Michaël Borremans Lost in the Sadomasochistic Universe

the secret charms of the enigma

FROM DRAWING TO PAINTING An innocent looking girl sticking pins into nude men (Jetlag girl, 1996/1999); '24 chopped heads pronouncing the word 'Kaas' (19992000); chopped heads adjusted to fit into sardine cans (Boxing Heads, 2000); packages Fromage aux acteurs flamands (2000) with gory pieces of flesh; a face cut off from a head with a steel wire as if it were a hump of clay or cheese (The mask of simplicity, 2000); a gory head aggressed with glass shards (Glass and Blood, 2001); hideously deformed faces of women (Slight modifications, Carnadines, Helmette and Languelette, 2001-2002); a male torso with cut off arms and four bullet holes (The Resignation,2001); horse carcasses neatly arranged in rows (Square of despair, 2005); human toy figures shut down like in computer game

(Shotgun aesthetics,2003); human corpses arranged in geometrical patterns in the series The good ingredients (2006) ... ... ... not precisely what comes first in mind when hearing the name of Michaël Borremans (° 1963). Even less does one think of the rather vulgar sexual representations in Sausage Garniture 1995/1996/1999), Friendly Rivalry (2001), The Ceramic Salami (2001) and Small Virtues (2002). One is rather reminded of figures like Paul McCarthy, Odd Nerdrum, Joël-Peter Witkin, John Currin. Nevertheless, the above is a representative sample of the themes handled in the drawings of Michaël Borremans. It is apparent, then, that, after the proven recipe, the sadomasochistic universe that is openly deployed in the drawings, turns out to be rather concealed in the paintings. To be sure, there are the works for queen Paola in the Royal Palace in Brussels (2010), where - albeit only on closer view - a footman is cutting himself in the finger, or piercing the eye with a finger. But, as a rule, there are only hints in the paintings. A remnant of the bullet holes is found in Terror Identified (1998), where a button of the corset is replaced with a hole. An echo of the mutilated faces resounds in the American Actress (2001), who has a glass shard in her mouth. In The preservation (2001) there are traces of scratching on the eyes and the mouth. In The pupils (2001) fingers are about to pierce the eyes. In The Hair (2002) a kind of pins are piercing the cheeks. What presents itself as a torso, appears to be the counterpart of the chopped heads: bodies severed in two in Anna (2003), Four Fairies (2003), and The apron (2009). That sheds a new light on the glassy planes on which the torsos are displayed, on the panels at middle height of the body in One at a time (2003) and The Feeding (2006), on the book equally at the middle height of the body in The storm (2006), as well as on the disks around the middle in The new corpses (2006) - apparently variants of the glass shards pointed to the gory head in Glass and Blood (2001). In The Thunder (2006), an eye is looking at and a hand is reaching to a cut in a cloth, which reminds of the incredulous Thomas. In The greatness of our loss (2006),the 'shotgun aesthetics' are softened to a paraphrase of the dead toreador of Manet. On Automat III (2008), a girl with a ponytail but without legs, seems to stop a bleeding from the wrist. And in The load III (2009), we see a girl with a cap lying on the ground - 'she is probably dead, almost wringed by the neck' (Van Canneyt) - which sheds a new light on the footmen at the Royal Palace, who wear their livery back-tofront... There is more to the transition from drawing to painting. Already in the

drawings, the traces of sharp, pointed instruments like the needle and the pencil, are washed with clouds of ink or water colours. But, in the paintings, the contrast makes place for the homogeneous application of clearly distinguishable, creamy brush strokes. The shift is thematised in The swimming Pool (2001), where a brush paints the words People must be punished, that look as if they were cut with a sharp chisel in stone - and that cannot but remind of The Penal Colony of Kafka. This exchange of the pencil for the brush is in line, hence, with the effort to conceal sadomasochism: the smooth, creamy oil paint as the ointment on the wounds afflicted by the needle or the pencil. It is no accident that, on the paintings, often soft and shiny cloth is suggested: silk, satin, porcelain - the counterparts of the invisible knives, axes, glass shards and bullets that have inflicted the wounds on the drawings.

FROM SADOMASOCHISM TO TERROR A third method of making sadomasochism socially acceptable, is a shift from the private to the societal sphere, which allows at the same time to have the terror executed by others perpetrators, and to replace pleasure at the sight of the result with indignation. Thus, referring to Trickland, Borremans is talking about 'the rulers who hold us in their grip' (Nieuwsblad), and many a commentator descries the shadows of communist (Prater) and fascist regimes (Amy), or reminds of Kafka, George Orwell (Berk) or Beckett (Coggins, 2009). In terms of academic painting, this transformation of sadomasochism to all kinds of terror comes down to a shift from genre painting - although it was not precisely commonplace to depict everyday sadomasochist practices - to history painting, where aristocracy and clergy are replaced with their contemporary counterparts - from totalitarian regimes and terrorism to capitalism and the free market. The transformation goes through various phases. On images like Jetlag girl (1996,1999) and Chopped heads pronouncing the word "Kaas" (1999-2000), undisturbed pleasure in the result makes it difficult to blame a perpetrator. But that is no longer a problem in Swimming Pool (2001), where the hand of a punishing instance appears in the image. In images like Trickland (2002) and The common world (2002), the gloomy atmosphere reminds of the conveyer belt or of forced labour imposed by some invisible hand. Forced labour still shimmers through in Terror Watch (2002), where the buildings have something of old factories or concentration camps. But it is only in drawings like Shotgun aesthetics (2003), Horse Hunting: The Game

In frontal view. Sometimes. they function as their substitute. the figures are lying and stare to the skies (Earthlight Room. the figures of Borremans never look into the eyes of the onlooker. Such reducing into an object is the spiritual version of bodily decapitation. (2006) and Whistling a happy tune (2006). 2003). OVER CONTEMPLATING..and hence the gaze of the onlooker. 2008) or the ground. like in Various ways of avoiding visual contact with the outside world using yellow isolating tape (1998). More ambivalent is Think or suck (1999). that there is a clearly discernable evildoer.(2003). 2005). although he is not always visible in the image.. The Greatness of our Loss (2006).. but rather a submission by a sovereign contemplating subject that has the figures in the image reduced into unresisting beings without a soul. The shift from doing to a seemingly more neutral watching is a further step in the masking of sadomasochism. On many a 'portrait' of Borremans. as a haven to the subjugated gaze. The Good Ingredients: The Hostages had to Lay Down on the Ground in Order to Form Geometrical Figures. that. as Lacan would have it. As if in a stubborn attempt to deny that the picture gazes at us. 2001). 2003). Even more omnipresent than sadism or terror is the watching gaze. or lower the eyelids (Anna.. the hands are often introduced as additional means of unveiling what is concealed behind the outer appearance . they look away to the right above (The traveller.a move that often leads to the unfolding of the portrait into a genre painting. Rather than to the . they ignore the onlooker (Drawing. Also in three-quarter view. But rather than as amplificators of the gaze. (2002). hands are to be seen. In other images. TO THE SURVEILLANCE OF DOING From the Flemish Primitives onwards. according to Christ and Haldemann would refer to child abuse (Dutroux). The diversion of the gaze is principial when they turn their back to the onlooker (Still. the eyes are bluntly covered: with tape. FROM DOING. or with a black square in Oblivion. The counterpart of the elusive or blocked gaze of the figures is the gaze of the artist . Square of Despair (2005). Their looking is not an engaging in an interaction with an equal. 2007) or down (The Marvel. .

The pupils (2001). Or we see only the hands. The subjugating gaze is transformed into the surveilling gaze. like in Manufacturers of constellation (2000).. People should be punished. the figures seem to want to justify what they are doing. but to other figures who are . In all cases. The pricking of The jetlag Girl (1996) is transformed into the making of images in L'homme frommageux (2000). When there are more figures. 2002). the images of man are replaced with the model of a landscape. Either we see the hands at work (with instruments and objects). The Hole.. the onlooker comes to witness an action that wants itself to be undone. Anna (2003). by lending it the aspect of some handicraft activity. (2006). In many an image. Hence no 'grand gestures' here. let alone speaking gestures. the gaze is not directed to the hands.like in The examination (2001). FROM SADOMASOCHISTIC UNIVERSE TO RELAY OF THE SURVEIlLING GAZE In a next phase. Crazy fingers (2007). without instruments or object. In Trickland (2002) and in The common world (2002). so that the hands want to escape it in their turn.needle rather than brush . or to listen to the their master's voice on some conference table (The common world.the permitted activity par excellence. the eyes are looking at the doings of their own hands. they often seem to work at some conveyor belt. The German (2002 and 2005). but rather shameful hands that would prefer to become invisible . The impression of some justified activity is further enhanced through the wearing of archaic working apparel . The subjugating gaze follows their lead. How much the hands are tempted by the forbidden. Magnetics (2009). Fingerwoman (2007). and Blue (2005). The Stick (2003). the forbidden action is further obfuscated. appears from images like The advantage (2001). the transition from the needle to the brush seems to find its counterpart in the transition from forbidden activity to the making of art . The wish to become invisible can take various forms. but it is not clear what they are doing. Thus. The pupils (2001) and The constellation (2000). where the hands are immobilised in a straitjacket . In some images.as if they were about to do something forbidden.whereby the choice for the coat still reminds of the apron of the nurse or the surgeon. Or we see only the instrument . like in Four Fairies (2003). like in the series The journey (2002).onlooker. like in The Ceramic Salami (2001) Atomic (2003).

Not so much a panopticum hence. This relay of the surveilling gaze is exemplarily embodied in N. because the onlooker is looking at an image where other onlookers are looking at some spectacle. who look in their turn at minute pedestrians on the streets below them. and the series The Good Ingredients: The Hostages had to Lay Down on the Ground in Order to Form Geometrical Figures (2006). surveillance is turned into a transgression itself: the onlooker before the image comes to regard the onlooker in the images as the perpetrator of a non-action: guilty neglect. The result of the action can thereby be hidden in the dark. The introduction of onlookers in the image makes it possible to condensate both: images where the onlooker looks at people who look at (a spectacle consisting of) the result of the action of an (invisible) actor. In that. like in The Filling (2005). Such reverse movement unveils the accomplice in the surveillant. the result of the action is allowed to appear in the image. next to these images where gazing is the only action. the criminal intention is relegated to the next potential perpetrator in the relay of surveillance. where the focus is on the action. but only the result of an action: Chopped Heads Pronouncing the Word Kaas Simultaneously (1999-2000). Horse Hunting: The Game (2003).C. but rather a kind of optical relay race.doing nothing but gazing in their turn.with their hand obediently above the table -. then. that. In these works. the surveillants merely projected their own transgressive desire onto the potential perpetrators in a next relay. But through guilty neglect. like in Terror Watching (2002) and Square of despair (2005). The guilt of the non-intervening onlookers originates in a secret solidarity between surveillants and perpetrators: apparently. where the object of a gaze makes another person to its object in its turn. so that it can only appear in the image as the result of the action of someone outside the image who he cannot be surveilled. stacks of corpses in Shotgun aesthetics (2003). It catches the eye. where we find the artist who made the image and the onlooker who enjoys it. history painting. where the onlooker looks at giant figures . guilt comes to run the relay in reverse sense: from the finish to the start. Such images can be called images of the second degree. In the images where gazing is the only action. there are also images where there is neither action or actor to be seen.Y. The relay that is installed between the onlooker before the . evaporates into a special variant where the focus is on the gaze: the rendering of a world where everybody is an onlooker looked at by another onlooker. 24th of September 2030 (2006). eventually.

but rather fascination. we are dealing explicitly with toy figures . the size of which reminds of giant billboards or film screens. The Burden of Ideas (Inflatable monument) (2000). In a first series of works. The German part II (2002) and The German.. I and II (2006) and Whistling a happy tune (2006). Borremans adds human figurines. But this formula unfolds fully only when we are dealing with two-dimensional images. Also these images originate in images of the first degree: in the designs for three-dimensional sculptures of often giant size. can we understand why these images do not elicit revulsion or condemnation. Stasi. An unintended Proposal (1999/2000). turns out to be a further attempt at projecting sadism. Only when the true function of relay and societalisation are thus revealed. But in other images. 2002). the onlookers in the images are no longer looking at a spectacle. To give an impression of the scale. But. Rainpillow. Cabinet of Souls (2000). FROM RELAY TO MATRYOSHKA DOLL . Small Museum for Brave Art (2000). A Mae West experience (2002). FROM LOOKING AT A SPECTACLE TO LOOKING AT THE IMAGE OF A SPECTACLE In many images.image and the final spectacle. the images are three-dimensional images: Think or Suck (1999). terrorism. The swimming Pool (2001). Dreiten Teil (2003). the gaze of the onlooker is transferred into the image. KGB. like in Chopped Heads Pronouncing the Word Kaas Simultaneously (1999-2000)..The conversation. Through the introduction of these figurines.with three-dimensional images. this time. Lhomme frommageux (2000). like Cerebral Office (1995) and Le sculpteur de Beurre (20002001). capitalism and the market. CIA. Inflatable monument for John Coltrane(2001) House of opportunities Faller (Kit . or media-tycoons and marketeers who surveil our behaviour on the internet.the 'really existing' counterparts of Kafka and Orwell: be it communist of fascist regimes. Proposal for a wall and ceiling decoration (1999).The Greatness of our Loss. or rather the surveilling eye of Gestapo. but at the image of a spectacle. the spectacle is as real as the onlookers who look at it. This condensation can easily be condensed with the reinterpretation of sadism as terror performed by societal actors .

not differentiated according to political or economical role. like in Spirit of Modelmaking (2001). as a rule. Against this background. an image is far smaller than the reality it depicts. whereas at the same time our endeavour seems futile. The Journey (2002). Conversely.not otherwise than the self-sufficient child that conjures up minuscule figures on its screen to shoot them mercilessly down. That is all the more easy when these "much too much" appear as minute creatures. but a purely abstract sadism. From these heights we may feel as almighty. It will have become clear that they are not the mirror of a world where the aforementioned subjugators or surveillants are at work: they are too indeterminate. for instance when we look down upon them from some apartment building. But in a majority of cases. the doings of these others have no bearings on our well-being. Only in scarce cases like The Pupîls (2002) do the figures have the same size as the image. This should not come as a surprise. Trickland (2002) The common world (2002). That implies that the artists looks like a giant who conjures up Lilliputians on whom he looks down from the heights. our interaction with the others is not a concrete subjugation. as proposed by André Breton and filmed in Le phantôme de la Liberté by Luis Buñuel. No concrete political or economical regime is rendered here. And. but a world in which we are individuals that increasingly fold back on ourselves amidst an increasing number of other people with whom we have no other relation that being aware of their presence. because. especially with Borremans. since in such a world we have become purely narcissistic individuals. Terror Watch (2002). gender or generation. exploitation or (political) enmity. a new light is . This is the key to a proper understanding of these images. The Prospect (2002). these giants are only the shackles in an relay that begins with the artist or the onlooker: the figures in Trickland manipulate. self-sufficient beings who can dispose in all sovereignty of the ants down there . Since we have no real relation with them. the sadomasochistic universe is narcissistic in essence. Above all. or like the wild shooter that begins to fire in the crowd.It is no accident that the relay of the gaze goes hand in hand with the introduction of differences in scale. whose drawings are often compared with miniatures. This latter example shows how easily the absence of involvement where reciprocity was expected may stir destructive urges. it is not difficult to distance ourselves from them and to reduce them to Nietzsche's "much too much". the figures are far larger than the (image of the) spectacle they are looking at or the image they are making. Square of despair (2005). but they are manipulated themselves.

The difference in scale between the artist and the Lilliputians in the image corresponds perfectly to the deflation of the dramatis personae to the minute "much too much" and the inflation of the atomised individual to the proportions of a giant or a God. who joins the move of projection. I have become an artist. Dreiten Teil (2003).‘ (Fiers).. where it is the hand of the artist that 'paints' the letters on the nude chest.like in Trickland. although she has a keen eye for the true nature of the forbidden activity: 'His figures are kicked around (.) by colourless office giants. And how much such imposition . appears from the following quote of Borremans himself: 'I regard the presence of a real image in public space (. that obfuscates the secret solidarity of surveillants and perpetrators as it is evident in the images of the first degree.. like generals. the relation seems to be reversed: the onlookers are Lilliputians. with the introduction of the onlookers in the image. and the images often overwhelming giants. In fact. neatly arranged in geometrical patterns. or like in People must be punished.partakes of sadism. where they look like puppets manipulated by the artist.. It could be objected that..' (Leenknegt/Vervaet). like in A Mae West experience (2002).) as an aggressive gesture. the relay of the gaze is installed. When. I am a kind of power-mad person. and an entire universe unfolds where you can play God. In such matryoshka doll.shed on the presence of the word 'game' in the titles of these works. Or in the image itself. especially in the aforementioned designs for giant sculptures and screens. but also with the manipulating mighty in the image . where the minute figures have to protect themselves from the deafening sound of the voice . like to handle people like instruments or props'. under the cover of the surveilling critic. Happily. it unfolds to a kind of optical matryoshka doll. Says Borremans himself: 'You start drawing on a sheet of paper.such 'becoming famous' . or large-scale two-dimensional images like in Swimming Pool or The German. But the reversal is only apparent: the giant artworks are merely the extensions of the even larger figure of the artist that wants the onlookers admire his work. not only with corpses. takes the position of the almighty god who plays. The disguise of these abstract narcissistic/destructive urges as political or economical relations is merely a means of legitimising these in essence un-societal impulses. and is wholly in line with the projection through the relay of the gaze. men who. That is overlooked in interpretations like that of Marianne Vermeijden. and on the use of a device for wireless control in Terror Watch (Amy 2008). It appears also from the way in which he wants his images to be 'a knife in the eye'... the artist.

