‘Twisted Strings’ by Walter Leblanc, 1960
This exhibition in the Museum of Ixelles mainly focuses on the art work of two Belgian artists: Jef Verheyen & Walter Leblanc. To understand what their work is about, we need to know something about the Zero art movement that they were involved in.
During this art movement (1958 – 1968) a group of European artists wanted to reinvent painting from scratch. The name Zero does not refer to a total absence of meaning. It was more like a return to nature or a return to the beginning, inspired by Minimal art. The artists played with the concept of light and shadow. The colors were very basic and monochrome. Influenced by Arte Povera and Kinetic Art, the artists used everyday materials to create a sense of movement.
Otto Piene is one of the founders of Group Zero in Germany. Here’s an excerpt from a poem he wrote that beautifully summarizes what Zero art is about:
Jef Verheyen: “Seeing is feeling with the eyes”
‘Spectra Veneziana. Night in Venice’ by Jef Verheyden, 1977
All of my pictures are taken without flash (as always in museums) so it’s not the best quality, sorry for that. I don’t want to manipulate them too much because it might change the colors in the paintings and that would be a shame.
Both Jef Verheyen en Walter Leblanc were very active in the Belgian Zero movement. They went to school together in Antwerp and then kind of lost contact. The exhibition shows how they approach the same subjects in a different way.
Jef Verheyen concentrated on the movement of light. After experimenting with different shades of black, he started to paint very subtle shades of light. You see how one color slowly turns into another like it’s the most natural thing on earth. It must be extremely difficult to paint such thing. I find it so beautiful that I could look at it for hours. It’s like the colorfield paintings by Rothko or Gottlieb, but here it is much more subtle. No hard colors but soft gradations of light. It’s peaceful, calming, inspiring and poetic.
‘Bevel (Command)’ by Jef Verheyen, 1963 – 1964
‘Achrome’ by Piero Manzoni, 1962
Verheyen was in contact with the Italian artists Piero Manzoni and Lucio Fontana who were also part of the Zero movement.
‘Rêve de Möbius’ by Jef Verheyen & Lucio Fontana, 1962
‘Abysses’ by Jef Verheyen, 1979
This is a very large painting that you should absolutely see in real life. There is a bench in front of it so take all the time you want to absorb it.
‘Twisted Strings 40F x 387’ by Walter Leblanc, 1964
Walter Leblanc uses a very different technique to create movement of light. He uses materials like strings, sand or little sticks to give the impression that the canvas is carefully vibrating. Eva Wittock said that it’s like he is painting with light in stead of paint. I love the Twisted Strings series because it’s also nicely calming and poetic like the Jef Verheyen paintings. On the other hand, I am not a fan of Op-Art and Kinetic Art so the Torsions series are not really my cup of tea.
‘Torsions Mobilo-Static 100 C54’ by Walter Leblanc, 1965 – 1966
Lucio Fontana is not the only Zero artist who cut the canvas to create another dimension.
‘Twisted Strings 80F x 234’ by Walter Leblanc, 1962
‘Dark field’ by Günther Uecker, 1979
Uecker was one of the founders of Group Zero in Germany, together with Otto Piene and Heinz Mack. He uses nails to create shadows and vibrations.
Sculptures from the Torsions series, by Walter Leblanc
Although I love the work of both artists, I have a small (or maybe big) preference for Jef Verheyen. Those colors … Who do you prefer? Such a shame that they both passed away at a rather young age.
Visiting the expo is possible until 22/01/2017!