Painting in Flanders after 198001/01/2005 Johan Pas & Marc Ruyters
Openbaar Kunstbezit in Vlaanderen
Anyone who talks about the history of painting in Flanders cannot avoid that one almost cliched adage: the Flemish have always excelled in their powers of expression and their sense of the pictorial. This certainly applied to the Van Eyck brothers, to Memlinc, Rubens, Van Dyck and Jordaens, James Ensor, Rene Magritte and Paul Delvaux, as well as many others, perhaps even Roger Raveel.
However, anyone who wants to talk about the history of painting in Flanders after 1980 is forced to say that contemporary Flemish painters have as far as possible hidden away their expressive abilities and their sense of the pictorial. They did this in order to be able to keep up with the new, highly conceptual movements that arose in international contemporary art in the mid- sixties, including such things as performance, minimal art and land art, in which pictorial painting almost entirely disappeared.
Painting as something painterly, involving the organic handling of pigment, oil or acrylic, brush, canvas and frame, was already being viewed with some suspicion as early as the seventies. The American abstract expressionists and then Pop Art had gone as far as was possible either in the extreme distillation of the medium or else putting it into perspective. With the rise of conceptual thinking, with such axioms as 'art as an idea, an idea as art', 'art in progress' and 'art as process', the medium of painting, then about six centuries old, was seen, if not as dead, certainly as completely outdated.
And yet the Flemish continued to paint, as they had since the time of the Flemish Primitives. These genetic roots could not simply be erased. The rise of conceptual art meant that painting launched into a strategy for survival. In the early eighties three major pictorial movements rose to the surface in the United States and Europe: Neo-Expressionism in the USA (the big names being Philip Guston and Julian Schnabel), the Neue Wilden in Germany (Georg Baselitz, Anselm Kiefer) and Transvanguardia in Italy (Sandro Chia, Francesco Clemente, Enzo Cucchi, Mimmo Paladino). To be uncharitable, one might say that the Flemish painters working in the early eighties tended in one of these directions. But this would do them an injustice: each of them was more or less looking for his own direction.
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Openbaar Kunstbezit in Vlaanderen: ISSN 1373-4873