who are further devalued in that they are mere toys . The technique does not differ much from the way in which Odd Nerdrum has his figures appear without clothes in a mythical non-time. But. as well as for their fascination.. Borremans wants to shed a new light on the present.the magnified Mae West. the regression in history only conceals a regression to childhood. Such boundless melancholy and fascination is only enhanced in that it is concealed behind a rejection of the contemporary world as dominated by 'mighty' of all kinds. FROM PRESENT TO PAST (1) The division of space in scales finds its temporal counterpart in a regression to an ever further past. It should not escape our attention. that. nor sexual or parental. rather than warning us for a return of the past. That is why Borremans soon resorted to other techniques of alienation decontextualising or placing the figures in artificial environments. whereby they are supposed to partake of the 'universal' (Coggins.and only thus is the charm of Borremans' images transformed into a secret charm. Only thus do Borremans images come to embody a widespread experience of the world . 2009). Borremans does not know the Nazi regime from his own experience. political or religious. they used to be situated in the thirties or the forties of the past century . but only from the stories from his childhood .of a substitute star . however. Boundless melancholy: because there are no relations whatsoever in these images neither economical. just like the concrete oppressive regimes only conceal the abstract regime of narcissistic terror in the optical matryoshka.among . And fascination: because in such relationless world the self-sufficient individual is nevertheless surrounded by the negation of its negation: the presence of countless dwarfed others.. these images had a totally different effect: 'I heard that the work was nostalgic.pure images.' (Coggins). In dressing up the present in the clothes of the past. and that was absolutely not the idea. where they nevertheless are wearing modern weapons.the era of the Nazis. In the beginning. The most salient feature of Borremans works is that they are not contemporaneous. Only this approach can account for the boundless melancholy that emanates from these images.

as far as Borremans is concerned. After the same model. or the assassination of the Tsar in terms of the assassination of Louis XVI: the differences are more telling than the similarities. At the end of this text. The more we approach the temporally unmediated first degree image . KGB and Stasi. 'Those women are a kind of fairytale figures. FROM SPECTACLE IN THE IMAGE TO THE IMAGE AS SPECTACLE .for it cannot possibly be a nostalgia for Nazism. not to mention the ' 'strategy of radical complicity' of figures like Wim Delvoye. the more we risk to become an accomplice . who introduce minute changes in the world at night' says Borremans.. that there is more to those giants in Trickland than the atmosphere of the thirties or the forties. The difference in scale between parent and child is a prelude to the even further regression. There is no doubt that much is to be learned from the past. but also on the differences of scale: children often experience their parents as giants and themselves as dwarfs. It is far more easy to condemn communist and fascist regimes and their Gestapo. this time in the temporal dimension. whereby the self is inflating to the dimension of a god. we will have to uncover a further layer.the here and now -. And this helps us to understand the nostalgia that emanates from many of Borremans' images . We cannot but be reminded of the 'manipulation' of parents when they stage the parallel worlds of Santaclaus and Easter bunnies. of his embroilment in the market as a 'Star des Kunstbetriebs' (Behrisch). then. It is apparent. A new relay of guilt threatens to be installed..them the stories of the forced labour of his uncles in German arms factories. It is far more convenient to shake one's head at the thought of the Nazi butcher who found solace in playing classical music. This infantile undercurrent only comes to endorse the aforementioned secret charms of the images of Borremans. with the concomitant propaganda machines of figures like Rupert Murdoch and Berlusconi. we analysed the effect of King Boudouin or Walt Disney in Luc Tuymans. But that is worlds apart from understanding our time in terms of the Weimar Republic. and the concomitant intelligence services. than to scorn triumphant capitalism and the world encompassing free market. or even the CIA.or with ants and insects. not only on the darkness that hovers over Trickland. and they enjoy reversing this relation when playing with minuscule toy cars or toy soldiers . That raises the question in how far Borremans is really interested in the past. That sheds a new light. those of internet marketers included.just think.

the emphasis is on the development of or the comment on existing images: 'Good artists don't just destroy the past. there is no longer talk of making: the artist is merely looking at what seems to be his creation. and above all existing or self-made photographs. plants or residential barracks. the model houses have still something of concentration camps. Goya. the opposite of the inhabited world.There is another thread that leads to images where figures are looking at images: the aforementioned replacement of the forbidden activity with the making of an image. porcelain sculptures. and no longer of an '(image of a) spectacle'. no longer people. in these images. Gradually. One at a time (2003). To be sure. and the series Slight modifications of the countless selfmutilations in performance art. the landscape reminds of the fact that reality is often mediated by an image. rectangular surfaces: The table (2001). As we have seen. Borremans uses the work of older masters like Manet. we only see the architecture. who used to make sculpture with butter (Grove). The Lucky Ones" 2002). In images like The Journey (True colours) (2003). The theme is handled in various variants. Works like Cabinet of Souls (2000) remind of Christian Boltanski. especially of the Self-Hybridizations and . In The conducinator. they're also able to develop it in various directions. it is the onlooker who looks at such a creation. which are in their turn echoes of the large-scale objects of Claes Oldenburg. The trend is completed in The Journey. the image of the world is thereby transformed into an image of the image. In a more refined variant. Zurburán. Borremans does not work 'after nature': he uses models like toy figures. For. The saddening (2001) The spell (2001). The drawings of giant sculptures remind of the 'inflatables' of Paul McCarthy. which also remind of his grandfather. But. as with Piranesi. We are talking about 'creation'.although still called Tatra. the figures are doing something with empty.subjects. the freighted subjects are replaced with purely 'artistic' . Milk (2003). where the painter looks at an image that he paints after an image that is placed before him. yes even Van Eyck. but also of masters of the twentieth century.contentually rather neutral . into something aggressive and innovative' (Shinichi). a baker. like in The Conducinator (2002). there are also references to the 'fat sculptures' of Beuys (cheese and butter.the house of Opportunity (2003. The next step is the void canvas: on many images. Velázquez. and in In the Louvre . where the artist is looking at mountains . Next to the countless references to Magritte.

and precisely that failure is the essence of the work. Borremans himself often emphasises that the artist is merely a 'conman'. but rather enigma. But it is only a short step to 'Ceci n'est pas un miroir' . Well.. I want to make images that makes thing unclear' (Fiers).just to mention a few examples. 'A parallel world is a mirror image.de surgery-performances of Orlan. 'In this manner.' (Fiers). Borremans gives an example: 'I painted a milkmaid with a cap. but rather to itself. In his KASK lecture. the way in which she is depicted . The shift from image of the world to image of the image is a further step in the neutralisation of content. the buildings in Terror Watching (2002) to the maquettes in the exhibition Mirroring Evil in the Jewish Museum. Borremans wants to make images 'that you cannot define at all': 'open images' (Van Canneyt). there is still talk of a mirror. 'The reason why I want to evocate oldfashioned scenes in my work is that I want to create a kind of parallel world'. because there are no answers' (Vanderstraeten). the construction in Faller Kit to Zbigniew Libera and his Lego construction kits of concentration camps . Borremans developed his own method to transform the 'narrative' into 'enigma': ' I combine elements that are anachronistic or contradictory'. New York.and the way in which she is shown with a sharp shadow. FROM PROPAGANDA TO ENIGMA Borremans takes a further step in that he states that his images are not narrative. This combination has an enormous power and a kind of bipolarity that makes it unfathomable and poignant' (Van Canneyt). 'Normally.she is probably dead . The horses in Square of Despair (2005) refer to Berlinde De Bruyckere..to the statement that art does not refer to the world at all. an image has to make things clear. you get a kind of Ideological failure. but I want to go in the opposite direction. As opposed to these indoctrinating images. although it is deforming. has something of forensic photography. A void. The concept of a 'conman' implies that. lying on the ground. 'In my opinion' truth' can best be imagined as a black hole. but I want to make it clear that the world in the image is another. inspired by Vermeer.‘ (Fiers). In short: no propaganda. mental world. For there is nothing to clarify: 'I do not give answers.‘ (Fiers). .it is a though her neck is wringed . Narrative and unequivocal are the images 'in the media' that want to 'make something clear' (Leenknegt/Vervaete).

Often, the effect is achieved through additions or omissions, like in Sausage garniture (1995/1996/1999) (Grove). Also titles contribute to the confusion: 'They are an essential part of the work.' 'A title can lead or mislead the onlooker. Take my painting of a man in a straitjacket that is called Advantage – the title is an additional element that often leads to confusion, just like the work itself.' (Boel). The method of Lautréamont, hence, softened already by Magritte into a way of lending a 'poetic flavour' to the 'utilitarian world', and transformed into a means escaping of socialist realism by figures like Neo Rauch, is here a means of being relieved from the task of showing something meaningful under the guise of setting the onlooker thinking. That does not prevent Borremans from wanting to tell - and effectively telling - an unequivocal, propagandistic narrative. Wanting to tell: for, on occasion of the figures that change the world during the night in Trickland, Borremans writes: 'Nobody notices, but the world changes gradually'. 'That is the way in which manipulation proceeds: subtly, surreptitiously. That is the way the mighty hold us in their grip.' (Nieuwsblad). Borremans has more messages: 'That the human being is a victim of his situation and is not free is a conviction of mine.‘ (Coggins, 2009). Or, phrased in another - more masochistic - vein: 'people are victims of themselves' (Grove). We already pointed to the fact that this message is rather vague. More important, then, is that, precisely therefore, the images tell a quite different story, the story that we unveiled above (and will further unveil below). Borremans a 'hidden persuader', hence, albeit with a rather ambivalent and veiled message, that, judging from the success of his work, is nevertheless well understood. Borremans' enigma: - different from, but nearly kindred to the pedantic rebus of Jan de Cock, who - equally as an antidote to the indoctrination through the media - wants tot sets us thinking with his 'Denkmal' ...

FROM PAINTING ABOUT THE WORLD, OVER PAINTING ABOUT THE IMAGE, TO PAINTING ABOUT PAINTING An even further step in the installation of the enigma is the contention that painting is not about what there is - equivocally or unequivocally - to be seen on the image, but rather about painting as such: 'I make paintings because my subject matter, to a large extent, is painting' (Coggins). How much the content is thereby disregarded is apparent from

the following quote: "I placed the corks in the same room where I place my human models with the same lights. (...) All the paintings are painted with all the subjects placed in the same room under the same lights. (...) I tried to paint the humans like objects, and the objects like humans, and tried to see the result. So it's also an experiment' (Shinichi). Humans as lighted objects, that is worlds apart form humans subject to the subjugating gaze, yes, even of humans as depicted by other painters... That brings us to our next point. For the emphasis on painting sounds strange in the mouth of someone who, like Luc Tuymans, takes a rather ambivalent stance on painting. Both painters show a marked reserve towards their medium. 'I like it when people call me a painter, because that means that I succeeded in misleading hem. In fact, I am a false painter, I misuse the medium. I have become a painter, because it allows me to play tricks.' (Van Canneyt). We surmise that he refers - among other things - to the fact that, on paper, you can conjure up more than life-size images, but above all to the fact that one can maltreat bodies, give free rein to one's sadistic urges unpunished: mimesis as the refuge for sadism - for the creation of a 'mental world' as 'parallel reality'. The reserve is inbuilt from the beginning in that Borremans - it seems meanwhile to have become a pandemic - does not conceive his image in all sovereignty on the canvas, but borrows it form other images, mostly photographs. There is nothing wrong with that - painters have always relied on existing images (also when they painted 'after nature'). The problem begins only when the very concept of the image is borrowed from another medium, or when the photographic or filmic way of handling the image becomes the subject matter, like in Where is Ned? after a still from the television series Black Beauty - not so much painting about painting this time, but rather painting about photography or film... The reserve is also apparent in that Borremans sometimes would like to end up with a sculpture: 'Some of my paintings are in essence sculptures, but I do not have the know-how to execute them' (Van Canneyt). 'Four Fairies for example was initially a drawing. I would have liked to make a sculpture of it, but I am not precisely qualified. As a big painting, it approached the idea I had first in mind.' (Fiers). Which does not prevent Borremans from delivering real models like his 3-D House of Opportunities (2006), The reserve is apparent above all in the fact that he seems to have

problems with the non-moving image: 'Sometimes I have the feeling that it would be interesting when I could introduce an element of movement' (Van Canneyt). 'A painting is not an immobile image: it moves, it is a presence.' (Fiers). This desire lies at the roots of the transformation of his drawings or paintings in filmic images. Add and Remove (2002) after The evening Walk (2002); The Storm (2006) after One at a time (2003), Weight (2007) after Drawing (2002). Borremans legitimises this transformation in stating that 'film has become a medium that is not transparent - like painting. You know you‘re dealing with film. You know you‘re dealing with an artefact, with an artificial image. With a photograph you look at the image without seeing the medium.' A second legitimation sounds that his films are in essence paintings: ‗My painterly approach as such has always been influenced by film', and, conversely, his films are made from 'a painterly point of view‘ (Kleijn). No wonder that his introduction of the dimension of time is purely formal - rather than a 'plot', we only get the endless repetition of a looped film - for instance a torso of an immobile girl with cut-off legs and a braid turning around on a pedestal. The equation is sealed with the introduction of a frame around the LCD flat screen.

FROM IMAGE TO ORIGINAL The propensity to unfold the non-moving two-dimensional image in space in time - the unease in the non-moving two-dimensional plane demonstrates that Borremans does not primarily think as a painter. A genuine painting - also when it depicts events or actions like the Holy Lamb by Van Eyck or the The last supper by da Vinci - cannot be transformed into a tableau vivant or into a moving image, supposed it would call for such a transformation. The reason is that the original as it appears in a painterly medium - paint on a two-dimensional plane - is thoroughly thought in terms of the plane and its immobility. To Borremans, on the other hand, such thinking in terms of a medium is not a primary concern: 'Since I am primarily interested in images (read: originals), it does not matter whether I opt for drawing, filming or photographing'.' (...). The painted image is only one of the shapes that his in essence image-transcendent originals can take. That many of his originals are conceived during drawing or painting, is no objection: once conceived in terms of a given medium, the artist is out at releasing them as soon as possible from their specific embodiment - or rather: disguise. Therein, Borremans resembles the strip cartoonist who transforms his

she rather reveals that the focus is primarily on the original: for instance the torso of an innocent but immobilised girl with a braid in Drawing (2002). then. is merely the first phase in a series of metamorphoses into more respectable shapes.figure into three-dimensional puppets. And it is somewhat besides the question. The skirt and the film Weight (2005).. and why he thereby does not opt for the 'high-definition' of the Flemish Primitives (or photography).' (.. FROM MEDIUM TO SIGN The question. preferably on paper.. dass die Werkentwicklung einen unsichtbaren Kern umkreist. but about painting' ( 2009. is why Borremans makes so much of the painterly. as rather a designer of originals. lässt sich nicht mehr allein in den Grenzen seines Genres oder seines Formates erfassen.. eine metamediale Tiefenstruktur. That is why Borremans readily exchanges his much-praised brushwork with the totally different grain of the film. has to do with purely external advantages: 'That I have eventually decided to draw and pain. when Ziba de Weck Ardelan contends that 'Where is Ned' 'is not about a portrait. die den Bildbegriff erweitert. It is only an overstatement. You can make a painting on your own. Das Rätsel ereignet sich ebenso im einzelnen Bild wie zwischen den Bildern in der Konstellation. is promoted into a 'broadening of the concept of the image' by Reust: 'Bei Michaël Borremans ist in den vergangenen Jahren jedoch immer deutlicher geworden. you depend on others. That is also the reason why drawing is his 'secret weapon' indeed (Grove). hence.and thereby to the devaluing of the media in which it is embodied. That painting is the chosen first metamorphosis. Wie ein spezifisches Bild wirkt. when Borremans declares in his Kask lecture that a change of medium entails a change of meaning.' The emphasis with which Borremans repeats that his films are painterly. When Katrien Schreuder describes the art of Borremans as 'a film of a painting of man as a sculpture'. then. but rather for an often juicy. whereas a film requires team-work and also in photography. The design of an original. suggestive . What is scorned here as a shortcoming. 71): the focus on the medium leads only to the focus on the original . has to do with my closed character.) Add to this the aforementioned fact that painting allows to circumvent the technical problems of sculpting. cannot conceal the fact that he is not so much a painter. and the fact that you can maltreat the human body unpunished.

although Borremans' model is not Rembrandt or Caravaggio. the . but.hence 'suggestive' . The unctuous potential.41). has everything to do with the fact that it inevitably reminds of the heydays of pre-Modern. although the denial of sadism is its central function. but rather painters like Velázquez.precisely the 'academic' model that has been so scorned by modern artists.is so rare. the attention is . For. meant to deny this kind of painterly élan. with the 'the real thing'. or either made 'painterly' by wrapping it in a 'flou artistique' (Gerhard Richter) or by simplification of tone and outline (Neo Rauch).especially since the fine-grained film has its own potential in matters of sadism: the cutting edges appear all the more sharp. The sign value of this brushwork is constitutive to the painting of Borremans. like with the photorealists. Brushstrokes as such are not new in in the twentieth century. Released from every trace of figuration. With Borremans. but postRenaissance painting .again .brushstroke . and that precisely therefore is often scorned as 'academic'.the suggestive brushstroke .brushstroke is rather rare (think of Odd Nerdrum or Thierry De Cordier). just like with Odd Nerdrum. True to nature painting uses to have a predilection for brushless paint. the brushstroke can only play this role in that it is at the same time the embodiment of a tradition of making images with the aura of respectability and technical skill. To phrase it with Grove: 'The images often circumvent a simple association with cruelty or violence through the sheer beauty of their execution' (2004. that is either literally 'photographic'. they have been one of the first manifestations of modernism. In the same vein. they were even the very hallmark of modernity at the time of the diverse kinds of action painting. in combination with a rather true to nature rendering. But. That the combination of brushstrokes with true to nature rendering . the other one being its function as a sign. In combination with expressionistic deformation. the Baroque brushwork of painters like Eugène Leroy and Sam Dillemans included. also the paintings of John . and they became socially acceptable again with the diverse forms of neo-expressionism. is only one facet of the choice for the juicy brushstroke.diverted from the content. In that the technical skill imposes itself. we are not dealing with the intently clumsy strokes of Luc Tuymans. then. whereas the skin seems at the same time even more undamaged and the fabric all the more smooth.

