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b. 1963, Belgium

Michaël Borremans Biography

For two decades, artist Michaël Borremans has been confounding—and captivating—audiences with his enigmatic paintings. Trained as a draughtsman and engraver at Luca School of Arts in Ghent, followed by several years of photography, it was only after a sabbatical from teaching at the age of 33 that Borremans started to paint. Today, the Belgian painter and filmmaker is one of the most renowned and sought-after contemporary artists of his generation. His moody staged portraits, charged with psychological tension and suspense, are testament to the enduring medium of painting.

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Like characters in a Samuel Beckett play the figures inhabiting Borremans' artwork appear to be waiting for something to happen or carrying out activities that are senseless or absurd, often in an anonymous environment bearing little detail. His figures are more like still lifes: posed, passive and frozen in gestures that perplex. Figures are caught in a purgatory of repetitive action, trapped in their solitude in bodies that are restricted, unable to move or, in some cases, incomplete. Absence is both emotional and physical in Borremans' paintings. Heads, fingers and limbs are at times missing—such as the decapitated female figure in The Loan (2011), or the limbless Torso (2009)—like ancient Greek statues. His paintings are like fragments of half-remembered dreams. The faces of Michaël Borremans's subjects are concealed or look away from the viewer; in The Virgin (2013), a young girl stands, half-facing the viewer, arms stretched out in supplication, while in The Angel (2013), a tall woman stands in an old-fashioned pale pink dress, looks impassively down, her blonde hair pulled back and her face covered in black paint. In The Devil's Dress (2011)—a painting that references Edouard Manet's Dead Toreador (1864)—a female figure lies on the ground cocooned and obscured in a red polygonal cardboard cylinder, as if lying on a stage.

Indeed, there is as strong a technical and formal foundation to Michaël Borremans' art that demonstrates a use of and respect for the historical weight of painting. Canvases are loosely painted with brushstrokes that draw attention to themselves in a palette of shadows and earth, lending the works a patina of nostalgia and melancholia. They reference the tradition of Diego Velázquez—an artist Borremans has cited as an influence—and often the violence of Francisco de Goya, like the 'Black Mould' series (2015). In these works, sinister-looking figures with heads shrouded or in black hoods—standing alone or in groups—are frozen like puppets in ritualistic and manic movements, engaging in anal sex or burning limbs. This theatre of grotesquery taps into the collective unconscious' drip feed of symbols and iconography, hinting at religious extremism, Ku Klux Klansmen or the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

Michaël Borremans uses found images or photographs the scene he wishes to paint, setting up the model, props and background—like Vermeer who used a 'camera obscura'—arranging lighting and composition so that it is painting-ready. Despite their photographic source his works are perhaps more accurately described as unsettling psychological or emotional imprints than figurative paintings, for his figures are neither based wholly in reality nor of this world. The remainder of the painting is carried out intuitively to create scenarios that defy explanation and remain ambiguous, conjuring an atmosphere outside time and outside the linear.

Michaël Borremans' artwork is held in public collections internationally, including the Art Institute of Chicago; Dallas Museum of Art; High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia; The Israel Museum, Jerusalem; Musée d'Art moderne de la Ville de Paris; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst (SMAK), Ghent; and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Michael Borremans lives and works in Ghent.

Diana d'Arenberg | Ocula | 2018

Michaël Borremans Featured Artworks

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Pilot by Michaël Borremans contemporary artwork painting
Michaël BorremansPilot, 2021Oil on wood panel
26 x 18.8 cm
David Zwirner Contact Gallery
Purple & Blue Cone by Michaël Borremans contemporary artwork painting
Michaël BorremansPurple & Blue Cone, 2020Oil on canvas
60.6 x 40.2 x 4.7 cm
David Zwirner Contact Gallery
The Commuter by Michaël Borremans contemporary artwork painting
Michaël BorremansThe Commuter, 2021Oil on canvas
82.4 x 65 x 3.5 cm
David Zwirner Contact Gallery
Horse Hunting: the Game by Michaël Borremans contemporary artwork painting, works on paper, drawing
Michaël BorremansHorse Hunting: the Game, 2004–2005Pencil and white ink on paper
29.7 x 210 cm
Zeno X Gallery Enquire
Bullet by Michaël Borremans contemporary artwork works on paper, drawing
Michaël BorremansBullet, 2019Pencil and white ink on blue-grey grounded paper
20.9 x 13.8 cm
Sold
Zeno X Gallery
Coloured Cones by Michaël Borremans contemporary artwork painting
Michaël BorremansColoured Cones, 2019Oil on canvas
88 x 120 cm
Sold
Zeno X Gallery
Little Missile by Michaël Borremans contemporary artwork painting
Michaël BorremansLittle Missile, 2020Oil on wooden panel
18.8 x 14.9 cm
Sold
Zeno X Gallery
Girls on the Dancefloor by Michaël Borremans contemporary artwork painting, works on paper
Michaël BorremansGirls on the Dancefloor, 2019Oil on wooden panel
22.2 x 29.6 cm
Sold
Zeno X Gallery

Michaël Borremans Recent Exhibitions

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Michaël Borremans Represented By

David Zwirner contemporary art gallery in 19th Street, New York, USA David Zwirner Hong Kong, London, New York, Paris

Michaël Borremans In Ocula Magazine

In Ocula Advisory

Michaël Borremans In Related Press

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Sydney Biennale review – Ai Weiwei anchors rewarding show that comes of age in its 21st year Related Press Sydney Biennale review – Ai Weiwei anchors rewarding show that comes of age in its 21st year 16 March 2018, The Guardian

There is a simple and quiet work by the Belgian artist Michaël Borremans called The Bread (2012) in this year's Biennale of Sydney. It recalls the work of Flemish 15th century portraits, close and i

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Interview: Artist Michaël Borremans Related Press Interview: Artist Michaël Borremans 6 August 2016, LUXUO

Michaël Borremans is a Belgian artist whose oeuvre is as mesmerising as it is mysterious, and as a human being, as delusional as geniuses get. Sitting down with Art Republik, Borremans tell us that he

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Art Brussels announces details of Discovery, Rediscovery and Solo sections Related Press Art Brussels announces details of Discovery, Rediscovery and Solo sections 9 April 2016, Art Fix Daily

From April 21 to 24, the 34th edition of Art Brussels will take place in a new location, Tour & Taxis, a spectacular example of industrial architecture built in 1904, formerly a customs house. This year, the fair has been reduced in size, bringing together 141 galleries from 28 countries, represented in three main sections: PRIME, DISCOVERY and...

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Best of the Best: Five Booths at Art Basel Hong Kong Related Press Best of the Best: Five Booths at Art Basel Hong Kong 23 March 2016, Observer

This year’s fair features 239 galleries from 35 countries, and presents modern and contemporary art in a full range of media. Although nearly half of the exhibitors are Asia-based galleries, a full 38 galleries in the 2016 edition of the fair are from New York, and in fact four of those galleries—Gagosian Gallery, Lehmann Maupin, Pace...

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