits, just as he investigates the present with the ‘Kroon en krater’ series. I the series of fossils het painted elements of that past were already brought to light. Apparent here and there were the bones encountered by the romantic yet somewhat bitter Delrue. However, just as he discovered them, so he painted over them again, or hid them under the pieces of rice paper he put on his canvases. They show through the painting material, they are present without giving themselves away. This lends most of Delrues paintings the character of a palimpsest: the reality on display implies another, earlier one, whether it be a sense of mortality or a thirst for life (as in one of his larger canvases, a woman is unmistakably present, half hidden under the paint). Sometimes, as literally as in a palimpsest, these incomplete words are more or less concealed under the paint. This is precisely where the double meaning of his work resides: its strength and discipline is contrasted by an air of mystery.

Although the material is applied in a heavy-handed manner and appears to be intractable on occasions. Delrues paintings are pervaded by a quest to lay bare the spirit. They evoke not only the thing they represent but also the act of representation itself: they are a plea for an allegiance to the art of painting. With hindsight, it betokens great consistency that as long as 10 years ago, Delrue was paying homage to famous painters of the past.

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