I just make beautiful pictures' (Doroshenko. Pink shoes.often culminates in a panegyric of the technical skill and the virtuosity of Borremans . 29). One could perhaps contend of Borremans' brushwork that it is beautiful.a panegyric that has to be taken with a grain of salt. Borremans conjures up a dark universe through a beauty that is developed for the rendering of the radiant and glorious world where the 'mighty' posed as benevolent gods and good kings with the corollary shine of harmony and bliss. It is only to his credit that Borremans is the first to be aware of that . (2005). hence. then.just imagine Velazquez having painted his images.this fetish of craftsmanship . The method is all the more efficient in that the shocking through sadomasochism is replaced with shocking through the use of an academic style. there are also direct references to this undercurrent: just think of the feudal footmen who turn their backs on their bosses on the paintings in the Royal Palace in Brussels. (2003) Dragonplant (2003). The beauty of their livery . of which the falling back on the thirties and forties of the past century is only the prelude and the denial.. On top of that it is also a cover. because it suggests at the same time a different content. And also the photos of Joël-Peter Wikin become artistically acceptable only by being wrapped in an artsy disguise.not otherwise than the suit worn by Borremans when he paints: the Sunday version of the later working apparel . The joy experienced when recognising this good old academic brushwork . and hence a lightning rod in the first place. The brushstroke not only an unction. Which sheds a new light on the 'still lifes' in the work of Borremans: The fruitbasket (1999).an afterglow of the crinolines of Velázquez' infantes.Currin are described in Wikipedia as 'provocative sexual and social themes in a technically skilful manner'.. Next to the denial of this glorious world in figures and props of the thirties. Borremans writes: 'I try to shock. Behind the contours of the giant figures in Trickland and Four fairies loom up not only the shadows of the accomplices of Stalin and Hitler. dead-end landscapes of Thierry De Cordier. that this descent into the sadomasochistic universe goes hand in hand with a regression to former better times. gods and saints . but not through sex and violence. p. Sleeves. It becomes apparent. but also a flag.appears in full bloom in The Garment (2008) . The formula works. but certainly not of the world that it evokes. but in the first place kings.. who posed as 'the king of kitsch'.the societal counterparts of parents or guardian angels who roam around the cradle of the sleeping infant somewhat like the sublime landscapes of former times loom up behind the dark. Somewhat in the vein of Odd Nerdrum. to which the statement 'I .

but. as it appears from the countless attempts at escaping described above. Thus does not only the brushstroke save sadism.or of the world within the canopy bed where the brush stroke resonated with the content rather than being its negation. not in the sense of 'zeitgemäss' (in keeping with the times). that lends this outdated form of painting a touch of novelty. but as a sign for its opposite. it conjures up echoes of a world that is the complete reverse of the sadomasochistic hell of his works.' (Vanderstraeten) He seems to assume that techniques are timeless. there seems not to be a problem: 'I wanted to make contemporary. And. Borremans' work is contemporary only in the documentary sense of 'typical of our times'. But the bad conscience about the addiction to this universe. as a lightning rod it also diverts from sadism. like Piranesi. not only in that it pretends to measure up with the respectable feats of illustrious predecessor who were at work in churches and palaces . and execute them with old techniques and media. .an idea cherished by Borremans . as rather a parasitising on outdated manifestations of it. if not an attempt at debasing an societal ideal that in the past was at least kept up. therefore.but above all because.just paint beautiful paintings' may apply more aptly. authentic images. The brushstroke is not only the unctuous denial of the sadistic scratching of the needle.it suffices to imagine these paintings with a nonproblematic subject-matter. To Borremans. It is only the combination with the sadism that is concealed by these brush strokes. Borreman's recycling of 'old techniques and media' is not so much the working out of a contemporary version of a technique that is in essence timeless.the incapacity to stand upright in the face of our contemporary world. FROM PRESENT TO PAST (2) The question remains in how far Borremans' painting technique is in keeping with our times. conversely. sadism the brushstroke . To phrase it positively: Borremans should rather have developed a language that corresponds to the sadomasochistic universe. highlights all the more how much the descent in the sadomasochistic universe itself is a fall . And therein the brushstrokes only succeed in that they do not function as a medium of sadism. He thereby overlooks the fact that his kind of brushwork is developed in a totally different context: the self-assured glorification of heaven and court . as a cover.

2009). .the conception of 'zeitgemässe Bilder' in an appropriate language .Borremans utterly fails. Luc Tuymans and Michael Borremans. How about the colours . with whom everything threatens to disappear in whiteness. not to mention Wim Delvoye with his gothic towers. But. colour has only a supportive function. That‘s why I choose unsaturated colours. But I also do not like to use outspoken colours. that brown is rather a marsh in which colour threatens to drown. In that respect. with Borremans. the paintings of Borremans can rather be understood as magnified drawings . who deems himself the new Rubens. they serve the painting' (Coggins. But. . To me.nostalgia seems to pop up everywhere . Both trends are exemplarily united in the music of Arvo Pärt. and some recent works seem to disappear in darkness altogether.‘ (Fiers). rather than being a background. that lends his work an additional academic flavour. I think that the image has to have the priority. from which colour lights up. But how about his craftsmanship in the more narrow sense of the word: the general mastery of the medium as such? Above. because they divert the attention too much. Everything is mixed out of colour but the colours don‘t play a starring role.After the heaven storming of modernism that knew not to break much fresh ground . otherwise than Tuymans.the epiphenomenon of the equally abandoned struggle against the world-wide triumphant capitalism with the concomitant nationalistic and religious restoration . everything looms up from a brown. otherwise than with Tuymans.).the domain of the painter by excellence? The palette of Borremans is rather muted. like that of Luc Tuymans. The recycling of past styles is in matters of art the counterpart of the return of religion and nationalism in matters of communal feeling. Gloom prevails. As little as Tuymans. I never use black. Thierry De Cordier. Borremans is no great colourist .(. Borremans knows it: 'I am not a great colourist.just think of figures like Odd Nerdrum. Those colours have to do with a lack of expertise.but. CRAFTMANSHIP As far as real craftsmanship . we have already dealt with the brushwork as compared with Velázquez. 'Overpowering colours create a language that‘s not useful to me.primarily conceived in black and white..

not inherently conceived in terms of the logic of the frame and the rectangular surface. that they are often compared to Flemish miniatures. but rather with the fact that size obliges: history paintings used to be large. But.but foremost in the contentual sense . he fails to rise to the challenge (Dorochenko.And that brings us to the problem of size.a handling of outdated and therefore inadequate world views. His images are merely well-framed . this has everything to do with the flirting with media that unfold in space and time. not only in the formal sense of the word . 31). the size increases accordingly.how little we are dealing here with the continuation of the tradition in the true sense of the word. but we are still dealing with the rather modest size of 100 X 180 cm. not so much because of the number of figures. paintings like Trickland are large in comparison with the preparatory drawings. but rather with an academism. Sadistic representations tend to shun daylight. Really large formats are rare. and the corollary thinking in terms of originals. Needless to remind.a widespread phenomenon in our age of 'multimedia' and 'cross-over'. that the composition of Borremans is often photographic or filmic. As seen. That has not so much to do with the number of figures. Although it must be granted that the latter is not .a more than life-size shepherd. Add to this the aforementioned incapacity to embody 'eine zeitgemässe Sicht' on our contemporary world in an adequate language. when Borremans wants to tackle more complex compositions of figures.a parasitising on approved technical procedures . That is why Caravaggio's 'Decapitation of Joan the Baptist' is so embarrassing. the drawings are so small.as is usual in photography that by nature has to rely on pre-existing originals . and it becomes clear how inadequate the craftsmanship of Borremans is . finally. like in The avoider (2006). just like the life-size porn of Jeff Koons . There is no problem when Borremans paints single large figures. not otherwise than the forbidden intentions of the gestures of Borremans' figures. Perhaps this explains the paradox that the small drawings are far more monumental than the versions that are magnified on canvas. But the paintings remain small. rather than in terms of an image-in-a-medium .and conversely: why Goya's Desastres are so convincing. When the artist exchanges the pencil for the brush. as it should be in painting . whereas the giant sculptures or screens in his drawings are convincing indeed. To be sure.or in the hand-made image in general. as rather because of the importance of the subject. As a rule.

' documentary from Guido de Bruyn. David. Els: 'Ideologisch falen: een gesprek met Michaël Borremans'. Not so much the intrinsic qualities of his work. Nicole. Guido: 'Michael Borremans: A knfie in the eye. Peter: 'Interview met Michaël Borremans' in 'Michael Borremans. Walter König. 2005).. 2009). AMY. Anne: 'Onzichtbare krachten' Kunst nader bekeken. lightning rod and cover are condensed in it. hence.‖ Artforum (September 2005): 308. ―Michael Borremans at David Zwirner. ―Michaël Borremans.htm CONSULTED TEXTS AMY. ―The Theater of the Absurd. Hans D. FIERS. COGGINS. CARRIER. BOEL. ―A Belgian master of the enigmatic. BERK. Michaël.‖ Art in America (June/July 2006): 194. CityZine Gent 2010 2011. BORREMANS. CUMMING.. EX. Metropolis M.: 'Warning! This is a philosophical drawing. Michaël and LAMBRECHTS. Zeichnungen'. ―Werkruimte: Michaël Borremans‖ Hollands Diep (May/une 2010): 134-135. Über die Zeichnungen von Michaël Borremans' (sine dato). but rather the way in which unction.‖ Tema Celeste (July/August 2006): 42. COGGINS. Laura. November 2005.‖ Die Zeit (May 14. explains the secret charms and constitutes the enigma unveiled of the paintings of Michael Borremans. ―In der Schuhschachtel. Jonas: 'Interview met Michaël Borremans'. © Stefan Beyst.net/english/info. . Sven. September 2010. Ludion 2008. flag. BEHRISCH.so much the responsibility of Borremans. Art in America. interview Jef Lambrecht and Anne Luyten. DOROSCHENKO. Michael: "Whistling a happy tune'.‖ The Observer (May 15. 2004. Jef: Kask lezing 11 May 2010. David: "Interview: Michaël Borremans'. 3/1/2009. CHRIST. translated October 2010 from 1968 to 1994 lecturer philosophy of art and history of modern art http://d-sites. David. DE BRUYN. 2008.

Jeffrey. Walter König. ―Strange Days: The Drawings of Michaël Borremans. LAUREYNS. GROVE. Anita: 'Modelle und Modifikationen'. MICHAËL BORREMANS: 'The Performance'. Jan: 'Ik maak alleen wat er toe doet'. PRATER. OSTROW. 2010). Hatje Cantz. SHINICHI. Céline: 'Michaël Borremans en zijn credo's'. Hatje Cantz. De Groene Amsterdammer. Rekto:Verso. 2004. saturday. Koen: 'Interview Michaël Borremans: Een goed schilderij beweegt'. VAN HOVE. Veit (Ed. Het Nieuwsblad. Hans Rudolf: 'Life in Stills .GERMANN. zondag 27 februari 2005.): 'Michaël Borremans: Automat'. 05.: 'Michaël Borremans: People must be punished'. Elizabeth. D. interview Art It. SCHREUDER. A world of quiet mystery'.‖ Artforum (May 2009): 233. 2009. 2006 LEENKNEGT. MACK. Zeichnungen'.‖ Modern Painters (May 2006): 111.27. 3 november 2009. 2005. nr 16.Metabilder bei Michaël Borremans' in GERMANN. Zeichnungen'. .kunst'. Martin and GÖRNER.1. NIEUWSBLAD: 'Kunstenaar Michaël Borremans in SMAK '. HALDEMANN. 2008. VUEGEN. Jeffrey. nr. Catrien: Studies van de mens als ding. 05-09-2007. ―Michaël Borremans: Horse Hunting. Martin en GÖRNER. 2009. KASTNER. Schamper. Kunstbeeld. Simon and VERVAET. Uchida: 'Michaël Borremans. Zu den Zeichnungen von Michael Borremans' in 'Michael Borremans. Hilde: 'Interview met Borremans en Manor Grünewald' 5/02/2009. De Standaard. VANDERSTRAETEN. Hatje Cantz. ―Michael Borremans – A Victim of His Situation. Walter König. Jennifer:'Enigma Variations' Frieze Magazine.‖ The Ember (July 1. 2010. Saul. Margot: Michaël Borremans. 2009. Jeroen: 'Het verbannen medium: James Sante Avati (19122005) en de schijnstrijd illustratie . Christine: 'Meesterleugenaar Michael Borremans'. 2010.): 'Michaël Borremans: Automat'. 2004 HIGGIE. ―Michaël Borremans at David Zwirner. VAN CANNEYT. KLEIJN. Joshua. Veit (Ed.‖ Angle (September/October 2005): REUST. Issue 89 March 2005. July 17. in 'Michael Borremans.

Oil on canvas. The fact that a figure like Pinault is buying this work is no counter-argument. http://d-sites.. 2007. I may hope. 2008. 16 mm film .. 40 x 50 cm The Field.htm * Portrait: Nagare Satoshi Text: Uchida Shinichi Fixture.net/english/info.ADDENDUM November 2010: Borremans' current show 'Eating the Beard' in Zeno X Antwerp only confirms my analysis.

The figures in his paintings. then Michaël Borremans' paintings could well serve as a model. 40 x 50 cm All images © Michael Borremans If there were such an activity as creating quietness. Oil on canvas. or creating. I paint various kinds of people. but in each case they're important not as portraits of particular people but as general 'human beings'.The Feeding. or repeating . I've adopted the format of portrait .albeit unknown to themselves . Who are they and what stories are they living? It was this world. seem either to be devoted to some private ritual. as if a spell has suddenly been cast on them in the midst of their daily routines. symbolic metaphors. 2006. Borremans' first solo exhibition Japan. that was revealed to visitors to Earthlight Room. which are depicted with a fineness bordering on hardheadedness using a palette based on beautiful dark hues. I depict the act of doing. 35 mm film transferred to DVD Commutation. Just as many artists have done in the past. a world of what could be described as "quiet mystery". "It's not important who they are or what they're doing exactly.some endless activity. They're more universal. 2008.

has also been displayed in the form of a scale model (The German)." Many of Borremans' drawings. So it's also an experiment. which I visited the other day. into something aggressive and innovative. and the objects like humans. is also very old and universal. For this show. A work is complete only when there has been this collaboration between both parties.painting for my work. is what fascinates him the most. "All artists are influenced by works from the past. it's a question of reflecting rather than respecting. I think. but I'm not interested in whether they're realized on the stage or not. but at the same time contemporary. and tried to see the result. but he's also contemporary. the manner in which these anonymous individuals and their mysterious actions are depicted in an atmosphere that at times calls to mind 19th century portraits is striking. In the same way that there is a writer and a reader. I'm simply using that format. and in a sense you can say something's already been realized once someone has imagined it. it was fascinating to see a lone still life among the portraits in this exhibition. which the artist has exhibited from an early stage in his career. according to Borremans. Each viewer can view it however they like. That's why it's called Earthlight Room. I tried to paint the humans like objects. The Gallery of Horyuji Treasures (editor's note: designed by Taniguchi Yoshio). too. there's no place any more for the imagination. Good artists don't just destroy the past." The important thing is how the viewer responds to the work. and of recuperation. I will continue to do this for my next show. I like the world of the imagination." Certainly. they're also able to develop it in various directions. One of these. "A lot of my drawings are proposals for paintings or installations." . Speaking of which. this. "I placed the corks in the same room where I place my human models with the same lights. However. and perhaps even more in the future. But when works become too conceptual. But what I paint aren't 'portraits' as such. You say they remind you of stage design. for the first time all the paintings are painted with all the subjects placed in the same room under the same lights. which almost resembles a sketch for a stage design. Bruce Nauman is grounded in the past. That's not what I want to do. reflect a more surreal worldview.

of something that occurred to me the other day. yet I was surprised after coming to Japan to discover that the scene inside the kitchen of a tempura restaurant resembled very closely the scene in this work. There's an almost sculptural quality to the figure." One of these films.1. are "paintings". 2009. consists of languid shots of a young woman whose body abruptly turns into a flat surface resembling a table from the waist down (a painting with the same motif was also displayed).although it's not really an influence . But that reminds me . But it's just an image. as far as the artist is concerned. I like to work without being dominated by anything. You can walk by it if you want. Contemporary artists who are successful today have a show here and a show there and they have to tell people all kinds of things. The Feeding was created with no reference whatsoever to Japanese culture. it's painting. It's incredible. and you have to watch it and it's very boring. I asked Borremans if all the traveling to different cities around the world that's resulted from the steady increase in his popularity as an artist has also affected his creative activities. I'm not afraid to use beauty.27 . like the kind of works they'll show and the titles of the works. It didn't correspond to the picture in my head. I present it like painting." Finally. "There's probably some influence. You don't have to watch it from beginning to end. "I tried to depict it as if it's a moving sculpture. It's not physically there. too. I also want to make it beautiful.The exhibition also included a number of film works. "What I do in film. isn‘t it? With regard to becoming busy and that affecting my work…I don't want to work for a show. Once I did try to make a sculpture like in this film. The Field. which turns its body while staring into space with eyes that appear to be drained of all emotion. As with all the works in this show. really. which Borremans began to incorporate into his shows several years ago. and it was too real." Fitting words from an artist whose paintings manage to draw out such an abundant world from "quietness". these. and an image is like a ghost. too physical. What I don't want to do is have people go into a dark room. When I think about that I cannot work. However.

An ordinary object transformed into something thrilling. housed in high. open-ended. But they are in almost every other way bizarrely ambiguous. Parasol is devoted to bringing leading international artists to new audiences in Britain. The painting holds you in suspense.and yet more charged. since there is nothing to measure it against. It is nearly impossible to work out exactly what is going on in each image. The Performance. Its context is also unclear. money. Which in itself gives a strangely spectral quality to the scene. letters. The Performance is en route from Ghent to Ireland via London at the same time as a show of his drawings goes to the US. its surfaces reflected in a highly polished floor. London N1. there is a tremendous technical foundation to the paintings. Founded by Ziba de Weck as a non-profit organisation. with its pearly satin drapes. as it is called. And yet the cloth. What is in it? Jewellery. Born in 1963. until 30 June It could hardly be simpler . although it stands in an empty room with putty-coloured walls. white galleries designed by Claudio Silvestrin. keeps you waiting there as if there was the slightest chance of seeing what might happen next. despite the fact that what is presented is made to look so solidly everyday and permanent. as if a conjuror were about to whip the cloth away or something were about to spring from the box. 14 Wharf Road. pictorial magic in itself. London's newest centre for contemporary art. It could hardly have chosen a better subject for its inauguration than Belgian painter Michael Borremans. is also the title of the first show held at Parasol Unit. a body? The image presses you to guess. also suggests that some sort of magic might be about to take place.A Belgian master of the enigmatic Laura Cumming The Observer. The size of this box is not apparent. . The picture shows only a box. he trained as a draughtsman and this underpins all his art. who has long deserved a solo show in this country. an atmosphere intensified by the singular fact that the box is hidden beneath a cloth. Sunday 15 May 2005 Michael Borremans Parasol Unit Foundation for Contemporary Art.

