Raoul De Keyser: Paintings 1967 to 2012
Inverleith House is pleased to announce the first major UK solo exhibition in over a decade by Belgian painter Raoul De Keyser (b. Deinze, Belgium, 1930, d. 2012).
De Keyser’s paintings combine elements of both abstract expressionism and figuration inspired by the natural world. His unique approach pushed the boundaries of painting and explored its very nature through the lens of everyday experience and this exhibition will present works spanning the breadth of the artist's career. We look forward to welcoming you to the preview on 14th February 12.30 - 3pm, free all welcome.
Installation views, Raoul De Keyser: Paintings 1967 to 2013, Inverleith House, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2015. Images by Michael Wolchover.
Inverleith House is delighted to present Raoul De Keyser: Paintings 1967–2012, an exhibition of works by the late Raoul De Keyser (b.1930, Deinze, Belgium, d.2012). As the first posthumous exhibition of De Keyser’s painting works in a UK gallery, the exhibition considers the legacy of this prolific artist through an examination of his extraordinary five decade-long career, with particular reference to the artist’s late studio activity from 2010 to 2012 and the very last paintings made by De Keyser. The exhibition of 45 paintings includes the screening of the documentary, Raoul De Keyser: Returning is Also a Journey, translated into English for the first time.
Raoul De Keyser is often described as an ‘artist’s artist’, denoting a certain level of connoisseurship for his artistic oeuvre. He first gained international attention in the 1980s, was then selected for Jan Hoet’s 1992 Documenta IX, and in recent times has been championed by younger Belgian artists such as Luc Tuymans. Perhaps because of his highly experimental and continuously evolving output or more simply due to his lifelong residence in the small East-Flanders town of Deinze, De Keyser’s work has always escaped transitory artistic trends and thus the spotlight. Nonetheless, De Keyser is fast becoming recognised as one of the 20th century’s foremost proponents of a complex, unique form of abstract figuration inspired as much by everyday reality as by serious aesthetic concerns. It is therefore the purpose of this exhibition to not only focus in on De Keyser’s later, ‘better known’ work but also to consider his early career in the 1960s where he formed the foundations of his rigorous investigations on canvas and in the medium of painting itself.
Perhaps initially something of a dilettante, De Keyser began painting seriously in his mid-30s after a brief journalistic career, becoming associated with the East-Flanders’ ‘New Vision’ group whose proponents drew upon post-war American painting, most notably Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism and Pop Art. However, post-war Belgian culture differed significantly from the market-driven consumerism of ‘60s America and De Keyser’s application of these styles within his own practice was distinctively down to earth by comparison; his canvases firmly rooted within a more intimate, introspective and domestic reality.
De Keyser painted ponderous and passing observations: the minutiae of the everyday. The garden hosepipe draped languorously across the patio; a canvas tent pitched in luscious green countryside (room 7); the monkey puzzle tree outside his studio (room 4); landscapes and clouded skies; sports fields and chalk lines (room 5) – subjects that bear witness to peace, prosperity, leisure time and an unpretentious existence. These simple themes which were constantly revisited and revised throughout the artist’s career supported, somewhat paradoxically, an extraordinary artistic rigour and tireless passion for probing the possibilities and limitations of painting – its ability to present the real and express materiality upon the two-dimensional planar surface of a canvas. It is the combination of this fierce aesthetic and these deceptively simple motifs, that produce a beguiling intensity and an equivocal tension that is characteristic of his work.
De Keyser’s unique form of abstraction is perhaps best illustrated by his line paintings such as Kant Gampelaere, 1973/1976/1985 (room 5). The simple chalk lines used to demarcate football fields were the subject of an extended formal study by De Keyser during the ‘70s and ‘80s. Depicting nothing more than the straight white lines and wide arks across the blank green expanse of the pitch, these canvases perform a subtle yet playful doubling, as the artist mischievously mirrors the action of the line painter. The flat plane of the field, with its painted boundaries can be
seen as a metaphor for the canvas – and in this way the painting becomes self-reflexive and the act of painting itself the true subject of the work, thus demonstrating a clear tension between the image and its reference point. These linear motifs would later evolve from the bold and opaque, to the wavering, irregular and uncertain –as seen in De Zandvlo, 1975/ 85 (room 5), but their subject always remained the same.
