Ronny Delrue

Dirk Lauwaert

October 1995

IMMEDIATELY IN the contemplator’s mind words crop up like investigate, wonder, hesitate, consider. That is what he notices. He knows that today for the maker of images everything has to evoke hesitation and stagnation. Painting has become the most laborious way to make an image. Anyway does he still make an image, when he paints? After all aren’t our ‘images’ today ‘taken’, turning the image one ‘makes’ into something of a fundamentally different order? An order which the maker of images has to invent entirely on his own risk.

The gesture – which the same contemplator also notices – is on the other hand impulsive. That is as expected of ‘ a plastic artist’. The paint is very present – as we have end-lessly come to expect. This contradicts the other impression: that of hesitation. Who hesitates stops after all, suspends the action until a solution imposes itself! Who hesitates has indeed lost all that is impulsive. 

The colours are flat and restrained. Their composition is muted. The painter steps back from his chromatic material. “The colours have to be ‘ugly’” the painter says. And they are: an unappetizing mixture of drabness. The bottom of a painter’s glass. Where everything becomes mud. Deposit. Residue. He mixes until he gets a cacophony of colours. The combination of all colours turns into a chromatic catastrophe. 

No frame is put on the canvas. It is hanging there open, porous, vulnerable and temporary. It hasn’t freed itself from its links to the maker. It arrives uncleaned, without make-up, from the studio in the public space. 

But a frame does more than that – as becomes apparent when there is no frame – it also modulates the look into a look ‘into’ the frame. No matter how abstract the painting may be, the frame around it turns it into an image, if need be an abstract image, but an image nevertheless and thus an imagining mediator. We always see something ‘in’ it. But without a frame even that becomes more difficult: we still see that the image is an object; that the image has been put onto something. It becomes for a moment more difficult to look into it. 

The frame also has to hide the edges of the object; in those frays we see the loose ends of the making. We see the hardened drops, strayed brush strokes applied 90 degrees against the surface. We see the time of drying, the time of making. Involuntary incidents ‘over’ the edge of the frame. 

And yet again that other, that counter-movement. What is he up to with those same canvasses as he tries to play them off against each other in this endless meticulous fashion as planes on the white wall? Rarely have I seen so much attention for hanging and combining. He weighs things up in an alchemy of space and colours, of forms and ‘weight’. It is a game with unwritten rules and non-existing solutions. That in itself delights the contemplator. 

Who, after this game of proportions between the planes on the white walls, has some attention left extricates himself from it with some difficulty to look at the images separately. The subtly balanced colours convey something that has the feeling of a gesture, but still far in the distance a figurative motive resounds. One is reminded of: landscape, sea, mountains, distance. It is as irresistible as it is dubious; like someone who claims to hear landscapes in music. But the painter doesn’t illustrate his subject. He immediately removes it in a tangible painter’s gesture. 

Very often there is a kind of horizon-line in the image. There it all turns over, and veers between brushed out paint and a distance. From one to the other: between the distance and the surface very close by. Between a spatial effect and the trace of a gesture. 

There, around that summary line, the canvas from a moment picks up colour. For around that turning point we find the most colours (from the very few that are her visible). One tinkers with one’s eyes at the layers, stripping them off and looking ‘under them’. We notice that the colours have been overpainted, until they all have disappeared. We also notice that he wants us to remark that. And in that fraction of the image – often at the top – the space reverberates differently. A small, thin song in the distance. Or is it the illusion of a song, a fata morgana? 

What looks like painting often proves to be painting out. Just as he mixes his colours until they turn into a deposit, he deconstructs his surface into a no-longer-image. Not adding and perfecting, but removing, eliminating, making disappear. He paints out, like one plasters up a hole in a wall. While painting is chiefly the art to open up a surface. 

Sometimes you even suspect a very old layer of painting in the cracks left visible at the edge. It is as if you unmask a painter, catch him in the act of iconoclasm. In a destroying way he appropriates an already existing image. A collector that doesn’t preserve, but buries. His own layer of paint becomes a tomb for that earlier, older work of another master. 

Painting becomes grim, aggressive, destructive. The image beneath it may and will no longer be there. Or will it? He puts his paint and form in such a way on the old canvas that everyone notices the rooting up and can suspect the old form. Like earth on top of a rapidly dug grave betrays the spot. Not the perfect crime, but the very visible evidence of it. 

In this way the image becomes involved in a conceptual game. The curiosity is aroused, the intellect provoked and thus the eye is for a short moment put aside. Again that hesitation, for so many things in this work have to do with the tactile: the paint used, the brushwork, the layers of paint, the wonderful density of collapsed colours. As if he dug them up out of a mine shaft – the bottom of his painter’s glass – where everything is marked by intense burning. The porosity of baked pottery, the powder of pastel, the dryness of charcoal. The paint has no fluid left, he didn’t extract it out of fruits, but out of dry dust, out of the centre of an oven. His colour seems cracked. The dry fire still shimmers. 

A big wind, carrying tons of ashes in endless shades of anthracite and brown, swept over these canvasses and tarnished them. 

In their stiff gloom they seem to sit on top of sulphurous vapour, as sooth-sayers who – though unconscious – still proclaim revealing nonsense. This work is solemn as if it possesses the definitive statement (which it doesn’t utter). It has a rigid position that sounds like a grim law – which unfortunately we cannot read. Reprimanding and imploring, but with the iron mask of a fossil. These canvasses feel old – both severe and fragile like everything that is petrified and on the point of pulverizing.

Translation: Marc Holthof

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