On Ronny Delrue’s recent oeuvre
“It’s difficult to explain what I mean by my paintings. I have expressed it as well as I possibly could in them. With words, one always covers only part of one’s thoughts.” (Piet Mondriaan)
THE VISUEL MEMORY of memory has become blurred in Ronny Delrue’s recent paintings. His quest for the artistic solidification of personal life experiences still is his unending occupation; an encircling of the elusive essence of that mystery which human life is and remains. For years, the paint on his canvases continued to be overrun by vague, seemingly amnesiac images. It was as if Delrue was visualising the memory of his art by painting anonymous (grave)monuments ‘from a distance’. The art of painting is never dead and can never be completely boring, because it is an a priori that even all so-called figurative paintings must pass beyond the never completely controllable ‘gesture’ of a subjectively interpretive/working artist. Today, the uniqueness of painting has turned into a recalcitrant and even subversive artistic attitude, which is rowing against the stream of a society conditioned by the steamroller of the commercial (digital) mass image. A painting is a sign of standstill, of truth or lie, but certainly a point of rest offering possibilities to escape (momentarily) from the visual predictability and camouflaged ideological intentions of the imagery in the mass media. A painting is an object which is abstract by definition, since the truth or reality cannot be depicted. The art of painting gives colour and form to freedom of thought and observation and presents the spectator with images in paint which are the sum of a complex whole of intuitive and logically rational motives. In Ronny Delrue’s work, the painting of the vaguely identifiable artefacts of memory is slowly changing into the painting of landscapes which are not immediately identifiable as such. More than ever before, the craft-like precision with which he composes the paint emphasises the tactile features of the paint as matter. As a flexible substance, this unique manifestation of his precious home-made paint ‘speaks’ not only about the manner in which the painter deals with his ‘craft and metier’, it also displays his skill in turning paint into a story about the empirical resultant of his hesitant search for the ‘right’ colour which can stand for emotion, sharp observation, atmosphere, sensation or a state of mind. The American painter Robert Ryman has summarised this as follows: “The basic problem is what one should do with paint. What is done with paint is the essence of all painting”.
Ronny Delrue’s recent paintings are small in format. This means that the spectator is compelled to approach each painting very closely and spy on it like a voyeur. He/she is invited to enter into an intimate, silent dialogue with the manner in which the paint was given and ‘became’ shape on the canvas. Ronny Delrue suggests only a-romantic, ‘Northern’ landscapes in which there is no room for sweet idyllic associations. The paintings are creamy abstract compositions in which the allusions to the horizon strengthen the assumption that they might in fact be landscapes. Moreover, the paint on the small canvases does not seem to entirely obey the ‘instructions’ of the artist, but ‘here and there’ is very clearly searching its own way through and along the surface of the support, even to the extent that the paint literally ‘drips’ from the edges of the canvas. Here, the paint challenges and tests its ultimate outer limits and points of contact with the support! The notion of style does not apply here: Delrue increasingly escapes from the underlying anecdotic suggestions and-through a non-figurative imagery – leaves the (possible) task of decoding to the spectator who may or may not be receptive or wish to do so.
Moreover, the presentation of work in limited series has the advantage of making the ‘uniqueness’ of a separate painting merge into the ‘sum’ of pictorial observations. The spectator interprets and embroiders the different image components into a whole that is acceptable to him/her; the separate paintings become (interchangeable) elements in an active relationship of conditioning observation with the spectator. In his recent work, Ronny Delrue clearly emphasises the art of observation: the referential void of the canvas makes room for a creative sensitive process involving the spectator! He also creates a link with three-dimensional work: he calls them abstract, anonymous plaster busts. I am more inclined to regard them as being metaphoric ‘moorings’ for his paintings, in some way comparable to a series of paintings called ‘Kades-Kaden’ (Quays-Quays) by the Dutch artist René Daniëls, who placed the titles of his work along imaginary docks painted in the shape of a jagged tree.
The marking out of moorings is inherent to the existence of man: man lives from and through a ‘sieved’ complex of memories which represent his/her history and personality. The combination of series of abstract paintings and plaster ‘moorings’ in Delrue’s work is clearly associated with the by now perhaps too-explicit references to the notion of ‘memory’ in contemporary art. And yet, I find that the statement by the neuro-psychologist Oliver Sachs fits Ronny Delrue’s artistic motives perfectly: “I think that memory is close to the imagination and that memories are interpretations, not copies or facsimiles. No reproductions”.
In Delrue’s oeuvre however, memory is no longer explicitly staged by means of (semi) identifiable or diaphanous images or illustrations. Delrue’s work has arrived at a crossroad where the figurative is now heading towards a form of pictorial production which only leaves room for ‘open’ distant referential suggestions. They are pictorial objects which can be considered as being ‘abstract and empty’ vehicles that can bring about contemplative dealing with visual experiences. And for others these canvases and ‘moorings’ are limited to being a purely visual process of submission to and enjoyment of the manner in which the artist allows his ideas on the painting or the image to coincide with anomalies of coincidence during the artistic process.
“Abstraction relies upon perception but resides in thought.” (Rainer Crone & David Moos)
Translation: Catherine Thys & Peter Flynn