Take The German, in which a man with a crew-cut wearing a Thirties suit sits before a table holding what appears to be a red-beaded rosary. But is it a rosary or a clutch of cherries? Some of them even seem to have escaped and become attached like burrs to his cuffs, as red as bloody thumbprints. He looks down at them with a knowing self-consciousness, as if perfectly aware of your presence and bewilderment, but not about to give anything away. It is both more and less than a portrait, a recognisable likeness, but of a man whose character and occupation have been subtly occluded in the final painting. What was he actually doing, you wonder, as with so many of these pictures. Borremans's figures are almost always engaged in some apparently ordinary yet inscrutable action. Two figures take a scalpel to something offstage. A woman raises her hands as if to type, yet there is no machine. Two men attend to a pile of white... white what exactly? Could they be sizing some canvases? Small but mysterious gestures: that is partly Borremans's subject. A finger stretches into a painting to touch a fragment of something glassy or reaches out to pick a miniature tree from a shelf of identical trees (which puts you in mind of the artist himself, picking and choosing motifs). Hands point, touch, write, select, yet the exact nature of each operation is not disclosed. And the tremendous absorption of these figures in what they do lends conflicting moods sometimes darkly comic, sometimes disturbing - to the paintings. Just as striking is the period look of these scenes, which seem to be set in the low-watt Thirties or Forties. French plaits, razor crops, pre-perm coiffures, puffed sleeves, dark suits with wide lapels; men in duster coats, women in kerchiefs; studies and wood-lined laboratories. Borremans works with a twilight palette as well, shifting shadows, odd reflections, porcelain lustre: it's all a brown study with variations in grey and pearl. Which enhances the strange air of dated detachment and instils a certain nostalgia. It feels as though you are looking back at history, not the long past but something still familiar from black-and-white movies and, sure enough, like film stills, these images all seem to come with a backstory. But what that story might be remains a puzzle. Are these images extracted from real narratives (perhaps documentaries about the war effort, feature films or tales of prewar science)? Are they partly true or purely imaginary? I stared for a long time at what appeared to be a group of people enacting a scene from a 17th-century Dutch painting, reflected in a window pane burnished with a reflective glint (itself a play on those domestic interiors with their perfect housekeeping) without realising that

this might be the representation of an art book open to show an illustration, incidentally struck by the light of the present. What painting is, has been and can be is always brought to mind. Take the four girls trying to keep poker-faced as we look at them in their wellpressed frocks. At waist height, they simply disappear altogether in a kind of Richard Wilson oil slick; in this case, the very paint from which they are created. Borremans keeps these discontinuities in check so that they tease the mind without undermining the image. He might have shadows that aren't soft and secondary but active and primary, real as the object silhouetted. The effect is to remind you that these are images, not people, that you cannot really know their inner thoughts. Yet Borremans's gift is for snaring you, enthralling you with all sorts of characters, strange scenarios and possibilities. The three students in their lab coats looking down at what appear to be three dummy or decapitated heads on a counter seem to be at work until you notice that the heads are identical to their own. And running between each boy and head, eye to eye, is a fine thread of white paint, a sight line, if you like. Self-regard, self-doubt, self-consciousness: all are touched on in this complex riddle, which plays on the act of looking into, but being unable to enter, the illusions of a painted world.

Michael Borremans 05/07/2010 (tr. From Dutch) (Interview: Jonas Boel, appeared in CityZine Ghent 2010-2011)

We have had the pleasure of interviewing some great people over the years; legendary punk rockers who retired early, a notoriously eccentric film director, an ex-boys band member with loads of ambition. But still we're a little nervous when we ring at Michaël Borremans' door in St. Amandsberg. Not only is the man one of our favourite artists, he is also an internationally respected and successful painter. He welcomes us in his house / studio, a beautifully renovated carpenter‘s workshop. In the middle of the living area is a drum set, we count about four guitars and a black grand piano. The creative outpouring here is not just paint and brush work. A bottle of whiskey and an ashtray appear on the table, even though anti-smoking guru Allen Carr's book is within reach. ‗Well yes, one moment I stop, the next I start again.‘ How did you find this beautiful building? Borremans: I bought the building in 1994 with my girl-friend at the time. It was in ruins, we renovated it from top to bottom. I don't like the feeling of having to go outdoors to feel space, that is why this is a good building for me. But I have to be able to work at any moment, that's why it's essential my studio and house are one. You never know when you might be inspired. Borremans: Exactly. I am quite chaotic when I work, I need to have everything within reach. I don't need that much room for my paintings, I usually work small. In principle I could work in the kitchen of a small house. Art is created by necessity, the artist's studio is here (taps his head). Not having a studio is a bad excuse to not work, even if I were homeless I'd keep on working. Every limitation can be a blessing. You're originally from Dendermonde, how did you end up in Ghent? Borremans: I went to school here; 'Vrije Grafiek' at Sint Lucas. Afterwards I lived in Brussels with my girl-friend. I taught evening classes in Ghent and she worked during the day, we hardly saw each other and needed two cars. It wasn't easy for a young couple, so out of pure misery we moved back to Ghent. (quickly) Oops, I shouldn't have said that I guess? (laughs). You stayed here, I assume you didn't mind. Borremans: Not at all! It‘s just that at the time I was really enjoying living in the cosmopolitan city of Brussels. Actually it doesn't really matter where I live, but here in St. Amandsberg I

When I come home from one of these trips and am able to ride my bicycle over Ghent's cobblestones I am a very happy man (laughs). Nowadays. I even considered naming my company Bad Weather Production. For my exhibitions I regularly have to be in New York or Tokyo where you are driven around in limousines and invited to exclusive parties. Do you know of any musician who is a good painter or vice versa? . Sometimes it leads to confusion. Borremans: A good trick. Take my painting of a man in a straitjacket with the title Advantage – the title is an extra element you provide. I like the climate and the light in Belgium. I am tied to Ghent for a while still. Have you ever considered living abroad? Borremans: My daughter goes to school here. Borremans: Be that as it may but I didn't come up with it. Wallonia is kind of like being abroad as well. Borremans: To be quite honest. How important are the titles of your paintings? Borremans: Very important.feel very much at ease as an artist. it's a great title. I like bad weather. Currently there is a Borremans exposition in Denver with the great title ‗Looking at the face I had before the world was made‘ – it seems to describe you perfectly. it's a conceptual given. as does the piece itself. You play guitar and write songs. In my spare time I write songs and nowadays I am not averse to using fragments from literature. A title can lead or mislead you. it makes you think. they are an essential part of the work. What name did you choose? Borremans: ‗Michaël Borremans‘ (laughs). the exposition fits in a series of six different expositions around the same theme. The objective is that you question your point of view as a spectator. The sentence is from a poem of John Keats. we look at art with the title. But I agree. Plenty of inspiration. Soon I'll have a country house in Wallonia in the middle of nowhere – I'm looking forward to retreating there from time to time.

You have to choose. I find. painting is my church! I have about twenty suits but some of my suits seem to have bad vibes because I produce bad work if I wear them. was already a good painter before he became known as a musician. Part of it is superstition of course. but I never applied myself. My group The Singing Painters regularly meets up to improvise. I can't produce nice work if I wear dirty clothes . respect for what you do. The songs I write I write for myself. I am extremely concentrated in a kind of Medieval atmosphere: daylight and complete silence. and when I do hear it it works on my nerves (laughs). Why do you ask? Because good musicians rarely make good painters and vice versa. alias Captain Beefheart. the better the painting. I never asked any questions. Borremans: I'm not a technically gifted guitarist and I'm a bad musician. Do you still paint in your suit? Borremans: That's a ritual. I don't hear it anyway.the nicer the suit. I don't feel the slightest need to tell the world. That's when I'm the painting nudist. Don Vliet. You're just a hippie. our repertoire ranges from very modest to pure. My paintwork also contains a lot of rock‘n roll. and there's nothing you can do about that (laughs). Everything starts with the imagination. It's a hobby. Sometimes I paint on my bare feet and in the summer I sometimes paint in the nude. didn't they? Well. Do you have music on when you paint? Borremans: Never. Are you a born painter? Borremans: I only started painting at the age of thirty but I have always worked with images. When people used to go to church.Borremans: I think Bent Van Looy of Das Pop is a decent painter. A way to let off steam. I really must give them away (laughs). they wore suits as well. Michaël! Borremans: Exactly! ‗I'm a hippie‘. yes. freewheeling rock‘n roll. although I don't know whether he still does it. The ritual has to do with respect. just like footballers who always wear the same underpants for an important match. It was simply the way it was. I could also have been a writer. I can also work with language. With a pencil and a sheet of paper you can evoke a suggestion you . I drew.

That's when I want journalists to come knocking at the door. His paintings depict more than just a scene.could not express in language. Aesthetics is a tool. the next problem. Do you prefer compliments about the content or the aesthetic aspect of your work? Borremans: For me the content prevails. A complete reality. A painting is a presence. I find it very fascinating. Compliments go in one ear. There are so many paintings we have in our collective memory. Painting has been around for as long as people have. With a thick frame around it. A drawing is like literature. categories: interviews * . Although of course I'm happy it's there. Why not? Borremans: Because the impact of a painting is much greater. But when I make a good painting I drink champagne. a lubricant. When you make a mistake in a painting it's a big mistake! Look at Breughel. In a drawing everything is possible. not in a painting. sometimes they're an entire world view. not when some piece was sold for a lot of money at an auction. invite some friends over and take them out to a restaurant! When is a painting good? Borremans: When I surprise myself with what I made. Then it's party time. as a stage it's sacred. very condensed. more fleeting. I am always thinking about the next piece. out the other.

85 x 100 cm (33 1/2 x 39 3/8 in. Borremans explained. magazines. ―A painting is not just an image: it is an object with a multi-layered character. Although the aesthetics of these pictorial sources seep into his work—the coloration. often discomfiting images of selfabsorbed subjects in indeterminate settings are inspired by photographs. Rife with psychological overtones and ambiguity.One at the Time. two men and a woman stare at a cloth-covered table on which three white shelves seem to be floating. hairstyles. film. and clothing recall the 1930s and 1940s—Borremans‘s paintings ultimately lack a clear narrative.) Michaël Borremans‘s mysterious. 2003. While his characters appear engaged in actions that require meticulous attention. Oil on canvas." One at the Time is one of several works in which figures in white lab coats attend to flat surfaces. and illustrated books. more often than not the paintings offer little indication of what preoccupies them. .


oil on canvas. 42 x 50 cm . 2002.The Box.




2013 .The Angel.



The Virgin 2013 240 x 130 cm oil on canvas .




65 x 50 cm. 2006. oil on canvas .The Storm.

oil on canvas . 31 x 49 cm.Dragonplant. 2003.

oil on canvas . 60 x 70 cm. 2003.The Barn.

300 x 200 cm. 2010. oil on canvas .The Pendant.

Colombine. 2008. oil on canvas . 52 x 38 cm.


KURT SNOEKX .Michaël Borremans: as sweet as it gets 20/02/14.

starting on Saturday. On the opposite side of an inner courtyard. It is as if. but mind the bunnies!" buzzes the intercom when we ring the bell one chilly winter‘s evening in the Sint-Amandsberg district of Ghent. viewers find themselves wandering in the disquieting twilight zone between recognition and astonishment that constitutes this artist‘s idiosyncratic world. drawings.(© Heleen Rodiers) If the stunning yet disturbing work of the Ghent-based artist Michaël Borremans is an acquired taste. the one-size-fits-all of The Devil‘s Dress (2011). which contains a hundred paintings. This is "As Sweet as It Gets". just one candle is burning behind a large window: as our eyes slowly get used to the darkness. Groping. Easier said than done. we are already spectators of the dizzying visual theatre of Michaël Borremans. which is now being given a platform by Bozar. and videos calculated to leave your senses reeling. our unsteady legs have trouble avoiding William and Gordon as they hop around merrily. the telekinetic energy of The German (2002). in between the outside and the interior. there in the courtyard. the wind-up girl chronicle of Automat (2008). the vacuum packing of The Preservation (2001). the jet-black face of The Angel (2013). with eyes that get bogged down at first and then lose their grip on things thanks to little holes subtly burnt into logic. and the awe-inspiring . "Come in. The unconnected flesh of The False Head (2013). you will have plenty of opportunity to tickle your taste buds at Bozar‘s retrospective exhibition.

0cm. pencil. (right) The German (part two) 2002. white and black ink. mica foil and transparent tape on cardboard 24.0 x 42. tranquility rubs shoulders with lifelessness. every drawing: recognisability is undermined playfully.8 x 31. watercolor. The German 2002. consumed by a dazzling discomfort. 2011 . emptiness invites manipulation. A glitch in the space-time continuum and you finish up on the ropes..monotony of The House of Opportunity(2003–2005).0 cm The Devil‘s Dress. Oil on canvas 50. There is an air of menace about every canvas. resistance is total.. almost casually. Simplicity is deceptive.

nothing. That is ―really‖ working. that we see on the canvas. is what makes the difference. If I were to paint those biscuits. chance plays a major role and you see stuff happening while you work. ―My work has to be very lavish. not life. but I don‘t depict nature. while offering a disproportionate display of just how. one experiences an almost unbridgeable distance. while at the same time fiercely. That balance is essential. But sometimes something happens that takes you to a place you didn‘t know before.‖ You enter into a dialogue with the work? Michaël Borremans: Yes. and that is the most exciting thing. So. but peculiar.In the world of Michaël Borremans. It can take your work to places where you can‘t get to yourself and make the work transcend the artist. very charged and. but it can make it worse too. but other things happen in a totally unconscious way. It is part of my identity. Do you create that deliberately? Borremans: I realise that my work both attracts and repels. You have to be able to see that as an artist. As a viewer. Then it‘s about recognising those things that are interesting. then it is boring and out of balance. that‘s all it is. I just paint culture. ―Think or suck. Why. Sometimes I work quite conceptually. necessity. Sometimes you work with a clear goal: you have an idea and you want to carry it out. Intuition is important in that context. A touch of humour injects some lightness. at the same time. quite literally. chance can make your work more beautiful. That intuition that allows you to judge where the balance lies. His ―characters‖ are at the mercy of their maker. instinct. who is deeply engaged with material and draws on the rich tradition of painting. light. At that moment. Intuition. [Laughs] That is my character. I‘m a bit of a no-romantic as well. I don‘t know. If a work of art goes too far in one direction and is purely political or is too funny or too sexual.. then that distance would be in that painting too. ―A work of art is like a field that is waiting for your input. It is contemplation. I paint in the way that is the right way for me to present a particular image. non-thinkers occupy their time. actually. clearly present in the here and now.‖ says Borremans. ―As Sweet as It Gets‖ is the harbinger of something indescribable that consigns that sweetness to history.‖ says the drawing of the same name (1999). I don‘t do that deliberately. Now. The result of that interaction between intuition and examination is something that is at once very familiar and strange. Lovely biscuits. but no. Why does a dog piss against a wall? An instinct. I subscribe to the idea that the painter depicts nature and in so doing shows his own soul.. I find it important to let chance play its role. .

Is that need there at the moment when you decide to start a painting? Borremans: Each painting comes into being in a different way. I wouldn‘t know who I am. too. I don‘t work to do people a favour – and I‘ve no interest in a yacht in Saint Tropez. that I can‘t make more works than I do and that my works become expensive. And I am probably an. Fortunately. I just try to keep my work authentic.Without it. but I can‘t concern myself with that. artist by nature. A career is a tool. I don‘t want to become a factory. A work of art must always arise from a sort of necessity.. 2007-2008 Why the frown? Borremans: If I lived in prehistoric times. I would probably be the one .. That means. Sleeper. I have a fine platform on which I can show my work. And each work must be special. I don‘t work systematically: I must always have a reason to paint something.

but I‘m very philanthropic too. [Laughs] I wasn‘t exceptionally good. I started as a toddler and I have never stopped. Up to a point. We don‘t understand anything. If I were a writer. Sometimes it‘s not easy.who painted animals on the rocks. but I really enjoyed it. but I couldn‘t help it. How do they manage that? But I‘m not a misanthrope. yes. But I have a visual way of communicating. my work is a way of dealing with that. [Smiles] You came to painting late. Everything started to go wrong when we became sedentary. but how long have you been drawing for? Borremans: All my life. Things were going well for humanity back then: there was still a certain harmony with nature then. Then we started growing in numbers and now we are the planet‘s cancer. My copybooks were full of little drawings in the margins. The House of Opportunity (Im Rhönlandshaft). Lots of people give the impression that they understand everything. then I would write a book about it. 2004 . We are a strange organism. I got punished for that. I find the implicit nature of imagery more truthful: things aren‘t clear.

Mr Duchamp. the entire visual culture is an influence. I still do. and Buñuel. from a technical point of view. Donald Judd. We have become used to seeing within frames. Does film also provide you with inspiration for your paintings? Borremans: Of course. Very rational considerations. what they saw was more intense. which are really suggestions for sculptures or paintings. but. on the other hand.. in other words. But also for the love of painting. The number of images that they saw was smaller. And my films. But I thought that my ambitions were too lofty. And I wanted to communicate. Those disciplines have had such a far-reaching effect on the way we look at nature and reality. you can‘t help being influenced by film and photography. makes more noise. are equally trial and error. actually. Van Eyck. I could devote my life to it! Cinematek has given you carte blanche for a film programme. and more detailed. Making paintings is still experimental for me. but I keep on trying to improve. purely out of interest. . people had a larger periphery to their gaze. larger.. But. Now the -isms are finished and everything is possible at the same time. In the past. I have been experimenting for ten years now. A painting generates much more attention. That is unique! I think it is really positive that you see all those different things coexisting in art. you have Man Ray. In sculpture.How did you finally come to venture the switch to painting? Borremans: The realisation that with a painting you are playing on a completely different stage. The whole twentieth century was an analysis of the arts. As well as Tati. Hitchcock. These days.

