CAC Málaga presents the first exhibition in Spain of work by Michaël Borremans (1963, Geraardsbergen, Belgium), one of the most outstanding artists on the contemporary art scene. The show, which takes its title from one of the works on display, Fixture, features 35 paintings produced in the last 15 years. Selected in close collaboration with the artist, the works provide a window into a personal and unsettling visual world populated with still lifes and close-ups of human figures painted in sombre shades.
Borremans, who lives and works in Ghent, is also acclaimed for his drawings and films and cuts an extraordinary figure: he plays a guitar (he used to be a member of the experimental band The Singing Painters), always wears his best suit when painting, and never works on white paper. Trained in the art of engravement, for a number of years he taught and practised etching and drawing, and has only dedicated himself exclusively to painting since the late 1990s, when he began to exhibit his drawings and paintings and made a name for himself on the international scene.
In keeping with the tradition of the Old Masters, he paints with a firm stroke, a limited palette and a superb command of his technique. Fascinated by the Spanish Baroque, he considers Velázquez to be his great teacher, although Bruegel, Goya, Rubens, Rembrandt, Fragonard, Watteau, Chardin, Manet and Surrealism have influenced him as well. He is also interested in film (he admires the work of David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick) and photography (his grandfather was a photogra- pher). In his earliest paintings he painted from photographs that he took out of books, magazines or off the internet, images that he manipulated, but later, he began to stage scenes, incorporating models, that he photographs and then transfers to his paintings.
“I don’t see myself as pure painter, but I use the medium because it’s the most suitable for me to create a specific kind of picture. It would also be possible in the medium of photography and with the assistance of digital techniques, but I just find painting more interesting. A painting is an object of complex character, and because of the historical dimension it is impossible to treat it impartially”, the artist states.
At the same time his works provoke sensations that can be quite contradictory, such as fascination, irritation, tranquillity, beauty, sadness, mystery, reality and fantasy. Borremans invents ambiguous, strange visual worlds that trigger reflections about the absurdity of human existence, but in an ironic way. They are worlds full of contradictions. Although he uses the portrait format in his works, he does not create true portraits. For this artist the subject is always an object, not the representation of a living thing, which is why his characters never look at us directly. It doesn’t matter who the figures are or what exactly they are doing in his pictures. Be they close-ups, alone or part of a group, they are like mannequins or statues, standing, sitting or reclining, that work or manipulate objects, because for Borremans they are archetypes, universal symbols that inhabit familiar yet vague, strange spaces. As he says, “With the paintings, at first you expect a narrative, because the figures are familiar. But then you see that some parts of the paintings don’t match, or don’t make sense. The works don’t come to a conclusion in the way we expect them to. The images are unfinished: they remain open. That makes them durable.”
The small size of most of his paintings does not only challenge conventional standards, but miniaturises the subjects highlighting the artificiality of representa- tion. But when demanded by the theme, he resorts to much larger dimensions, to a scale as in the religious paintings evokes a certain mystery. A case in point is The Angel, 2013, in which the figure’s face is painted black. We do not know what is really happening in his works, and therein lies part of their appeal. The figures have a psychological depth that is conveyed by their clothes or the actions, occasionally absurd, that they are performing. Sometimes his works evidence a certain violence, like the figure in The Villain, 2003, who is making a bomb. Hands are recurring motif, as we see in Red Hand, Green Hand, 2010, an image open to multiple interpreta- tions, and The Egg IV, 2012. Meanwhile, The Resemblance, 2006, explores the medium of painting.
Borremans’ paintings but also drawings – which reflect a more surreal vision of the world – and films – beautiful, painterly representations of slow-motion images – compel the spectator to consider the philosophical nature of painting and its infinite possibilities, what it represents and symbolises, how it is interpreted and what it means. A very simple image can challenge many things. His works are ambiguous, open, quite mysterious, and intriguing—like a riddle that the visitor has to solve.