Awakenings: Art in Society in Asia 1960s–1990s, a major retrospective at Singapore's National Gallery (14 June–15 September 2019), opens emphatically in flames. At the exhibition's entrance, viewers encounter a wall-sized image from 1964 titled Burning Canvases Floating on the River. The photograph captures a performance by Lee Seung-taek, in which...
When the London-born artist Thomas J Price graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Chelsea College of Arts in 2004, the school's college art prize was by no means his most notable accomplishment as an emerging artist. In 2001, Price presented his much-talked-about work Licked, a daring performance, later profiled on the BBC 4 television...
Without punctuation, She Said Why Me, the title of May Fung's 1989 video presents itself as a statement, rather than a question. It suggests a subject who expects no response, a person prepared to make what she can from being chosen though perplexed by the attention. The video follows a blindfolded woman, then unmasked, through late colonial-era...
Walter Swennen talks with Miguel Wandschneider on the occasion of his exhibition Un Cœur Pur at Xavier Hufkens, Brussels (1 March—13 April 2019).
Born 1946 in Brussels, Belgium, lives and works in Brussels.
Like other painters of his generation, Walter Swennen explores the medium of painting from new perspectives, applying principles from other disciplines to his works. After beginning his career as a Beatnik poet and participating in Happenings in the mid-1960s, he became fascinated by Marcel Broodthaers, who was becoming well-known at the time. In the beginning of the 1980s, Swennen, who had trained to be an engraver, decided to explore the poetic possibilities of painting. He began creating cartoonish works and gestural action paintings, followed by 'painted texts' and 'written' paintings in which poetry and painting intermingle. Walter Swennen explores the relationship between painting, picture, and abstraction. He once said, 'A painting is always an image of a painting.' In his engagement with specific issues of painting, he focuses on different forms of resistance, deviation, and relativisation–like marginality, absurdity, euphemisms, anticlimaxes, and the tragicomic. Under the surface of his seemingly naive execution of his paintings, we find very different sources of inspiration, like comics, literature, bi-lingual dictionaries, children’s drawings, motifs from advertisements, and Pop Art. In a kind of mechanical, impersonal manner, Swennen investigates the logic of products–their anonymity and automatism. Throughout his entire oeuvre, Walter Swennen has been searching for what is unforeseeable and contradictory in painting. His works are experiments with and investigations into motifs, language and signs, techniques, picture supports, meaning and expressiveness. His associative and improvised working method makes him one of the most innovative artists of our time.
Selected solo exhibitions: Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen, Düsseldorf (2015); Wiels Centre d’Art Contemporain, Brussels (2013); Culturgest, Lisbon (2013); Kunstverein Freiburg (2011); MUHKA, Antwerp (1994); Kunsthal Rotterdam (1994); Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst, Ghent (1993); and Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels (1986).
Xavier Hufkens is delighted to present an exhibition of recent work by Belgian artist Walter Swennen (b. 1946).
In his fourth exhibition with the gallery, Swennen continues his playful and experiential journey into the world of language and meaning, appropriation, colour, texture and form. Moving between abstraction and representation, and occasionally executed on found supports, the works explore both the poetic and material aspects of painting.
Swennen takes seemingly random elements—logos, lettering, found images, words and phrases—and transforms them into visually arresting works that tread new ground in terms of composition, colour and technique. As erudite as they are humorous, they often deserve a second look: things are never quite what they seem. Swennen's approach to painting is intuitive, spontaneous and influenced by everyday life as well as by chance encounters and coincidences. His sharp intellect and incisive wit accounts for his light-hearted and lyrical way of looking at the world. When he paints, nothing is premeditated. Nor is he constrained by any one style, technique or approach. While the catalyst for a painting might be a word or letter, for example, it is Swennen's engagement with his medium that ultimately determines the finished work. He literally 'coaxes' his paintings into being, and often over a long period of time. It is akin to a form of improvisation: an unpredictable process of push-and-pull that paradoxically implies both control and risk, not to mention a command of materials (paint in all its viscous, liquid, opaque, transparent, glossy or matte variants), techniques (adding, subtracting, superimposing, tracing and erasing) and tools (brushes, painter's knives, rags and aerosols). The resulting works, which often combine intriguing textures and unexpected colour combinations, tend to defy easy categorisation. The terms 'landscape', 'portrait' and 'still life' barely apply; the works are not abstract, but nor do they depict reality.
Swennen's works are typically devoid of a single perspectival point or compositional framework, such as foreground and background. Nor do they contain any immediately obvious narratives or contexts. Letters, fragments and statements in English, Flemish, French and other languages often infiltrate his canvases: phrases that might either lend significance, form linguistic riddles or possess a double meaning. Free from external anchoring points, the works are self-contained and enigmatic. Yet the more one looks, the more one realises that the act of painting itself—in a physical and material sense—is as important (if not more so) than the objects, images or words themselves. As a result, we invariably start to scrutinise how the works were made: a line of enquiry that speaks volumes about the boundless possibilities of painting.
Walter Swennen was born in 1946 in Brussels, where he lives and works. His work has been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions including La pittura farà da sé, La Triennale di Milano, Milan, Italy (2018); Ein perfektes Alibi, Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen, Düsseldorf, Germany (2015); Continuer, Culturgest, Lisbon, Portugal (2013) and So Far So Good, WIELS, Brussels, Belgium (2013). Swennen has also been included in notable group exhibitions, such as: The Absent Museum, WIELS, Brussels (2017); Painting 2.0: Expression in the Information Age, Museum Brandhorst, Munich (2015—2016); Atopolis, Manège de Sury, Mons (2015); The Importance of Being..., Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Havana (2015); La Belgique Visionnaire/Visionair België, curated by Harald Szeemann, Palais des Beaux-Arts/Paleis voor Schone Kunsten, Brussels (2005) and Trouble Spot. Painting, MuHKA, Antwerp (1999).
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