Ghent, June 2001
She is lying down on a slippery, jet-black water surface. Fossilized, carbonised, abused. Behind her and above her two vaults gaze at the body – two low gates, leading nowhere, except to more blacks and greys. Nearly everything in the painting has assumed a vertical position, except for the lying body, for which there is no rest. Somehow she is reminiscent of a black Ophelia, floating to nowhere. Her head is bent backwards, her features have been erased by much, too much, water rising. Her body seems to expand beyond the frame of the painting (p.10).
And yet this narrative element is not part of Ronny Delrues work. His paintings and canvases – no matter how disparate they are – may tell a story, but that has nothing to do with Shakespearian motifs or literary subjects. What they relate, is a story about the self, a fragmented self, disrupted by conflicts, a self-divided into countless particles, a self-characterized by paradoxes, a self which is embodied by its internal contradictions. Delrue flirts with this sort of shattering of the mind, with ambiguity and decay, to create images about petrifaction and annoyance, about silence which is like a void talking to us.
The works actually should be seen in their natural habitat, i.e. the artist’s studio, maybe because in these surroundings their relationship with their maker is stronger, because it is more obvious what he is and what he is not, how he looks, how he appears to the public. Maybe because in this place the works are arranged, ordered in an organic manner. Yet, who goes to see Delrues rigid array of works at this exhibition, will see even more. He or she will notice a rhythm, a play with dimensions, with light and dark, with the differences between the frailty of the paper and the sealed character of the canvasses, covered with layers of colouristic sediments. The works are either minutely small or of gargantuan proportions. They are ebony-black, pervaded by a subterranean light, which pierces the clouds of paint.
In Delrue universe, i.e. in the universe he evokes in and through his paintings, there is little light. The landscapes are dark and impenetrable. They seem turned inwardly, inscrutable. They do not stretch out their arms or spread their legs. They are danger areas no human being dares to penetrate. Their doors are shut. They reject interpretation. We see stripes and blots, heavy stacks of paint, holes through which the unpainted canvas appears, paint and more paint, layer upon layer of paint which the artist has applied with angelical patience. What is real and unique remains hidden under thick clouds of mist, is carefully covered. The essence of the works seem to reside in their non-speaking, in their profound and express silence. The artist himself has repeated it: his work is about petrifaction and fossilization, about restlessness and agony, about turbulence and agitation – things which need not be said, as the works speak for themselves. Delrues canvases cause discomfort, because the image again and again tries to escape its material borders or itself, because it seems to be crushed by its own weight.
An ocean of paint, turbulent and unpredictable, unfathomable and sealed. A grey tree stump which starts underneath the canvas and continues above it (p.7). As if it were a vertical stream, a wild cataract splitting the canvas. Some of these paintings are definitely not figurative. Polychrome landscapes. The amount of tones and shades from the same colour spectrum seem to expand endlessly. Closed, crusty, always sealed. Because the works dislike public statements.
One of the landscapes is apparently different (p.23). It is green and brown. Obviously, it represents a wood. Despite the grim, almost expressionistic brush strokes, it breathes a certain tranquillity, but that is mere appearance. In the silence wolf cubs and dangerously poisonous plants lurk. The treat comes from within. The harmony of browns is a cloak or mask under which the canvas hides its true nature.
And the true nature of the canvas is absence and self-willedness, sullenness and distress, paralysis and heavy-heartedness. An empty head is pushed against the outline of a house, bandaged, wrapped in lines of barbed wire. Blurred, impure, as if the head is being suffocated. Such a difference with the faceless characters against a neutral background, who seem to merge with or dissolve into the surroundings. In this instance the figure seems to struggle with the background; it even looks as if the character is separated from the background, as if it were an inappropriate stage set.
The drawings from the diary at first sight seem light-hearted, because of the line strokes and their casual character. They bear witness to a capricious imagination; sometimes they almost look symbolical. They feature one character or two: in the latter case these have fused into an entity about which there is something wrong, distorted. Around the head satellites circle, around the neck bullets or tentacles, which, like mycelia, are deeply rooted into the earth. They are either firmly attached or seem to float. From the heads a strange vegetation grows. The faces are like masks, but the sort of masks without any expression. The ears and mouth, often the eyes, too, have disappeared. The faceless masks express nothing but absence and void. They are grey or muddy pastel coloured, pink or almost red. They look at us with pitch-black eyes, or turn to us with the unfathomable depth of their face. As if they should not be. As if their maker has tried to erase them even before he has drawn their features and outline on the paper. All of them are random recordings. Of what? Of moods, thoughts, emotions, ideas? The public can only guess, as it can only see what has not been depicted. We can only guess what hides beneath that which has been left out. Is there anyone out there? Sometimes the characters literally seem to hide. Like that one particular silhouette (p.30). Thick-headed and dark, elongated and emaciated, its head, too long, reaching the ceiling of the drawing. From the head balloons and glass spheres grow, now black, now transparent. They seem to push down everything. The background is baby-pink, covered with a milky, white mist. I am not there, it – the thing or human being – seems to say. You can feel me, but you cannot see all of me.