With a painting. 2008 . That aspect of painting. That is concentrated energy. but an intermediate stage. it‘s different: you see the image. Borremans: Yes. you don‘t see the medium: it is transparent. sometimes a year. then I even sleep in my studio. It‘s difficult to maintain that tension. preferably in two or three sessions. David Zwirner New York/London and Gallery Koyanagi Tokyo) For your paintings. 2005 . I have periods when I make things very difficult for myself. I shut myself away and don‘t go out at all. Sometimes I work on one for three to six months. you take photographs as your starting point. Weight. I always try to finish off a painting over a number of days.Photo © Peter Cox / Michaël Borremans. but I use photography in an unconventional way: the photographs are not an objective. I . I‘m very focused.(Michaël Borremans. are important. Do you work on your drawings and paintings at the same time? Borremans: A drawing is always a lengthy dialogue.Courtesy Zeno X Gallery Antwerp. At those times. you don‘t want to ruin anything. My paintings happen over a shorter time span. but also the medium. during which I come back to it now and then. That is one on one. You don‘t want to break the concentration. In a photograph. Especially when larger formats are involved. because I know that they are really paintings. Automat (I).Private Collection. Courtesy Zeno X Gallery Antwerp . It completely absorbs me. Then I make sure that I have supplies in and I keep at work until it‘s finished. I see them as embryonic pictures. that history and the mystification that takes place in painting.

Private Collection. (Michaël Borremans. is not for softies. in the past. 2006 . but sometimes it is really rough. I have noticed that my attitude and concentration improved as a result. This is top-level sport.. Courtesy Zeno X Gallery Antwerp . Suddenly. You have to be on the ball.Photo © Peter Cox) Enter the costumes. You don‘t want to get dirty. Do you find painting a difficult medium? . 10 and 11. whereas previously you rooted around in the paint like a Jackson Pollock. Like when you‘re going out or. Borremans: I like being sharp dressed while I‘m working. yeah. you feel like an aristocrat who is doing some painting. so you paint a bit like a peintre seigneur. Out of respect for the work. going to mass. What I do.don‘t want to indulge in self-pity. It has really brought about a change of style in my work and technique..

oil on wood 22. He is much more patient. His main motifs are people divorced from reality in a temporal and spatial sense. but when everything has gone perfectly in a painting. who painted with a lot of panache. For example. how you make use of them. Photos © Heleen Rodiers The Quest. [Surprised] Maybe that‘s why Chardin‘s The House of Cards is my favourite painting. with an energy that gives the canvas a different life. Michaël Borremans turned to painting during the mid-1990s. one of my favourite painters. It only happens rarely. It is especially hard to find the right balance. Yes! That‘s a really good metaphor: making a painting is like building a house of cards: it can collapse at any second. But that is very fragile. as if you were building a house of cards. In that sense. he paints very neatly – you can hardly see any brushstrokes. I could never paint like Chardin. He has since skyrocketed to fame for work that has been compared in style to early-modern and modern-era artists such as Diego Vélasquez and Édouard Manet.3 x 30 cm As an artist who worked with photographic expression. For me. That has a lot to do with your own character and temperament. that really gives a kick. a vague dis-ease permeating the stillness of his images draws the viewer into a deep contemplation.Borremans: [Earnestly] It‘s a very difficult medium. mindlessly engaged in some private ritual or task. and in spirit to the Surrealistic tradition of his native Belgium. . 2006. I feel closer to Rubens or Velázquez. In his paintings. come to think of it. the stroke also has to find expression.

Several years ago."*2 This exhibition of 30-some pieces selected by the Borremans himself thus represents a rare opportunity to become acquainted with the work of this very special artist. *1. 2009. "*1 In most cases. . Borremans was struck by the museum's architectural history and appearance. is that Borremans conveys the feeling of another era with a style rooted in the history of painting. symbolic metaphors. VRT CULTUUR voor CANVAS."It's not important who they are or what they're doing exactly. http://www. And yet his subjects appear as creatures with a common universal existence. Applying the strictest standards. saddled with a fate that comes from being human. Such images mirror the difficult lives that many in Japan face today. during a visit to the Hara Museum. Also introduced are video pieces which Borremans began producing in recent years. It would go on to survive the war and then continue its quiet existence as an art museum. however. at times using old photographs as the basis of his work. Michaël Borremans . but in each case they're important not as portraits of particular people but as general 'human beings'. I paint various kinds of people. One thing that can be said. Borremans discovered an atmosphere that resembled his own work. it was originally a place of rest. cut me at a certain point. 'a knife in the eye'. his images deftly defy theorization. As the former home of the Hara family. He has described his attitude as follows: "It must move me. They're more universal. and are sure to strike a chord that transcends national boundaries.artit.A Knife in the Eye. The desire to hold a solo exhibition there took hold of him from that moment on. From an interview of the artist. the artist has limited the output of paintings that he considers finished. ART iT. at times preserving the individuality of his subjects by capturing the uniqueness of their faces.asia/u/admin_interviews/xNYKImdkuo5grM1Jqw8V/?lang=en *2. making interpretation difficult. In this place.

‖ . oil on wood 20. a post-war neoexpressionist art movement. acclaimed around the world. I didn‘t think I had to go to school to learn that. and critical acclaim in the process. Christophe Verbiest Flemish painter Michaël Borremans was resigned to making art for art‘s sake when. But a fear of failure and the prevailing 1980s art mood almost led the Ghent-based artist not to take up painting at all. unexpectedly. We visited the artist in his Ghent home to talk art. ―not how to paint with tar or shit. he was determined to absolutely master drawing before doing anything with painting. both the art world and art schools were under the spell of the German-dubbed Neue Wilde (New Wilds).5 cm Portrait of the Artist (already read) After a couple of career detours and false starts.‖ he says. success and the daily grind. Flemish painter Michaël Borremans has found his voice.Gone. Influenced by American underground comics. But Borremans wasn‘t interested in that. I hoped to become a graphic novelist.‖ Instead. When Borremans was contemplating his next move after graduating from secondary art school.9 x 26. ―I wanted to learn how to paint like Titian. Michaël Borremans has become one of Flanders‘ best-known contemporary painters. ―I wanted to continue in that direction. 2003. success came knocking at his door and made him a darling of the international art scene – just when it dawned on him that ―making it‖ maybe wasn‘t that important.

but I couldn‘t concentrate on the painting itself. ―One plus one became three. And the rest is history. he says. ―I forced myself to focus only on painting. but that wasn‘t the reason for As Sweet As It Gets. explaining that between hitting Brussels and Dallas (in 2015). and you shouldn‘t force it. and Borremans decided to give it one last try. ―I‘ve been working here since the mid-1990s. since this had happened before. ―I still had ideas. I knew I would be able to paint .‖ Change of scenery In 2012 Borremans suddenly lost his focus and struggled to regain it. I was convinced I would never grasp the art of painting. ―The moment I stepped over the threshold. Borremans opted to study printmaking because it included a technical aspect. ―first as an adolescent. I wasn‘t worried at first. Art is born from a need. Influenced by… Now Borremans is everywhere. ―I wanted to continue in that direction. And from this weekend. with a third one opening soon. Instead. The artist turned 50 last year. After four or five years. And it just so happened that the Dallas Museum of Art approached him about the same thing. then again in my 20s.‖ Still. He was in his early 30s when he eventually began devoting most of his time to the brush and canvas. you can visit As Sweet As It Gets at Bozar in Brussels. a retrospective that will later travel to the US and Israel. he was determined to absolutely master drawing before doing anything with painting. he has two exhibitions in Japan.In the end.‖ he says. At the moment. I started to wonder and decided to look for a new space. where he also has his studio. I finally exhibited a few paintings. The artist serves me a cup of jasmine tea in his home in Ghent.‖ Instead. he practised and practised to become a good illustrator. But when it persisted.‖ His quest led him to an empty chapel owned by one of his friends. It‘s been almost nine years since a major exhibition was devoted to Borremans in Belgium. as they say. Bozar director Paul Dujardin suggested he prepare a solo exhibition for them. the itch persisted. In the following years. Even his vast living room has sometimes doubled as his workshop.‖ says Borremans. and I do so with great zest. But I found it extremely difficult. ―I gave it a few tries before that. the exhibition will travel to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. When I looked at works by others.

start all over again. and now I‘m working here again. ―It often happens that I work on a painting for a full day and.‖ While imperative for the artist. or vice versa. often of less than 50 x 50 centimetres. By using larger canvasses and bigger brushes. when I‘ve made up my mind about a painting. It‘s like running a race: The more mistakes you make. In such moments. I worked very intensively there. ―I envy artists who are able to do this. the majority of Borremans‘ pieces were relatively small paintings. Lately. ―I‘m like a firefighter – always on standby. I have to be here.‖ He‘s candid about this but adds that there‘s also a more important. ―Sometimes I misjudge and paint too small. ―My eyesight has deteriorated in the past years.‖ Until a few years ago. but I have to wait for the singular moment that my energy and focus culminate. but he worries when he‘s away from home for more than a week. I learned from experience that trying to correct errors generally leads to an even worse painting. the artist says. I can surpass myself. this kind of approach carries consequences.‖ He says he enjoys travelling because it gives him ideas. by the evening. I have a better view of what I‘m doing. To get there.‖ Borremans stresses that the situation isn‘t as unequivocal as it sounds. ―I‘ve been working on compositions that ask for larger canvasses. The explanation for this evolution proves to be surprisingly mundane.‖ Borremans says that. I sometimes force myself to wait a few days before realising it – until I have to paint. he has surprised audiences with much larger canvasses of up to 3 x 2 metres. ―I can‘t paint when I‘m lying on a beach. Art dominates Borremans‘ life. For instance. Then I clean the paint from the canvas and. and when the fire breaks out. . unlike some of his colleagues. he‘s not the kind of artist who assiduously works every day and follows a regular schedule. my themes often needed intimacy. realise that it‘s not good. For a year. fundamental reason. the smaller the chance you‘ll win. in my studio. that physically need those bigger dimensions. Whereas before. It‘s as simple as that. I need to prepare myself mentally.‖ Errors of judgement are part of the work.again. the next day.

I live in this day and age and use the means that are available. I can zoom in on details.‖ Using models. knocked at my door. props. stylistically. he started to create ―good work‖. unexpectedly. explaining that as a young student he was very ambitious.‖ Borremans‘ works almost always begin with a photograph. painter Luc Dondeyne. much more important. ―It‘s really positioned where a model would be. and convinced that he had a great career before him. ―I‘ve tried to make ‗a best of ‘. and I‘m more enthusiastic about my recent work. I‘m already painting at that point. it might be the world‘s error. he adds: ―I think you can already see the essence of my oeuvre in the early works.‖ It‘s only when that knowledge dawned on him that. and I realised after a while that it‘s not the most significant goal. ―In my mind. ―Making those drawings gave me great satisfaction. First drawings that spread his name in small but important art circles. but.‖ he explains.Almost all the works on view in the Bozar show were created after 2000. and later paintings that built his international reputation. I‘m taking photos. a couple metres away from my easel. That‘s normal. He didn‘t expect it anymore. The photos don‘t look like photos but more like paintings. ―And I was thinking: If I can‘t share them with the world. he stages a scene and subsequently takes multiple pictures of it. decors and costumes. I think that as a painter I have evolved and keep evolving in an interesting way.‖ And Borremans sees art-historical precedent for this. With a remote control. ―But it didn‘t happen. no?‖ Laughing. it was quite a surrealistic experience.‖ Borremans admits. a colleague of his at the school. ―I don‘t see this as a retrospective of my whole career. but that‘s not the case anymore‘?‖ Becoming serious again. ―Where painters before used to make sketches as preliminary studies.‖ he says.‖ Borremans worked as a teacher at the Secondary School for the Arts in Ghent for more than a decade before his work began to make waves. ―That‘s true. he says. he adds: ―Can you imagine me saying: ‗I used to make great works. Being able to create the work you want to is much. For him. he looks at his computer screen. they‘re more primitive.‖ . I had already accepted my fate when success. ―It‘s an essential tool.‖ When he ultimately begins painting. to the point of arrogance. Last year. told Flanders Today: ―I remember the moment he became a star in the international art world.

June 02. she won‘t fall for you. For while the adults obliviously indulge in food and drink. 2005 http://www. Borremans. there has been a tendency toward earthly realism. however. the guests and the bride and groom are clearly enjoying themselves. it is frequently realism with a twist.com/l_FT_2005_06_02. In the European North. Such is the case with Michaël Borremans' drawings. underlying the joyous scene of fun and revelry is a message about self-control. a prolific 42-year-old artist from Belgium. often depicting debauchery and corporal excess.htm Throughout the history of the art of Northern Europe. One of his best-known paintings. Sixteenth-century Flemish artist Pieter Bruegel painted highly detailed. mundane scenes of peasant life. The Peasant Wedding (1567). If you go after her too aggressively. responsibility and moderation. using . EVOCATIVE IMAGERY A detail from Borremans' The Swimming Pool (2001). a child in the foreground sneaks a gulp or two of spirits.His laughter fills the room. ―It‘s like with a woman. there is always more to a work of art than meets the eye. However. creates fastidious drawings in subtle tones. currently on view at the Cleveland Museum of Art. features a humble wedding feast where food and wine are abundant. * REALISM WITH A TWIST Questioning the nature of reality with Belgian artist Michaël Borremans by LYZ BLY Wednesday.newsenseonline.

The scale of the human figures shifts as the drawing series progresses. Borremans' imagery is evocative of contemporary events. welltailored jacket is rendered in camouflage. And. ironic wit is ultimately apparent. the artist wrote in script. far removed from reality. causing the viewer to question which of the humans is ―real. nondescript building.‖ The ambiguity of the term ―you‖ makes it unclear whom Borremans is labeling a con man — himself? The viewer? Or is he underscoring the treachery of the man in the drawing? The interaction between viewers and Borremans' drawings is never straightforward. ―You are one yourself. a white male figure is seated before of large-scale model of a simple architectural structure. and the man peers intently through binoculars. ―People must be punished. Conman is a drawing of a well-groomed white man straight out of a 1950s magazine advertisement. In The House of Opportunity (The Chance of a Lifetime). The Swimming Pool depicts a young white man's face and naked torso being painted with the statement. pen and ink as his media of choice. Like the work of his predecessors. the subject matter frequently relates to current events. we are used to identifying with human figures in works of art. clearly. Borremans recognizes that as viewers. his drawings have layers of personal and cultural meaning and symbolism. while the human subjects of his works are reminiscent of Western white men and women from the 1940s and '50s. Beneath the drawing of the camouflaged everyman is the word ―conman. as miniature human forms pepper the tabletop around the model.watercolor.‖ and which are models. The artist's droll. and the architectural model is displayed in a large. yet no blood seeps . there is a range of human figures of all different sizes.‖ and which are contrived elements of architectural models. all drawings are simply representational. gouache. In The Journey (True Colors). which appear to be bullet holes.‖ And below the word. Borremans also toys with the idea of artistic illusion by truncating highly detailed figures so that they take on the form of portrait busts or legless portrait sculptures. But his trim. yet his legs have been cut off at the hip. this is the brilliance of his work. and he undermines this by making it unclear to us which of the figures in the drawing are ―human.‖ Beneath the phrase are four holes in the young man's chest. The man's flesh appears lifelike. Borremans frequently distorts the sense of scale in his drawings. which have recently often been tied to the body. The effect created by the sundry-sized people is interestingly disconcerting.

Antwerp . who wear starched. the drawing is eerily prescient in light of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. And. formal suits and rapt expressions. it is also imperative that we do so. this scenario is all too familiar. 1998. interspersed with the occasional ruddy red or cool blue. complex and unfathomable. 10 November 2011 Various ways of avoiding visual contact with the Outside World using yellow isolating tape. the world we inhabit is multilayered. While it is difficult to examine the things that cause anguish and anxiety. He is a master of watercolor and ink. given the contemporary global political milieu. and the constant flow videotapes of hostages in Iraq begging for their lives at the feet of their captors. While the work is stunning. the drawings have a photographic quality. as he creates rich scenes with subtle gray-and-black hues. Michaël Borremans. From a distance. At times. His suffering becomes spectacle.from them. like Borremans' drawings. the image of the men. unfortunately. which depicts two white men engaged in a sort of game or competition with an unidentified phallic object or weapon. as with Friendly Rivalry. The mood evoked by the work is apt. the dimly lit galleries in which the exhibition is mounted exacerbate this effect. appears to be a photo clipped from an old newspaper. Courtesy Tim Van Laere Gallery. they are also stunningly beautiful. The scene is made even stranger by a swimming pool full of miniature people who stare at the young man as if watching a movie at a drive-in theater. Borremans' drawings are not only smart. it is also sobering and at times disturbing. Created in 2001.

Inv.Carnadines (details). Los Angeles The Present. Antwerp . 2011. Courtesy Zeno X. 2003. 2002-5 Four Fairies. Private collection. 2001.

2002 .Drawing.

2002 Private collection Twenty-Thee Metaphors. Bonheiden. 1999 Courtesy J.Morrens. 2001 Courtesy Hauser und Wirth. St Gallen Proposal for a wall and ceiling decoration. Belgium .Kit-The Conversation.

