Berlinde De Bruyckere
Il me faut tout oublier – I need to forget everything
What Philippe leaves behind is raw
And therefore very beautiful
Existential and very recognisable
That one phrase as a mirror to our selves
‘Il me faut tout oublier’ – ‘I need to forget everything‘
(He who wanted to forget everything)
Actually, what he meant was ‘il me faut tout oublié’ – ‘I need all forgotten’
Starting anew with a clean slate, over and over again
We are not proud of our pain, our anxiety, our desires
Again and again we have to forget them to continue
Berlinde De Bruyckere is an artist who lives and works in Ghent, Belgium.
I made a selection of some works by Philippe Vandenberg for an exposition during Performatik 2013 in Brussels. I found his work not only very dark but also with a very singular and strong intensity and focus.
I choose some works that showed more (maybe lesser known) political aspects of his work and I also loved the writings in which the tension and the fighting with thoughts and emotions come out in a very strong and harsh way.
Meg Stuart is an American choreographer and dancer who lives and works in Brussels, Belgium
In 2010 I took my daughter Anna to visit Watou. A wonderful place were traces of the border landscape and the village architecture affect our mood. Where, during the summer months, you encounter art and poetry in naked form. No space for empty theatricality.
As if by a sledgehammer I was hit by La nuit désire la reine, le roi perd son sang. Philippe Vandenberg tears open nine canvasses with language and charcoal. Through writing the word becomes image. The territory of each separate canvas is anything but virgin. The canvases are stained, trampled, wiped off, affected.
Within that lived space, the painter writes-draws word signs with an unfathomable depth of collective and personal meanings. A battlefield of biblical, fairytale, mythological and worldly associations circles around the black panel in the middle.
In the centre, the space opens backwards, like the gaping hole behind a doorway. Two ladders become visible in that indefinable black hole. And I imagine how each human being must venture the leap day after day. Full of yearning and bearing the scars we sustain on our way, we must manage to create some sense, as the trapeze artists we are in the hollowness of the universe.
Paul Dujardin was CEO and artistic director of the Centre of Fine Arts (BOZAR), Brussels, Belgium
When I came to visit the Vandenberg studio in September 2011, I was particularly interested in one of Philippe’s drawing books in the archive. Here, the abstract patterns overlay the “concrete” poetic handwritten texts. For me the merging and overlaying of the abstract and text based concerns in the drawings, which are both prevalent in Philippe’s later paintings, gives us deeper insight into his thinking and aesthetic approach.
Brett Littman is the Executive Director of The Drawing Center, New York, US
Bart De Baere
My heart makes me spontaneously choose one of the very early female bathers, in a narrow vertical format, because some time long ago they touched me. They were at the back, in the dark part of that large rectangular space. Philippe therefore did not pay any particular attention to them, he was setting out to develop his oeuvre. I was fascinated by the fact that those works, which could perhaps still be called art school works, already possessed an individual character, both in the manner of painting and in their intense ambition.
Making a choice here should perhaps not be objectifying, as in most of what I do. Therefore two borders, at the front and at the back. A spontaneous, subjective choice may well be an homage to an œuvre that contains so much.
The second choice is the white piece that I have seen somewhere, during our last meeting while he was still alive. Still-painted, painted away, an attempt at allaying, but whitish in the skin only, like snow that has lost its freshness and has become mixed with earth and movement.
Bart De Baere is a curator, author and director of M HKA – Museum of contemporary Art Antwerp, Belgium
Jos De Gruyter
I love sketch pads. Their raison d’être is not always clear. They are enigmatic. Which makes them interesting. They are filled with drawings, paintings or written texts, lacking any visible structure. One should read them as an archaeologist. Each detail counts. The cover of this particular sketch pad shows some pencil marks. At the bottom right, there is the circled letter D, next to “september 1997”. At the bottom left, there is the capital F, above “1997”. A little further to the bottom we can read “000”. And way up in the left top corner we can see the number “542”.
The sketch pad in question, which I shall refer to as the “September Pad”, bears the Croquis brand. It is made in Spain and contained 120 pages of 90 gr, 29.7 x 42 cm. Of these 120 pages, 87 have been used and 33 have disappeared. For unlike bound sketch books, pages can be torn out without a trace, as they are held together by small rings.
The 33 pages that are absent and those 87 that are still present in the September Pad evoke in me equally major questions. Some of them may have been leading a separate artistic life, as works in their own right. They might be hanging in a museum, be a part of an art collection or be packed in silk paper in a folder in a safe with the right temperature and humidity. These are the fortunate ones. The less fortunate have simply disappeared, have been burnt or have rotten away.
After he had bought the sketch pad, Philippe could use it to give free rein to channelling his ideas. He appears to have spit them out and when it all became too much, he tore out pages and destroyed them. He tore out and framed the pages that had turned out right.
The 87 remaining pages are somewhere between these two extremes. Quite recently, I visited the studio where Philippe had worked during his last years. It looks like a storage room for ideas, a warehouse, a gigantic sketch pad in which to get lost. Everywhere in the space there are motifs that also pop up here and there in paintings, drawings and other sketch pads. Texts and figures that are being interpreted and endlessly re-interpreted. Like religious themes from the early Middle Ages, when monks still copied books by hand and often added funny or obscene drawings in the margins.
It says a lot about the artist. It yields a feeling of intimacy.
The 87th and last drawing is a portrait of the artist entitled Portrait of Papa by Mo on 22 Sept. 1997. I cannot tell how old Mo was when he or she drew this. It does not matter anyway. It is above all a touching statement. We can see Philippe Vandenberg staring at the soul of the world, staring at what we have seen in the previous 86 pages, staring at the intangible that had to be grasped whatever the cost.
We must stare at Philippe Vandenberg’s work.
That is why I love the sketch pads.
Jos De Gruyter is an artist who lives and works in Brussels, Belgium
History. Drawings by Philippe Vandenberg.
The impotence of the solitary artist, the resistance of the loner against the ruthlessness of the powerful. Black signs, re-drawings of newspaper cuttings, by an outraged artist. Where was I, in 1990, when Philippe Vandenberg created these drawings: Sadam, John Paul, the Ceaucescu couple, the eagle, Arafat, Castro, Le Pen, all of them now dead or barely alive.
The swastika drawings (2004), stippled in fresh colours, divided into constructive fields. The defenceless and yet strong sign, the Nazi sign, irrefutably, but also the sign of the Buddha and of the Copts. Time after time, the sign shocks me, here in these gentle drawings, most recently in Japan. I was terribly shocked in 2009 as I am astonished now.
Paul Robberecht is an architect at Robbrecht en Daem architects, Ghent, Belgium
Dirk Braeckman is an artist who lives and works in Ghent, Belgium
Jean-Noël Flammarion is a publisher and director of JNF Productions, Paris, France
Walter Swennen is an artist, who lives and works in Brussels, Belgium