Seven Journeys to a Holy Sepulchre

The world is a funfair (and God’s presiding over the shooting gallery).
And the painter is watching: the mountain, the sea, the blood, God and his angel, fire, love, paradise, the fall, fear, lust, the rock, death, the road, the wound, the storm and the ship.
And this is what he sees: the mountain in the sea, the water is blood, the rock is fire and the angel is falling, God is hidden and paradise has been mislaid, the ship is in the storm, love is lust and fear is a vice, the road is hunchbacked, death is blowing down your neck, the wound remains fresh and the soul, oh well, the soul… and he thinks: the world is a funfair, every stall stands a round and nothing is dead ordinary and he paints the funfair ever so slightly grinding his teeth, thinking: what a load of rubbish and is God hiding behind it?


And the painter is thinking: let’s paint the anteroom of things while we rummage around in the backroom for something mislaid long ago, such a long time ago we can’t remember what it was, what it is, let alone where it is, and let’s call it: the mystery, and the quest to find it already saves us a little bit, pulls our paws from the mud a little bit, closer to You, closer to You? You? Who are You? And where among all the rubbish did we mislay you?


And while he is peering into the big black hole that is his soul, the painter thinks about the question we might ask. And the painting answers, bang!, like a shot. And the painter looks bored an God yawns, hidden behind the mess, and the painter looks at the painting and sees the image of the question that cannot be asked and the painter thinks: to paint the impossible question is like walking on the sea: you have to look beyond the horizon!


The painting is a rodent. It gnaws at the painter who doesn’t paint and it gnaws at the painter who does. The painting aims at the painter the way the hunter aims at the hare and the hunter does not show his face until after the hunt when he emerges from the dark, wet bushes. So the painting is a rodent is it? And the world is a fair? And where does that leave the painter? A black cloud floats over his head. Has something evaporated in the painter’s head and found a way out? Did it escape when he was in one of his black moods? Or was it given to him, a gift from On High? Whatever it is, he can’t get rid of it, even after it has shed its black rain on his head it still remains; the painting is a rodent, the world’s a fair and the painter? The painter’s the one under the small black cloud.


And the painter is walking along the shore and this is what comes to him: this is not the sea; and the sea is whining at his feet and he thinks: no, this is the backside of infinity, a tear of the fallen angel, a moist contraction before the great birth etc…and he thinks and he paints the sea and then he puts down his brush and looks at the canvas: it is empty except for a long, horizontal line, slicing it in half, and beyond it, infinite mystery sticks out its tongue, giggling.


And the painter, who’s a man and, consequently, naked, is saying: give me a certainty, I am the painter and the painter must paint with a sure hand and the painting sighs and once again presents him with all his uncertainties, lined up neatly or randomly – it doesn’t matter which – within its linen square and it tells him: painting is to be sure about uncertainty and the painter thinks: O my God, am I all alone here?


And unique and dead common Death, is standing behind, or next to, the painting painter and with its bony finger it’s poking into his carmine paint; this puts the painter on edge, and he says: leave it alone, this no antiwrinkle cream and stop breathing down my neck, I don’t have time for… and Death, stroking his crotch, sighs: my dear, too little time… don’t be so awkward, one touch of my finger makes the paint vibrate on the canvas.


And the painter decides to choose the painter’s road: it has four lanes, the surface is beautifully smooth and it’s as empty and spacious as the heart of God. Boldly he sets out, never noticing the narrowing of the road which pretty soon becomes no more than an overgrown path, with weeds and branches and all manner of things blocking his way and catching him, tearing his flesh with their thorns, making him spill his paint and tearing his canvas as well as his skin and angrily he paints a big rat on the canvas which makes God laugh and say: now, this is what I call humour, sometimes I am a four-lane motorway and sometimes I’m a thorny path.


And the painter is thinking: what I have to do is paint the painting of and about the great longing and the great disgust, that is a tall order, it’s too much for the painter and, disheartened, he pushes aside his paints and his brushes and he writes on the already smudged canvas in his big, charcoal scrawl ‘longing’ and on another small canvas, just as smudged, he writes ‘disgust’ and, as he places the two side by side, he looks and thinks: maybe this is already more than enough, maybe it’s even too much, maybe maybe maybe, well, chance would be a fine thing.


And people ask you: are you familiar with the dream of the painter, the dream of the big vanishing act? Watch this: the painter is brooding over his white canvas, then puts down his brushes, takes off his paint-stained boots and steps into the white canvas the way you might step into a mirror and it closes behind him like a puddle of milk and at last, there it is: the simplicity he tried so hard to achieve.


Philippe Vandenberg, 1995.




Published as:

“Seven Journeys to a Holy Sepulchre.” In Philippe Vandenberg: Œuvre 1995-1999, edited by Flor Bex, 271-272. Antwerp: M HKA – Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst Antwerpen, 1999.

Originally published as:

“De zeven tochten naar een Heilig Graf.” Lecture, Kunstschool Heilig Graf, Heilig Grafinstituut, Turnhout, December 1995.

pijl rechts
Philippe Vandenberg