2003 Courtesy Zeno X.In the Louvre – The House of Opportunity. Antwerp . 2003 Courtesy The Judith Rothschild Foundation The House of Opportunity (The Chance of a Lifetime).

time and history themselves also play a crucial part: he often derives inspiration from newspapers.The Swimming Pool. In fact. unusual close-ups. they are a way for Borremans to reflect. 2001 Courtesy Zeno X. Antwerp Michaël Borremans is a Belgian painter who has always made drawings. Borremans thus very consistently keeps to the very thin line between reality and historical illusions that is so characteristic of his work. to set the imagination in motion. In addition. Like his painting. and to elaborate ideas or projects which will probably never be implemented. magazines and photographic archives from the first half of the twentieth century. books. Borremans‗ drawings introduce the viewer to a sombre universe in which solemn-looking characters. * Enigma Variations Michaël Borremans explores the potent significance of painting and drawing with grim humour and surreal clarity . and unsettling still lifes cohabit.

shadowed browns and exhausted greys. The Pupils (2001). Which.Michaël Borremans. The time of year in his paintings and drawings appears to be winter. the Belgian artist Michaël Borremans‘ preoccupations include sausages. shelves. one that enjoys a well-shaped bow on a well-cut dress. cheese and modified mouths. decapitation and severed hands. his fleshy. In other words. laboratories. For . He also has a lighter side. torsos and butter. permanently stuck in what could only loosely be described as a futuristic 1930s or ‘40s. Blank-faced men and women stilled forever in a state of inscrutable self-absorption inhabit skewed environments where a beautiful lack of logic is rendered with the precision of a bureaucrat with a penchant for poetry and punishment. oil on canvas. skin and milk. hair. as descriptions go. clarity and simplicity live alongside extreme confusion in Borremans‘ pictures. Nothing is consistent in these meticulous hallucinations: even time is confused. porcelain figurines and telescopes. sunless palette is both lush and weirdly austere. a place where a dark humour tugs at a melancholy upper register. 70x60cm Like a cryptic murderer with a hearty appetite. full of oily. isn‘t so unlike everyday life.

have seemed more remarkable had I not spent the previous few hours looking at drawings with titles such as 24 Chopped Heads Pronouncing the Word ‗Kaas‘ Simultaneously (1999– 2000) or Various Ways of Avoiding Visual Contact with the Outside World Using Yellow Isolating Tape (1998). in degrees and variations. illogic and cruelty as by fair-minded reason. young men in neat haircuts and uniform coats examine the faces of a row of decapitated heads (The Pupils. in Geraardsbergen in Belgium. He was born 18 years after the end of World War II. they can also be gruesomely funny: rendered with the matter-of-fact precision of drawings from a Boy‘s Own adventure magazine from 60 years ago.000 virgins) was returned to the city after a long exile in Russia. 2001). Although Borremans is reticent about ascribing precise meanings or readings to his work – he has said ‗a painting is not just an image: it is an object. more recently. thought struck me: that a measured approach to lunacy isn‘t simply the prerogative of art. The tragicomic mood of such odd couplings is both tempered and exacerbated by the sense of indifference that emanates from perpetrators and victims alike – which only serves to emphasize the . Since the war this small kingdom has had to deal with the repercussions of post-colonialism and.example: on a recent trip to Basel to see an exhibition of works on paper by the artist I visited the local Kunsthistorisches Museum. 1999). To commemorate the occasion the bust was paraded through the streets. although many of Borremans‘ images portray chillingly dehumanized scenarios. a rainy medieval town with a dark past and a difficult present: it was occupied by the Germans. 2001). if appropriate. the busts of three orphans are delicately arranged on a shelf (Three Orphans on a Shelf. where I discovered that in 1955 a reliquary bust of St Ursula (who died in Cologne in the 4th-century. art. Even so. followed by 364 local girls called Ursula. and now lives in nearby Ghent. However. Borremans‘ take on the absurd is very particular. Walking back to my hotel through the reasonable Swiss lanes. supposedly alongside 11. bombed by the Allies and accused of collaboration. a woman examines a ceramic salami with forensic care (The Ceramic Salami. the resounding lack of reason that daily permeates our seemingly ordered lives. an obvious. a sketch for an enormous public monument includes severed penises being sucked by severed heads (Think or Suck. with the growth of right-wing political parties and xenophobia. in fact. can be very good at simply reflecting back what is. perhaps. with a multi-layered character‘1 – it is difficult not to conclude that the recent history of both Ghent and Belgium has influenced his perception of the human condition as being shaped as much by illusion. 1995). This would.

intentions of well-dressed men – men whose hearts are possibly as dead and as difficult to read as a star‘s. these passive. that we are not privy to. tactile softness. In Four Fairies Borremans has. some of the figures are painted in loose. what could be more nightmarish than a populace oblivious to either its own pain or the pain it inflicts on others? In Borremans‘ painting The Constell-ation (2000). But of what? Of war? Of our all too human failing to see each other as complete? Or is the painting simply a reiteration of what painting can do – raise fictions from oil paint. The title of the painting points its meaning into a more particular direction: for centuries it was commonly believed that constellations of stars influenced events. after all. yet here the heavenly canopy has been made redundant by the ambiguous. They see something. obviously. on which are arranged the deadpan torsos of other men and a single faint outline of the bust of a schoolgirl reading a book. dramatists and artists into science‘s cold laboratory. where their existence was disproved and so infantilized. heathen dead or the unconscious made flesh. contemplating the empty space in front of them. resurrected a debilitated symbol to serve its original purpose as a hybrid indicator of dispossession or dislocation. which in this case have sprung not yet whole from the medium of their own making? The title of the painting again adds another dimension to its reading. Painted in the manner of an exquisite. pale yellow and creamy white paint depict a sober room of men in suits standing to attention beside a table. the women are oblivious to the fact that they are severed in two and are arranged on a simple dark surface like sick trophies. Their patient faces are painted with near-reverent delicacy. dressed and coiffed in the fashion of the 1940s. fallen angels. ghost-like strokes and are less tangible than others. so real. the period evoked a time in Europe when the most unimaginable of crimes were planned in elegant rooms over tea. incomplete women/fairies allude not only to the 20th-century‘s state-condoned cruelties but also to the unresolved tension that still . Before the 20th-century fairies were variously perceived as the symbolic leftovers of a displaced people. in a sense. In the 19th-century photography propelled them from the imagination of folklorists. however. for example. and possibly sinister. their clothes executed with a concentrated. overwhelms the almost photographic realism of their depiction – like Surrealist monuments. The scene is unfathomable. which portrays three women and one young girl. antiquated Photorealism. So far. elegiac washes of brown. Similar in mood is the painting Four Fairies (2003). one thing.pictures‘ bewildering atmosphere.

a magazine or a second-hand shop – often prompts the composition of a painting or drawing. the woman holds . declaring ‗I don‘t like most contemporary painting. In One at the Time (2003). again in white coats. Which is not to say that the artist rejects photography outright (in fact. are black – are again dressed in white coats and stare impassively at a cloth-covered table on which seem to be floating three white shelves. Cinema has also been for Borremans what he describes as a ‗suggestive element‘3 – especially the work of directors who explore the vagaries of expressive potential and human contradiction. which he then manipulates to his own ends. a particularly impenetrable painting. the only words visible are ‗the time of …‘. such as Luis Buñuel. however. the manipulations of power and the inviolable enigma of painting – is expressed. it is constantly reinvented in the mind of the viewer. Like stills from a nonexistent film. and Surrealism (I suspect he admires its followers‘ ability to reflect on reality while remaining clear about their own confused status within it). a hand might echo the enigmatic nature of painting. A large proportion of what is currently being produced is quite bad.exists between photography‘s will to truth and the potentially mythic and imaginary dimensions that painting might still explore. sit writing on what appears to be a large blackboard. but much – especially a horror of didacticism. say. unusually for the characters in Borremans‘ paintings. its relationship to history at best suggestive. The difference between the way he employs his source material and the finished product obviously lies in painting‘s rejection of narrative. Borremans‘ images free-float in an endlessly deferred imaginary space in which nothing is resolved. two men and a woman – who. Again and again people dressed like lab technicians examine blank surfaces: two women in white coats scrutinize an empty table-top in The Table (2001).‘2 His influences are obscure church pictures. A photograph – one he has taken himself or found on the Internet. Borremans trained as an etcher and photographer). apparently futile endeavour in which the enigmatic gesture of. He is fascinated by the fact that. Andrei Tarkovsky and Alfred Hitchcock. One of painting‘s attractions for Borre-mans is that its descriptions are illusory. and thus the experience of looking at it is nailed to the present. dismissive of its present state. various artists from the Renaissance to the mid-20th century. In The Saddening (2001) three women. a Sisyphean world of endless. He is. even when a painting was made a long time ago. Not all of Borremans‘ pictures describe cruel scenarios: many combine a benign thoughtfulness with descriptions of bizarre and seemingly meaningless responsibility.

in Conman (2003) a man with binoculars wearing a camouflaged cardigan gazes off into the distance beneath the inscription ‗Conman. are made with watercolour. with a job we know nothing about.4 The commingling of ideas of power and perception here (of armies. Borremans has stated: ‗When I draw. gouache. I consider drawings mostly as autonomous works of art … I can‘t live without drawing. Similarly.a small. resists the platitudes and quick conclusions so familiar to a society spoon-fed on what the artist describes as ‗the deformed picture of reality‘ inflicted on it by the mass media. at its best. in the series of paintings and drawings ‗Trickland‘ (2002) figures kneel in a gloomy model landscape. journeys. I create my own reality. Many of them reveal a technical skill accomplished enough to evoke a wrinkled lip or a faint blush in a face smaller than a child‘s fingernail. but it‘s a beauty that appears suspicious of its own good looks. It is my way of dealing with reality. once again. of artists. They tend to describe proposals for crazy monuments. for example. torture and – overwhelmingly – the indifference of crowds.6 The hushed sepia-saturated universe he so unnervingly describes may be made up of illusions that mirror our own back on ourselves. It is a kind of escape: when I feel uncomfortable in certain situations. the painting itself as much a land of tricks as a military map. in The Present (2001) a woman tenderly dribbles into the open mouth of a severed head in box. who is having his chest inscribed with the words ‗people must be punished‘. which. which are busy. flat white shape in her hand. yet with his . photographs and pages from notebooks and calendars. each of Borremans‘ pictures celebrates the still potent and complicated cultural significance of painting and drawing. on envelopes. of viewers. I have no systematic plan. their sensitivity and subtlety verge on the beautiful. their gazes focused on their hands. in The Swimming-Pool (2001) people frolic in a swimming-pool oblivious to the giant blank-faced man above them. of history) becomes dizzyingly complex and unstable. Apparently this series was based on a photograph from an ‗illustrated magazine published by the US military forces after World War II‘. in A Mae West Experience (2002). aspects of modelmaking. ink. old book covers. often tiny images. pencil and occasionally coffee stains. In this sense the artist divulges a great sense of play.‘5 The ‗multi-layered‘ character of his images is perhaps even more complex in these ferociously delicate. a giant model of Mae West overwhelms a tiny crowd deafened by the loudspeakers embedded in her body. You are one yourself‘. which. like elaborate doodles. doppelgängers. that is different when I paint. However grim or ridiculous the scenario.

THE TYMPANON PLAYER (2). 2000. of course. p. oil on canvas. 3 Ibid. 1 Peter Doroshenko. Hatje Cantz. 2005. Ostfildern. or of the scene outside their own window) as they are of the artist. 35 Jennifer Higgie. Hatje Cantz. p. co-editor of frieze. 2005. the implication that alternatives are as much the responsibility of the viewer (of art or of history. ‗Interview with Michaël Borremans‘. ‗Opaque Gestures: Michaël Borremans‘ SelfForgotten Painting‘. in Michaël Borremans: The Performance. Ostfildern. Cologne. 93 6 Jeffrey D. 4 Hans Rudolf Reust. 2004. ‗Michaël Borremans: People Must Be Punished‘.evident horror of authority Borremans offers no concrete alternative – save. Grove. 53 5 Doroshenko. p. 93 2 Ibid. p. Walther König. in Michaël Borremans Drawings. in Michaël Borremans: The Performance. 14 x 11¾in .

glas. 52 x 45. 11 3/8 x 11 1/8in SAD GIRL. 1998. oil on masonite. 1996. hout. olieverf op hardboard. stof. enamel.6 x 9 cm .TERROR IDENTIFIED (LOVE UNLIMITED): COLUMBINE.

THE TYMPANON PLAYER. Pencil and watercolor on paper. . 2000 "Terror Watch" (2002). 23 x 30 cm.

the individual and the collective.Michaël Borremans. or public spaces are negotiated as showplaces in which the positions of the observer and the observed are continually shifting. Museum. Eating The Beard Introduction From February 20 to May 1. which the artist presents to us with its wealth of instability. Realism and the fantastic the transient and the manifest. or cinema. which are frequently small-format and intimate. desire and angst. theater. They are teeming with contrary references and allusions that offer the viewer a multitude of possible interpretations while avoiding any manner of consolidation into a coherent whole. or monuments are much too large to be adequately viewed by the miniscule onlookers. freedom. performances. They show model worlds which emerge as an image within the image while being observed by giant spectators or depict people who are immersed in the acts modeling and constructing or in peculiar experiments. Again and again things end up bypassing each other. drafts of stage design or projects for public space. and filmic works from the past ten years. reality and scenery. drawings. hark back to positions and genres from art history as well as to the pictorial languages of photography. and the controllability of the world. irony and disturbance are all closely interwoven within his visual worlds while simultaneously precluding one another. control and loss. theater. by formations and deformations. Other drawings in turn seem to reflect storyboards for films. in which exhibitions. the moral and the abysmal. there will be a series of new works that are being exhibited in Germany for the first time. Being shown are illusions of identity. 2011 the Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart is presenting a comprehensive solo exhibition with over one hundred works by Belgian artist Michaël Borremans. The scenarios composed by Borremans in his pictures. Alongside paintings. In his works. The paradoxical pictorial spaces of his drawings are permeated by contrary perspectives and proportions. addressing rather the conceivable than the realizable. Borremans traces the contradictions and conflicts of human existence: between self-assertion and dissolution. In contrast with the frequently busy scenarios found in his drawings. .

Borremans‘ paintings all resemble still lifes. Following the presentation at the Württembergischer Kunstverein. this reference is explicitly clear. almost as a reference to the filmic apparatus itself. in turn. paintings. human figures from varying angles: isolated beings who establish a relationship neither to their pictorial surroundings nor to the viewer. At the same time.‖ Instead. in which there seldom seems to be any activity going on—at least if we encounter them with the customary expectations of film images and filmic narration. Others. Got Lost A piece by Helmut Lachenmann With costumes by Michaël Borremans Staatsoper Stuttgart (zeitoper spezial) in cooperation with the Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart Venue: Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart Michaël Borremans work is posited between mediums in visual arts and neighboring disciplines. he probes the margins of the various mediums. their veiled faces reminiscent of death masks. thereby referencing the foundation for the Western body image starting in Renaissance times: anatomy. his exhibition in Stuttgart has lent an occasion for unique collaboration between Borremans and composer Helmut Lachenmann. though they in fact are showing. In fact. strange hybrids between people and furniture or other objects. or with geneses among ―draft. one of his recent large-format paintings.‖ and ―finished work. the it will travel to the Kunsthalle Budapest (Műcsarnok). The exhibition is to be accompanied by a catalogue published by Hatje Cantz Verlag. body fragments or their shells. meaningful. or absurd—the backgrounds and consequences of which remaining completely ambiguous. his filmic works also emanate a feel of the still life. allude to corpses laid out for view. Borremans‘ drawings. Repeatedly. Against this backdrop. they execute gestures or actions—at times banal. whose illusionary effects are concurrently reversed. Borremans focuses on the body immobilized by the image. but without dealing merely with formal ―translations‖ between the mediums. having come to fruition thanks to the . and filmic works are strongly interlinked. appearing as objects in vitrines. The characters appear disengaged from all temporal or spatial contexts. In The Nude (2010). The minimal actions of the protagonists seem to be mechanical.‖ ―preliminary study. in most cases.

the artist has also designed the costumes for the performance.4 x 30.. "The spirit of modelmaking" (2001). 12.. This event will not only be taking place in the exhibition and in dialogue with works by Borremans. "The Reference" (2007).got lost.initiative of Xavier Zuber..0 cm.5 x 9. Pencil and watercolor on paper.. Pencil and watercolor on cardboard. 27. head dramaturge at the Staatsoper Stuttgart. Three evenings will see a special performance of Lachenmann‘s piece .2 cm.. .

Oil on canvas. The Shirt. 2002. oil on canvas."Pony" (2009). 50 x 40 cm. 16 1/2 x 19 5/8 in .

and an ongoing quest to find new ways to create illusions. the flaws. bittersweet chuckle and a thick puff of smoke – and when it lifts. off to create the next set of illusions. he often creates larger scenarios. Charged with the same surreal. free will or clear missions in life. universal types he initially found and ‗borrowed‘ from old magazines and other media have by now made way for intricately planned and highly detailed scenarios the trained photographer shoots first with actual models and then translates into the unique figurative language he employs as a painter. the terror. Borremans is already gone. and the tragedy. this perpetual state of suspense that makes his work endlessly captivating. http://www. all of this weight is ultimately counterbalanced by a heavy.net/t/278136/soon-a-title-here/840 . the futility. whether found or not. this cloud of smoke. ideally. the more layers and dimensions he adds. his source materials. a glass of champagne. the more things become unclear. unequal power relations and oppression. a reflection on the various traditions of his media. Self-taught – although he calls Baroque portrait master Diego Velázquez his teacher – he keeps returning to the human figure and the sometimes unbearable weight attached to human existence: the fears.styleforum. in his free hand. clinical and uncanny situations charged with deformity. unsettling and almost ‗Lynchian‘ quality (Borremans‘ Trickland is especially reminiscent of Benjamin Horne‘s futile endeavors). his tekeningen.Whereas in his small-scale drawings. Forcing the viewer to deal with philosophical questions about rituals of interpretation and meaning. The futile tasks carried out by the generic. the turmoil. Luckily. his paintings and more recent minimalist film works mostly focus on human beings devoid of individuality. are the starting point for an open-ended dialogue with his artistic forbears. It is this lack of clarity. and painfully so.

62 X 15.01 cm) people must be punished . 19.83 X 40.75 in (49.Coat. oil on canvas.

though on closer inspection they appear rather to be carved out of marble with a sharp chisel. while the perforation of the chest is replaced by the carving into . 2001 INNOCENT Our eye is attracted as if by a magnet to that enigmatic brush that seems to be delicately writing letters on the bare skin. Our attention is diverted from the horrific act that goes with this because we only see the scars. pencil.Borremans Michaël. They look like bullet holes. watercolour on cardboard.0 x28. but their positions at the corners of a square remind us of the screws with which a marble or copper memorial plaque might be attached. 'The swimming pool' 34.2 cm. It is only when we realize that this aggressive act is obscured by the replacement of the chisel with a brush that we are struck by the fact that there are holes in the chest too.

raises itself with superiority above what is occurring.though life-sized . The fact that the culprit vanishes outside the frame points out to us that this event is drawn on a screen in a picture. On the contrary: the piercing and chiselling under the cover of painting . and this by the real artist who looks down on the closed space beneath him from a higher vantage point . This whitewash is accomplished in that the gaze that looks down from this heights unexpectedly descends into the body of the spectator on the swimming pool down below. on which the gaze. the guilty hand . hidden from view outside the picture. chisels onto his victim the verdict that is surely more applicable to the painter himself. through the eyes and with inactive arms. while the gaze. So the rejection of the guilty hand is accompanied by a telescopic outward surge of the space: the isolated hand remains on a giant screen in the background of a swimming pool down below.the flesh. the innocent activity of the swimmers. liberated from its guilty act. now freed from its guilty hand.note the box he has sketched in the border above the drawing: In this space. itself now disguised as painting on the skin which the victim can now undergo without complaint. The sense of this inflation only becomes clear to us when we understand that the transition from doing to looking does not remove the guilt. to watch. This painting hand in its turn diverts our attention from the painter who. ultimately looks down from a gigantic body.remains as an image on the rear wall of a swimming pool.

the counterpart to the inflation of the artist to the almost cosmic proportions of a supreme observing god. After all.into insignificant earthworms.Nietzsche's Vielzuvielen . their misdeed is limited to their sheer existence. Only then do we realise how unfounded it is to legitimize the act of punishment by the behavior of those being punished . So the words chiselled in red letters on the chest verbally belie what is visually presented."people must be punished". September 2013 THE DEVILS DRESS. © Stefan Beyst. in the reduction and multiplication of that one victim on the giant screen to wriggling ants in the swimming pool: the deflation of the countless masses . 2011 .celebrates its triumph in the optical dimension.


