Bart Vandevijvere paints the Present Continuous

Jazz and contemporary classical music give the studio of the artist Bart Vandevijvere an aura of its own. A bass guitar leans against an amplifier; for a moment I imagine myself in a musician’s rehearsal room. The artist does not by any means aim to give a musical performance visual form on canvas. It is the attitude that music-makers adopt while composing that is of much more interest in his creative process: the attainment of an artistic flow in order to arrive at an artistic composition, a multi-layered musical entity. Unlike musicians, Bart Vandevijvere uses numerous layers of paint to create a dynamic artwork. Looking at and discussing his abstract paintings is an intense experience. His canvases are like arenas where contrasting pictorial elements are continuously locking horns with each other. Present Continuous is a painting that typifies his oeuvre. The title is a grammatical reference and we often recognise this verb tense in his titles. At the same time, the name alludes to the solidified stages which suggest that the creative process is still continuing.

The seemingly random process of building up and removing gives rise to a lively composition and is one of the artist’s leading strategies. His paintings take shape organically without aiming for a specific visual goal. The main focus is the development of the artwork and this takes place by means of varied formal experiments on the canvas. The material he uses for each mark on the canvas is a mixture of acrylic paint, water and acrylic medium. Vandevijvere considers the proportions of these ingredients to be of paramount importance. In each layer of paint they influence the drying time and the time available to work one layer into another, and they also determine the texture of the painted surface. The textures look opaque or transparent depending on the composition of the paint mixture. As the number of layers of paint increases, Vandevijvere introduces more and more relief into his work. He keeps a meticulous balance between experiment and aesthetics. In certain parts of the composition, layers of wet or dry paint may be partly or entirely removed. Some areas of paint are scrubbed or soaked in liquid. The way the water runs reveals that Vandevijvere often turns his canvases this way and that. Keeping a concentrated eye on proceedings, the artist encourages fascinating pictorial accidents. The variety of painterly manoeuvers also creates confusion in the viewer, as the stratification of the painting is no longer clear. The point where two layers of paint meet is always interesting. It gives rise to a new, invisible layer that can only be observed after the layers over it have been washed away. The artist succeeds felicitously in dynamising the final solidified image in the course of several stages of development.

The density of the paintings varies from one work to another. One of the characteristics of Vandevijvere’s oeuvre is the relationship between the number of independent visual elements that arise following a series of visual experiments, and the sense of space consequently experienced by the viewer. When the composition is dominated by geometric motifs that sometimes feel like architecture, one may observe an optical illusion of depth. At the same time, the viewer may have the feeling that one or more visual elements is being projected in their direction. This optical illusion is usually intensified by the presence of a large geometric form. Both the formation and the position of the planes in the picture area have a huge influence on the spatial effect. The outlines of the interplay of geometric forms often act as dividing lines between different structures and areas of colour. Vandevijvere describes this group of artworks as ‘full paintings’. By contrast, the ‘frugal paintings’ are typified by the sparsity of visual elements. In these compositions, the frontal spatial effect is characterised by a vertical and horizontal dimension that appears to transcend the physical boundaries of the canvas, in whole or in part. The painting extends out notionally into the surrounding space.

The method by which Vandevijvere explores the whole spectrum of abstract painting is fascinating. The paintings are the result of his stimulation of chance factors which he then allows to have full play. The visual experiments in the various parts of the canvas make for captivating twists and turns. In terms of composition, the works are sometimes like collages, and some visual elements even make a graphic impression. As a whole, each work always has an enthralling spatial effect. We, the viewers, explore the various positions of the three-dimensional space into which the artwork has embedded itself. Bart Vandevijvere breaches the static nature of painting in an illusory manner.

Benedict Vandaele
17 September 2020