Similarly, his clear, bright Pop influenced works of the late ‘60s (seen in room 7) express De Keyser’s concerns surrounding flatness and materiality. These contradictory concerns were frequently played out within a single work, such as Camping V, 1971 (an example of De Keyser’s linen box series) – a sculptural painting which, rendered three-dimensional by an interior wooden frame, becomes the very object it depicts; or the extraordinary quartet Oefeningen (Exercises) 1967, which uses the linen box as the very subject of the painting, and his ‘slices’ (one of which forms part of the work Kant Gampelaere) which occupy a liminal area between wall and space, one side resting upon the wall and the other stepping into the room.
De Keyser’s late works, shown in room 1 through 3, abandoned the assuredness of these earlier years. As before, the canvas was reduced right down to the essential, but the effect was casual and indifferent and works could appear almost spontaneously thrown together or on the brink of collapse. These works reject large-scale formats, and adopt a softer palette and a lighter, increasingly delicate touch which could be likened to a desire to paint with space itself rather than oils. His representational language became increasingly abstracted, autobiographical, private and introspective; yet despite this seemingly formal departure, De Keyser’s conceptual approach remained consistent.
On display for the first time in the UK are a selection of works from the artist’s so-called ‘Last Wall’ series – the name given to De Keyser’s final studio works (2010–2012), and a group from the series ‘To Walk’ named after a painting of the artist’s walking stick. De Keyser’s own studio has informed the presentation of these smaller paintings at Inverleith House. The artist would often develop and conceive such works in context to one another and in homage to this working methodology they are displayed in room 3 in close proximity along a single wall, combining new works with older canvases so that they may be considered together. These paintings, some of De Keyser’s last, revisit familiar motifs but also continue to probe and test new formal ideas and their integral spontaneity and light-heartedness belie an artist at the end of his career.
Exhibition Curator: Chloe Reith
With thanks to the family of Raoul De Keyser, ZENO X Gallery (Antwerp), David Zwirner (New York/London) and S.M.A.K. (Ghent) for their assistance and support.
Introduction to the Exhibition
Saturday 14 February, 1.30pm.
Paul Nesbitt (Curator, Inverleith House) and Martin German (Senior Curator, S.M.A.K) present a short introduction during the opening reception.
Bi-monthly on Fridays (6th & 20th March; 3rd April), 2–3pm. Free.
Join curator Paul Nesbitt and Exhibitions Officer Chloe Reith as they lead an in-depth discussion on the work of Raoul De Keyser and the exhibition at Inverleith House.
The first major UK solo exhibition in over a decade by Belgian painter Raoul De Keyser (b. Deinze, Belgium, 1930, d. 2012). De Keyser’s paintings combine elements of both abstract expressionism and figuration inspired by the natural world. His unique approach pushed the boundaries of painting and explored its very nature through the lens of everyday experience and this exhibition will present works spanning the breadth of the artist's career. Free all welcome.
Talk: Steven Jacobs on Raoul De Keyser's Early Works
Saturday, 11 April 2015 at 2pmInverleith House was delighted to welcome art historian, Lecturer at Ghent University, and author of 'Raoul De Keyser: Retour 1964-2006', Professor Steven Jacobs to discuss the exhibition at Inverleith House.
Jacobs focused on Raoul De Keyser's early works featured in the exhibition in the context of the artist's oeuvre, demonstrating the way in which certain themes and motifs, developed early on, remained important throughout his entire career.
Raoul De Keyser acquired a reputation as a late bloomer, having started his career relatively late, in 1964 when the artist was already in his 30s. His international breakthrough only occurred in the late 1980s after his works were exhibited in leading international museums and art galleries. This late international breakthrough has resulted in a rather distorted image of De Keyser’s career among critics and curators.
Jacobs focused on some key works by De Keyser from the 1960s and 1970s, which show similarities with international currents of the day (Pop Art, Hard Edge, Minimal Art) but are also marked by highly original and quite personal characteristics. In addition, Jacobs also examined some of De Keyser’s paintings made in the late 1940s, which have never been published.
Jacobs has written and published extensively on Raoul De Keyser, his publications include Raoul De Keyser: Paintings 1980-2000 (Ludion, 2000) and Raoul De Keyser: Retour 1964-2006 (Ludion, 2007). His other research interests focus on the relations between film and the visual arts. Other publications include The Wrong House: The Architecture of Alfred Hitchcock (010 Publishers, 2007), Framing Pictures: Film and the Visual Arts (Edinburgh University Press, 2011), and The Dark Galleries: A Museum Guide to Painted Portraits in Film Noir, Gothic Melodramas, and Ghost Stories of the 1940s and 1950s (MER-PaperKunsthalle, 2013, with Lisa Colpaert). Steven Jacobs teaches at Ghent University.
Listen to Steven Jacobs on Raoul de Keyser's work on our Soundcloud.
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