.5cm Michaël Borremans takes on an ambitious challenge in the form an exhibition devoted to a singular subject. oil on canvas 36.3x30. inducing a sensitive relation between the viewer and the depicted figure. with 8 paintings of girls attending to their handiwork. This is also accompanied by a new moving image work upon the same theme. Each work is a distillation of the flow of time and light.―Girl with Hands 2‖. 2013.

nomenusquarterly. so increasingly abstract financial instruments become an autonomous sphere of circulation whose end is nothing other than itself. however. this relationship has been transformed by the appearance of a new form of capitalism: finance capitalism. which now constitute wealth. In previous forms of capitalism -. The structure and development of financial markets and the art market mirror each other. the rate of circulation accelerates and the floating signifiers. As Andy Warhol declared almost four decades ago. in finance capitalism. proliferate. by contrast.agricultural.com/forum. As art becomes a progressively abstract play of nonreferential signs. ―Business art is the step that comes after Art.‖ During the past several decades. industrial and consumer -people made money by buying and selling labor and material goods. When investment becomes more speculative.php?page=2 Art and money have always been inseparable.IS MODERN FINANCE RUINING MODERN ART? BY MARK C TAYLOR http://www. When the overall economy moves from industrial and consumer . wealth is created by circulating signs backed by nothing other than other signs.

became the social marker for individuals aspiring to rise above the middle class. but the U. art. Warhol‘s artistic appropriation of the images and icons of consumer culture put on display both the machinations of consumer capitalism and commodification of art that was so vigorously promoted by the burgeoning gallery system. The price of individual works escalated as quickly as the purported value of the financial securities with which they were being purchased. the private art market had reached $25 billion to $30 billion. In 2006. Virtual Versus Real At the end of these interrelated trajectories. When Warhol proclaimed art to be business and business to be art. and more than two dozen galleries were doing $100 million in sales annually. Not only had the center of the art world shifted from Europe to New York.S. the system implodes and the real returns. he was acknowledging the overwhelming importance of postwar consumer culture. From 2002 to 2006. the two leading auction houses. honorary chairman of the board of the Museum of Modern Art. this market more than doubled. According to reliable estimates. China. from $25. This phenomenal growth in the art market was not limited to the U. The work of many of the most influential artists of the era both reflected and promoted American values and power at home and abroad. Christie‘s International and Sotheby‘s. But even Warhol could not have anticipated the explosion of the art market by the turn of the millennium.S. and the financialization of art. Ronald Lauder. reported combined sales of $12 billion. the corporatization of art. But just when the circuit seems to be complete. Global capitalism created a global art market. With increasing economic prosperity. India and the Middle East. the real seems to have become virtual and the virtual appears to be real. whose collection and exhibition had long been limited to the church and aristocracy.capitalism to finance capitalism. This astonishing growth was fueled by emerging markets in Russia. had become the world‘s dominant economic and military power.3 billion to $54. by 2006. There are three stages in this process: the commodification of art. purchased Gustav Klimt‘s ―Portrait of . art undergoes parallel changes.9 billion.

One year later. High and Low . however. a few enterprising artists have transformed the corporation itself into a work of art. Koons‘s art is crafted to reassure.can be understood in two ways. which was the highest price ever paid for a work by a living artist. companies hire full. While Warhol‘s work unsettles. remarkable craftsmanship characterizes Koons‘s art. Whether pornographic figurines or cute flower puppies.‖ he once told a reporter. their history. His exquisitely crafted works have become precious objects whose worth is measured by their rapidly rising exchange value. In many cases. removed hand from work.‖ What is surprising is how many seemingly intelligent and sophisticated people have been taken in by this erstwhile stockbroker. many major corporations have appropriated the age-old practice of attempting to increase their prestige by purchasing and displaying art.the corporatization of art -.Adele Bloch-Bauer I‖ for $135 million. and their potential. a critical difference between Warhol and Koons. ―I just try to do work that makes people feel good about themselves. Unapologetically embracing banality and freely admitting his ignorance of art history. The next stage in the development of the art market -. There is. where his cast of assistants fabricates whatever he imagines. Koons does not move beyond the commodification of art. which at the time was the highest price ever paid for a single painting.6 million. so Koons further mechanizes the means of production. Jeff Koons‘s ―Hanging Heart‖ sold at auction for $23. What began in Warhol‘s Factory in the 1960s ends in Koons‘s factory. Just as Warhol. Second. Flower Puppies Koons is the poster boy for this frenzied commodification of art. Neither Koons nor his art gives any hint of the irony and parody that lend Warhol‘s art its edge. Koons sounds more like Joel Osteen than Marcel Duchamp: ―I realized you don‘t have to know anything and I think my work always lets the viewer know that. in the past two decades.or part-time advisers and consultants to develop their collections. reacting to abstract expressionists. and more interesting. First. Having learned his trade on the floor of commodity exchanges.

The most interesting example of the corporatization of art is the work of the Japanese artist Takashi Murakami.000 limitededition Louis Vuitton handbags. mouse pads. corporate image consultation. advertising company and a talent agency.‖ at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art included a fully operational Louis Vuitton boutique.‖ which allows clients (young artists) to exhibit their work for a fee.‖ Yet Murakami‘s corporatization of art does not express the fundamental economic transformation that has taken place since the late 1960s. As the artist and photographer Walead Beshty has observed. which currently employs some 70 people. toy manufacturing and high fashion -. today‘s overheated art market can help us understand the recent collapse of the overleveraged global . ―the delirious intricacy of Murakami‘s unrepentant entrepreneurialism‖ is hard not to appreciate.. advertising agencies and leading corporations. His ability to mold productions (and services) to varying scale into an ornate constellation is as mesmerizing as his willingness to almost selflessly dissolve his own business complex. One of the primary functions of this novel entity is the organization of a biannual art fair in Tokyo. In 2001. But he has also expanded his artistic practice to create a commercial conglomerate that is functionally indistinguishable from many of today‘s media companies. His 2007-2008 exhibition. In ways that are not immediately obvious. Kaikai Kiki‘s ―tentacles extend into a network of alliances spanning the entertainment industry. Like Warhol and Koons. and the production and promotion of merchandise. he created Kaikai Kiki Co. This is as true in the art market as it is in the stock market. cell-phone holders and even $5.this aside from the production of art objects. key chains. ―© Murakami. the management and support of select young artists. Murakami collapses high and low by appropriating images from popular culture to create oversized sculptures and his signature ―Superflat‖ paintings. According to the company website.‖ The products marketed range from more-or-less traditional paintings. general management of events and projects. ―GEISAI. Murakami dubbed his for-profit corporation a work of art. As financial capitalism expands. the production of tangible goods is increasingly displaced by the invention of intangible products. Having formed a hybrid of a media corporation. the goals of this enterprise ―include the production and promotion of artwork. sculptures and videos to T-shirts.

As we have seen. Each week brings another account of a newly rich hedge-fund manager buying art at a ridiculously inflated price. the value of art assets has often risen faster than the value of real estate or financial assets. of course. obscures a more interesting and important development: The titans of finance capitalism are also transforming the art market through the financialization of art. developments in the art market have been following the changing investment strategies in financial markets. This growth has. . Take the example of mortgages. however. since the early 1980s. By 1993. the location and ownership of the painting have remained a mystery.economy. rather than as a consumer good. Immediately after taking possession of the painting. Speculators in the art market have recently established hedge funds and private equity funds for the purchase and sale of art.5 million. Though few have made the connection. Speculative History Speculating in art is not. The global growth in the art market parallels the worldwide spread of finance capitalism. These funds extend the principles of finance capitalism to art. This preoccupation with ―celebrity‖ collectors. They manage their art collections in much the same way they manage their portfolios. in a rising market the value of the derivative increases relative to the collateral on which it is based. The investment game changes significantly when art is regarded as a financial asset. In recent years. This investment strategy treats art like any other commodity purchased for speculative purposes. Since his death in 1996. new. been driven by the exponential increase in wealth among those who benefit most from the new financial system. mortgages have been securitized as collateralized mortgage obligations (CMOs) so that they could be bought and resold in secondary and tertiary markets. Japanese industrialist Ryoei Saito purchased van Gogh‘s ―Portrait of Dr. Gachet‖ in 1990 for the then-record price of $82. of course. While the value of these derivatives is supposed to be determined by the value of the underlying asset (the price of the real estate). In one of the most intriguing investment schemes in recent history. he secured it in a climate-controlled vault where it remained for seven years. Saito‘s financial empire had fallen apart.

As trading accelerates. for example. Some enterprising investors are applying this model to the art market.‖ Bundling Artworks This strategy securitizes works of art in the same way that CMOs securitize mortgages. creating a quasi-autonomous sphere of circulating signs in which value constantly fluctuates. Like investors in CMOs. commodity or artwork. Just as mortgages are bundled and sold as bonds. investors attempt to hedge their bets by trading derivatives using different variations of portfolio theory. When mortgages are bundled and tranched.. insofar as investors hedge bets by using portfolio theory. Treasuries or gold -. Investors in art funds could conceivably sell their shares. what matters is the statistical probability of its price performance within a specified time frame relative to other portfolio holdings. In other words. Furthermore. .and collect hedge-fund-like fees in the process. so works of art are bundled and sold as shares of a hedge fund. With this practice. derivatives (fund shares) and underlying assets (works of art) are once again decoupled. who know nothing about the actual real-estate holdings whose mortgages they own. or several works of art. which speculates in art rather than stocks. what is important is not the real value of the company. an investor owns an undivided interest in a group of art works. art funds aim to trade Picassos and Rembrandts the way hedge funds trade U.S. thereby creating secondary and tertiary markets.With the growing volatility of financial markets. charges an annual management fee equal to 2 percent of its assets and takes a 20 percent cut of profits once the fund clears a minimum hurdle. Bloomberg‘s Deepak Gopinath explains Hoffman‘s strategy: ―Melding art and finance. London financier Philip Hoffman. the value of any particular work of art is determined by its risk quotient relative to other works of art held by the fund. for example. investors in art hedge and privateequity funds know nothing about the actual artworks in which they are investing. the evaluation of risk has nothing to do with the value of a particular asset but is calculated using mathematical formulae to determine the statistical probability of defaults of the underlying mortgages. rather than owning an individual work of art. In these schemes. Hoffman‘s Fine Art Fund. has established Fine Art Management Services Ltd. the derivative drifts farther and farther from its underlying asset until the virtual and the real seem to be completely decoupled.

corporatization and financialization of art represent the betrayal of principles and values that have guided artists for more than two centuries. The commodification. Hirst mounted his own sale at Sotheby‘s in London at the precise moment that global financial markets were collapsing. like Jeff Koons. death is unavoidable. ―The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living‖ harbors a lesson worth noting: Reality might not be completely virtual after all. art and politics. One year later. artists . Critical Edge There are. If each era gets the art it deserves. satirizing or criticizing the market from which he nonetheless profits so handsomely. who is notable for his creation of works of art specifically designed for new financial markets. some critics who argue that Hirst.‖ The financial machinations surrounding the sale of this work were as complex and mysterious as a high-stakes private. A newspaper editorial in 2007 observed that Hirst ―has gone from being an artist to being what you might call the manager of the hedge fund of Damien Hirst‘s art. like the critics who promote it. predictably. Though the sale was an enormous financial success.equity deal. idealistic philosophers and romantic poets were forced to reconsider the interrelation of religion.‖ The most ostentatious example of his strategy was the production and marketing of his $100 million diamond-studded skull ironically titled ―For the Love of God.This financialization of art is a genuinely new phenomenon that even Andy Warhol could not have predicted. then the age of finance capitalism deserves the carcass of a rotting shark that no amount of formaldehyde can preserve. The notion of modern art and related ideas of the avant-garde emerged in Germany during the last decade of the 18th century. is. When religion and politics failed to realize what many imagined as the kingdom of God on Earth. and far from impossible. The most prominent representative of the financialization of art is Damien Hirst. the art of Koons and Hirst. in fact. it is clear that this unlikely event marked the end of a trajectory that had been unfolding since the end of World War II. In the wake of the failure of the French Revolution. While this argument is plausible in the case of Warhol. has lost its critical edge.

) Originally published by Bloomberg Media * INTERVIEW: MICHAEL BORREMANS by David Coggins In his current exhibition at David Zwirner gallery in New York. the market seems to be omnipotent. Goldsworthy. The crisis of confidence plaguing individuals and institutions is a crisis of faith. God and the imagination are -. art can redeem the world. If. Taylor is the chair of the Department of Religion at Columbia University. the collapse of finance capitalism creates the opportunity for a reassessment of values that extend far beyond money and art. With asset values rising at an unprecedented rate. is best known for paintings that engage past masters like Manet and Goya—but the haunted characters who inhabit them display a distinctly .one.as Wallace Stevens insisted -. criticism gives way to complicity in an economy that absorbs everything designed to resist it.‖ to be published March 20 by Columbia University Press. the Belgian artist Michaël Borremans is showing films that unfold at a radically slow pace. Borremans. corporate executive or hedge-fund manager. Turrell. But just at this moment of apparent triumph. We no longer know what to believe or whom to trust. Though profoundly unsettling. corporatization and financialization of art subvert the artistic mission that the 18th-century German critic Friedrich Schiller memorably described as the desire to transform the world into a work of art. This is the second of two excerpts from his new book ―Refiguring the Spiritual: Beuys. art might seem an unlikely resource to guide reflection and shape action. Barney. The commodification. Their tableau-vivant images could be mistaken for stills but for a flickering light or a figure‘s discreet breathing. At such a moment. Perhaps. the bubble bursts and everything must be re-evaluated. When the artist becomes a commodities trader. which more than two centuries later continue to shape our world. then perhaps art can create an opening that is the space of hope. The opinions expressed are his own. omniscient and omnipresent. by refiguring the spiritual. (Mark C. however. born in 1963.and philosophers fashioned new strategies.

DC Your paintings have such a physical quality. so the film is like a framed work. so I started experimenting. What I try to do with films comes out of the paintings. I‘m experimenting in the way I show them—mostly on an LCD flat screen which is framed. for example. My work is an answer to that. so the images are grainy. But the work is still more painting than film—the medium is film. I can‘t agree to it because they‘re really not meant for that. All the imagery of the 20th century and earlier is baggage we have to deal with. They appeal to your consciousness in a very open way. but the way I approach it is like painting. While painting. I use actual film [not video]. That‘s why the films are so unusual. David Coggins Your new exhibition features a number of recent films. DC Because the films are very slow. as he was preparing for the Zwirner show. When people ask me if they can screen the films publicly. That an artist lauded for his skill in painting and drawing should turn to the more impersonal surface of the cinematic image is a noteworthy shift—one that we addressed during my visit to his expansive studio in Ghent in January 2009. his first there since 2006. a dialogue with that. You can get some painterly qualities even though it‘s another language. The Storm [2006] is a 35mm projection of a live image. Mb Yes. DC In your paintings. .contemporary unease. Add and Remove [2002] is based on a painting from my first show at David‘s gallery. What can people who only know your paintings expect to see? Michaël Borremans I‘m showing a couple of older films. It‘s something I think about. and this frame is wooden. A filmed image has another quality—you use lenses. Do your films likewise refer to a cinematic history with its own traditions and allusions? MB I don‘t refer to these things intentionally—the references are there in all my work. you make references to the history of the medium—to Manet and Goya. as if they were prey to an uncertain fate. The rhythm is very important—they have to be as slow as breathing. you use lights. like going in and out of focus. My interest in film has always been there since I was young. DC So you can manipulate the cinematic qualities the same way you can manipulate the surface of a canvas or of paper? MB Yes. There are references to the history of art that are not specific. Was it hard to give up that painterly surface? MB Not really. it has its own poetry. I had the feeling that I needed a different element of light or movement. I‘m interested in cinematic esthetics.

That makes them durable. That‘s why you have these tiny figures. you provoke a kind of anarchy in the image. because the figures are familiar. and shifts in scale. My last show at David Zwirner [―Horse Hunting. In the drawings I use that a lot and make references to models. like a vanitas. like Manet. But of course there are figures you pick out. or don‘t make sense. Is there a tension that you‘re looking for? MB There‘s a dichotomy—there are two poles and you‘re in between them. but also in warfare. but you seem to resist that expectation. That the . but it can‘t be solved. There is a tension. But then you see that some parts of the paintings don‘t match. The images are unfinished: they remain open. Could you address scale. who you‘re so conscious about. DC Can you discuss the difference between narrative in painting and in film? In film we generally expect something to happen. Do you think that your work deals with the absurd so overtly? MB The actions are often senseless. ADVERTISEMENT DC Your drawings deal with figures that are extremely small. DC There‘s a mystery in your paintings that a viewer wants to solve. at first you expect a narrative. MB You can look at the films for two seconds or watch them straight through.‖ 2006] was really an intentional dialogue with Manet paintings like The Dead Toreador and The Execution of Maximilian. but it‘s not a game—it‘s like research. People have compared your work to Beckett‘s. they‘re like a presence. scientists use models. DC And he appeals to you as the beginning of modernist painting? MB He‘s an interesting figure because he‘s seen that way.DC With anyone in particular? MB Not really. for recognition. to test things. The works don‘t come to a conclusion in the way we expect them to. You invite people in but make an image that‘s ultimately unreadable. By playing with that and making it unclear. The model as a metaphor for our actions is very appealing to me. DC You often portray people carrying out activities that are fruitless. in your work? MB Scale is for reference. But at the same time he‘s also the last classic painter. In our society we use models to try things. DC Like an architectural model where a figure shows the scale? MB Yes. like in architecture. your paintings can be very large and your films are often projected life-size. and that aspect is just as important. With the paintings. But the work switches between an aspect of the absurd and a romantic connotation.

they serve the painting. like those based on the commedia dell‘arte. they‘re not individuals. I find them in paintings—I have a great interest in 17th-century portraits—but I don‘t want to refer to a specific artist or era. I try to place them in a space that is familiar yet undefined. or something that‘s beyond their control. DC You said that your figures are not individuals. but that was too recognizable. It‘s very strange. Do you try to make them seem universal? MB Yes. Is that another thing that just happened.‖ whatever that might be.‖ like in the spaceship in 2001: A Space Odyssey. MB That‘s true—but I don‘t do that intentionally. or did you set out to achieve it? MB Part of it is intentional. It‘s also why I sometimes paint porcelain figures. I never use black. MB I try to show figures—I don‘t want to use the word ―individuals‖. Overpowering colors create a language that‘s not useful to me. But you still can‘t quite place them in a certain era. Elsewhere they‘re in modern dress. The light is flickering.human being is a victim of his situation and is not free is a conviction of mine. where they have an ―Earth Light Room. I like portraying mankind that way. So it‘s an artificial environment. and that was absolutely not the idea. and now I usually work with models who pose for me. with a certain light—I call it my ―Earth Light Room. They have different elements from art history. They‘re archetypes. So I try to avoid that. DC There‘s a feeling in your work of invisible power. I have a room in my studio where I photograph them. It‘s just there. DC You sometimes include people in costumes that refer to World War II. I heard that the work was nostalgic. It‘s a completely still image of people sitting on chairs in costumes of shiny white that looks like the satin fabric in 17th-century paintings. I made my latest film Taking Turns [2009] there as well. That‘s why I choose very unsaturated colors. I used to make images that were based on photographs from the 1930s or ‘40s. DC You have a very restrained palette in your films and your paintings— like Dutch still-life paintings. InThe Storm it‘s just three people waiting. Now I‘m also having costumes made for my models so that they look more universal and more indefinable. In an image you want to provoke—but I try to balance the painting. of things the figures are waiting for and can‘t see. It‘s a room that‘s anonymous. DC Do you think it‘s possible today to make paintings that are not about . I try to enrich them by being non-specific. They‘re just sitting there breathing. Everything is mixed out of color but the colors don‘t play a starring role.

to a large extent. I hate to do it. The other is more opaque.painting? MB That‘s very hard.‖ Parasol Unit . four times before I‘m happy with the result. there are more similarities between painting and film than between painting and photography. three. I never buy paper. DC Your show in London at Parasol [―The Performance. You know you‘re dealing with film. But somehow I‘m losing interest in it. you need a crew and so many things can go wrong. is painting. with an artificial image. So one is translucent—though you really have to look carefully. like Pink Shoes (2005). You need to be organized. Before film. I can use it for my own purposes. like painting. You know you‘re dealing with an artifact. DC You‘re going to be working on drawings in Rome this spring. I work on found paper that doesn‘t look too artistic. but I have to do it. DC So will you be making more films? MB Yes. In one painting I did the background first and then the trousers and then the feet. Today film is more like painting than ever before. So sometimes I paint the same thing two. But film has a language of beauty. My sight is getting worse. but it‘s a terrible process. The medium is not free from that—it‘s very loaded. I like to work on a piece of paper that has a history that I don‘t know. With a photograph you look at the image without seeing the medium. in the other I did the reverse. It has become a medium that is not transparent—like painting. It‘s very appealing. But I can then have two results that I‘m happy with. like a technical experiment. Film itself is more and more rarely used for documentary purposes— everything is electronic or digital. When I have a subject I want to paint I don‘t succeed in painting it well enough all the time or the way I want it. so I don‘t trust it [laughs]. The work you refer to with the shoes—there I intentionally made the work in opposite order. Is that a form of questioning truth or how well we know what we‘re looking at? MB Those paintings are very different. Taking Turns went very smoothly. Is it difficult to shift back to making something by hand? MB I try to draw from time to time. though it wasn‘t like that when it was invented. I make paintings because my subject matter. That‘s why they use it for commercials. DC Is it surprising that you‘re making films? MB To me. painting was about storytelling. That‘s why I show them together. DC You‘ve made diptychs that at first appear to be two paintings of the same thing. Now film is about storytelling.

I always prefer to show less work than more. DC The Bodies 3 [2005] is a painting of two people in bed sleeping. It‘s kind of sinister. Women are softer. DC What about living painters. MB It‘s very difficult to install my paintings. He‘s so confident when he paints. it‘s like an overload of sugar. everything collapses—one work kills another. which included a painting that was 20 feet tall. are astonishing. They give you the shivers. But it doesn‘t seem very restful. but in painting there‘s a statement. you can formulate all kinds of ideas. It‘s the same when you install a big show. But I‘m putting together a book on all the paintings. 2005] looks a little bit like a pop music group. in 2006. I wanted to refer to death and playing dead. MB That‘s a strange painting. sometimes in unexpected places. He doesn‘t think about it—he just paints. MB Painting is like a stage. All the actors in the paintings [in the 2006 Zwirner show] are masculine. So there are a multitude of references. The men in the bed have pillows behind them. In the history of painting. Now his work is really sublime. and it‘s very hard. intimate works. to make something more interesting. like Manet did. MB One thing that‘s clear with Richter is that he‘s gotten better and better. It‘s fine to install one or two pieces or a small show. to your last show at Zwirner. Of course what we do is quite different. I really wanted to use painting like a stage. Psychologically. It‘s taken more seriously and in a different way. If I show too much. who are fighters. I like to refer to popular culture. DC And when you think of filmmakers that you admire—you mentioned Kubrick before—do you look at anybody in particular? . It‘s easier with the films. but I don‘t understand why—it‘s really impressive.Foundation for Contemporary Art. the whole show dealt with that. This creates a strange interference in the psychology of male figures. His simple. Drawing is very different—it doesn‘t have the weight of painting. where the work was fairly small. his portraits of his family. The combination of paintings and film gives you an opportunity to play. DC It was surprising to go from the show at Parasol. His latest work got criticized. Because they‘re soft again. though even small work can dominate a wall. He‘s an important painter and a very good one. 2005] was hung in a very personal way—different things at different heights. You notice his marks. like your compatriot Luc Tuymans? MB I‘m a big fan of his. One painting [The Appearance. it‘s the men who go to war. In drawing. DC You and Gerhard Richter are both painters who deal with photography.

as a filmmaker he‘s a great painter. Also. shot on video. Legs and hands: . 24-Mar. His latest one is great [Inland Empire. We have some similarities—like the way he tries to show something we cannot solve because it‘s against our nature. Michaël Borremans‘s exhibition ―Taking Turns‖ is on view at David Zwirner. 25]. It‘s so raw. New York [Feb.MB I look at David Lynch. His intuition is perfect. and the film really needed that.2007].




three black men. and Taking Turns. For this exhibition. a woman holds the torso of a life-sized . The Load (II). In the film. both which have been transferred to DVDs and viewed within wall-mounted wooden frames. Borremans has created five new paintings and is presenting three films: The Feeding. The Load (III). The films are shown alongside the exhibition‘s five oil on canvas paintings: The Apron.The Bodies (I). a 35mm film projector shows a loop of The Storm as a large-scale projection. are sitting slumped in chairs in the corner of a white. reaching close to 15 feet in height and 23 feet in width on the gallery wall. the gallery (519 West 19th Street) has been divided into two relatively equal spaces. The Feeding and Taking Turns. The Load. The Storm. 2005. Oil on canvas For the current show at David Zwirner. empty room. The second gallery space introduces an intimate presentation of two other 35mm films. In The Feeding. In Taking Turns. Upon entering the first space. The harsh light of a naked bulb alters the shot by modifying the intensity of the shadows moving imperceptibly on the surface of the wall. the three figures from The Storm reappear. standing around enormous reams of white cardboard that give the impression of levitating above a table covered with a spotless cloth in the middle of a room. 60 x 80 cm. Earthlight Room. wearing identical cream-colored uniforms (a mix of work clothes and stage costumes).

mannequin, and slowly moves and spins the torso on top of a horizontal surface. There is an ambiguity between what is real and what is artificial, as their two faces and figures overlap and rotate in the film‘s frames. Once again, the theme of the double, or the doppelganger, is a device encountered throughout Borremans‘ oeuvre. Formally and thematically, Borremans‘ films are closely related to his twodimensional work. They are shifting ‗tableaux vivants‘ with poetic titles, in which the artist very gradually, with subtle camera work, creates an oppressive atmosphere. He uses a fixed camera position or deliberately zooms in on certain details of the scenery, body parts, faces, or clothing. With slight light-dark fluctuations, flowing edited shots or the repetition of certain actions, Borremans builds up a gripping but subdued suspense.

Michael Borremans: drawings
This exhibition combines two travelling shows by the Belgian artist Michael Borremans (b. 1963), one of drawings, the other of paintings. Michael Borremans (b. 1963, Geraardsbergen) is meticulous and guarded when it comes to his drawing. He meticulously creates insinuating drawings, and guardedly sees to it that no one is able to read any allembracing intention into these drawings. He has the same distaste for the

story behind the illustration as for ‗the distortion of reality with which the mass media bombard us every day‘.

In his drawings, Michael Borremans regularly reflects on contemporary mass culture. In his small drawings he brings the viewer face-to-face with the ‗historical illusions‘ that underlie present-day society, and shows us the deceit and indifference of the world around us. His work is concerned with the illusions he perceives around him, illusions about political choices, personal freedom and the individual‘s ability to act in this complex world. In order to communicate the illusions to the viewer as clearly as possible, he lards his drawings with a beguiling aesthetic and a degree of provocation. Explicit references to art history and cultural tradition play a very important part in this. His drawings include a variety of genres such as the portrait, the bust, the death mask, the monument and the memorial. In addition to this he also refers to those places where works of art are

Borremans thus very consistently keeps to the very thin line between reality and fantasy that is so characteristic of his work. This is clearly to be seen from the fact that in his drawings he regularly portrays the viewers themselves as small figures on pedestals. and magazines and picture books from the thirties to the fifties. Lastly. In addition. he also reflects on the different ways of staging art that were developed in the course of recent art history: the diorama in the 19th century. In addition to these aspects of Borremans‘ drawing. which he finds either in their original form or on the Internet. photography before the digital era. such as the studio. This contrast between reality and fantasy is also expressed in Borremans‘ own perception of his drawing. seeking . The execution of these drawn preliminary studies will however never reach the stage of ‗actual‘ reality. He sees them as a sort of proposal for interventions or installations in public space. Since he invariably classes public interventions as ‗acts of aggression‘. By playing with this idea as such. At the same time the age and aesthetics of these sources of images seems to be transferred to his drawings by means of the colours too. the museum or public space. Borremans uses images that are available in massive numbers. In most cases they are 19thcentury photographs. Borremans again and again concerns himself with the distance between what we call reality and artistic fantasy or imagination.usually shown. time and history themselves also play a crucial part. He makes regular use of early sources of images on which to base his drawings. He may for example show the clothing and hairdressing fashions of the time. he prefers to ‗limit‘ its execution to a model. which makes the work seem in a way sincerely retrospective. and the large video projections that one encounters at the present time. almost artificial representatives of the work‘s real viewers. the question of reality and illusion runs like a thread through these drawings.

The choice of this sort of material emphasises the fact that the works have not grown out of nothing. Only a very small number of drawings are done only in pencil. in order to continue correcting and deepening it layer by layer. the remains of picture mounts. and the artist repeatedly allows his drawing hand to return to the surface itself. covers torn off books. René Magritte and Thierry De Cordier. The content underlying these formal choices also demonstrates very clearly Borremans‘ roots in the Belgian painting tradition. a cultural tradition. He draws on torn-open envelopes (with postage stamps still attached). and it has already been shown at the Kunstmuseum Basel. Borremans‘ drawings display quite explicitly the influence of his former studies in printmaking and photography: they evolve very slowly. In terms of form and style. He uses almost any sort of material as a possible support for his work. sometimes set off with white mounts with a perfect diagonal cut. which the artist incorporates into the drawing. Borremans‘ hand reveals the surrealistic tendency to avoid logical associations.out his own pictures and thereby succeeding in bridging the gap between the awareness of an historical past. the backs of old photos. His typical shades of brown and grey tints are suited to the ‗old‘ patina that is always inherent in the material used for the support. and so on. This sense of something past is accentuated even more by the way Borremans chooses to show his works: in modest wooden frames. Borremans usually draws with pencil. Each support has its own history and displays the pronounced external marks of it. Like the work of his compatriots James Ensor. In this way he is also emphasising his affinity with history. Félicien Rops. Each drawing is meticulously composed. watercolour and white ink. Museum für Gegenwartskunst. Working cautiously like this. the exhibition has been supplemented by a selection of Borremans‘ . Here at the SMAK. and that they can never be fully understood simply on the basis of the present context of drawing. The initiative for this exhibition of Michael Borremans‘ drawings came from the Kupferstichkabinett Basel. and the problems of the present day. pages from calendars. Borremans reveals his affinity for the Northern tradition of miniature painting and the drawings of the old masters. In terms of material and appearance his drawings are highly suggestive and intuitive. With the exception of gouache and oil paint (to which he invariably adds a patina).

The Barn. Ohio (USA). with articles by Anita Haldeman. In order to understand Michael Borremans‘ paintings better. This internal complexity is already expressed in the choice of the seemingly simple titles that Borremans gives his paintings. Ohio (USA) and the SMAK in Ghent. Grove. His paintings are frequently populated by almost dehumanised figures who perform absurd minor actions in an . Nothing could be less true. not only please the eye but are also intended to provoke the viewer. where he greatly accentuates the absurdity of human existence. Peter Doroshenko and Jeffrey D. which are displayed on the ground floor. the Cleveland Museum of Art in Cleveland. One of its most representative artists is Francisco de Goya (1746-1828). On a slightly closer examination of the paintings one realises that the brushstrokes. Michaël Borremans: drawings At first sight the small paintings by Michael Borremans (b. Such words as The Pupils. give rise to a sort of double deception. Beneath this seemingly clear imagery and unambiguous content lies an impressive. Belgium. Borremans‘ handling of this theme is however on a more philosophical and abstract level. The Performance and The Preservation seem simple. The book and the exhibition are coproduced by the Kunstmuseum Basel. confusing and odd world which shows itself to be increasingly mixed up the longer one looks at the paintings. who tried to capture the purest state of human existence in disturbing images of the society of the time. but when combined with the image they accompany. however. Geraardsbergen) appear straightforward and convincingly realistic. applied with great talent. but a sort of internal world in which several strange elements complement and/or contradict one another. 1963. In autumn 2005 the exhibition of drawings will move on to the Cleveland Museum of Art in Cleveland. A catalogue will be published to accompany this exhibition. What one observes here is not a purely narrative scene. which on the one hand can work as a guide and lead to a deeper insight into the painting but on the other can actually encourage the sense of wonder.paintings. Museum für Gegenwartskunst. they have to be seen in the context of the ‗humanist‘ tradition of painting.

Borremans draws inspiration for his work from both older media such as dated photos from the Thirties and Forties. He manipulates his characters in an artificial world which nevertheless appears realistic. This means that although they are in themselves aesthetic. and more recent sources such as films. figurative and thus accessible. but more often colours ranging from cream to grey. soaps and television series. thereby actually reducing them to pawns of some sort. By emphasising this artificiality. Although he paints only figuratively. which is created by Borremans‘ subtle and almost sensual brush strokes. In contrast to that particular artistic tendency. This painted environment in which the characters move remains almost completely anonymous and is rarely elaborated in any detail. He rarely uses white to achieve this. so that he will automatically start looking for the deeper abstract thematic content of the painting. is halfway between the coolly analytical and the sensitively poetic. Another fertile source is his fascination for kitsch. As a result these pictures radiate a warmth that is often to be found in old paintings. Borremans takes this contrast between reality and fiction to extremes by introducing ‗alien‘ elements. as far as their themes are concerned the paintings are actually abstract. The only real activity in the painting is the cool grey-white light that focuses on the figures and makes them stand out more. The sober and highly distilled composition of the picture area makes it seem that the figures and objects live in a ‗still-life world‘. which pictured the insignificant and doubting human in overwhelming landscapes. Borremans deliberately tries to give his paintings a sort of sexy allure. Borremans also raises questions regarding the medium of painting itself. combined with his extremely sensual. skilful and figurative painting style. but at the same time they suggest a sort of still detachment. which greatly increases their attraction for the viewer. which summons up feelings of melancholy and nostalgia. This light. to some extent similar to the spirit of 19th-century Romantic painting.entirely imaginary world. who seem to have lost all freedom of choice. he nevertheless considers painting as a purely artificial art form. in which it is impossible to get close to actual reality. By choosing these media. The choice of subjects rarely has any specific intention but is . The intention is to capture the viewer‘s gaze for as long as possible. Michael Borremans focuses entirely on the human figure and human existence itself. which makes it more difficult for the viewer to project realistic or narrative associations into the works. typified by the porcelain figures that adorn the windowsills of many Flemish houses.

In autumn 2005 it will also be shown at the Cleveland Museum of Art in Cleveland. Museum für Gegenwartskunst. Oil on canvas. The Conciliation–II. This exhibition of paintings by Michael Borremans runs parallel to the exhibition of his drawings on the first floor.usually determined by chance. 25 9/16 x 19 11/16 inches. The SMAK is therefore the only place where the two exhibitions can be seen at the same time. . In the course of 2005 the exhibition will move on to the Parasol Unit Foundation for Contemporary Art in London and to the Royal Hibernian Academy in Dublin. 2002. This exhibition of drawings was compiled on the initiative of the Kupferstichkabinett Basel. Ohio (USA). and has already been shown at the Kunstmuseum Basel.