Improvisations in Painting

“In my studio the cd ‘Freak in’ of Dave Douglas is playing. Dave Douglas is the trumpeter who played with John Zorn, but often came up with nice and interesting work when playing solo as well. For a whole week now it has been ‘Freak in’, on and on. The album consists of a variety of tracks, one being more exhilarating and bolder than the other. (…) The cover shows a picture representing an entanglement of lines. It looks like a manipulated image of rolled-up cables of an amplifier that have just been carelessly dropped. It freaks me out! For a whole week now I have been working on a small canvas with interwoven wisps of transparent paint. A nº 12 brush made of ordinary pig’s hair – I don’t need luxurious stuff , being too perfect and too expensive –embarks me on the hectic tunes of ‘Freak in’. The cd itself has an original and intriguing print : it’s an orange circular disc containing the track list in miniature characters meandering over one side of it. Incredibly beautiful, delicate, like a metaphor for a route to be followed. I keep going on. My eardrum is in search of a bond with my retina. The perfect balance of colours and paints determines the nature of the movement. (…) My ultimate goal is to attain a gliding movement. Glissando: keeping on gliding until the perfect tension has been reached, as imposed on me by my will. Intuitively I’m looking for the perfect proportion between paint and medium (resin). The gliding is perceptible in its transparency, but the thing that excites me : it feels wonderful in execution. ‘Freaked in (to Dave Douglas)’ is born.”

Who else, but the artist himself, can describe in this perfect way the birth of a painting? Bart Vandevijvere (º1961) paints as a composer and composes as a painter. One of his favourite musical examples in this respect is Morton Feldman.The way Feldman composes abstract music, is the way Vandevijvere paints abstract canvases. He’s looking for parallels between both. Just like the composer he exploits ‘accidents’ and coincidence: a piece of dirt in the paint on the brush causes scratches on the canvas. The same way Feldman and John Cage exploit coincidence. Bart Vandevijvere makes two categories of works: the long, horizontal formats and the ‘normal’ rectangular or square formats. The long ones are musical writings, enclosing a dynamic pace travelling from left to right, as you would read scores. The lines are drawn with tape (one of his works is called ‘Time Tape Painting’). In the paintings ‘situations’ are set one next to the other, like notes on a stave. The compositions are imperative, they force you to look in a certain direction annex movement. Moreover, the work doesn’t stop at the frame, but gently expands, like the fading notes of a piece of music.

Also in the other formats you find a cadence, a rhythm, ‘with crippled patterns’, as the artist puts it: nothing is perfect, the germ of the canvas lies in the imperfection, the fact of being unfinished. In the way Morton Feldman is an intuitive composer, hence difficult to play (or to copy), Bart Vandevijvere is an intuitive painter, difficult but fascinating to ‘read’. In his work wiping and erasing takes place, sometimes he works up from light to dark but ever so much the other way round, physical gestures are executed in the form of lines, fluency and splashes (sometimes you get the impression a canvas has exploded or has been electrocuted); lines can be superimposed in all possible directions like with jackstraws, sometimes you perceive the cut&paste technique, a composition might be revised in the process, defaults might be inserted in the canvas deliberately.

Bart Vandevijvere uses acrylics, for the sake of its transparency. But water is almost as vital a medium: many works look fluid, washed, sprinkled. He draws lines and meandering waves with the brush and once it’s semi-dry, he washes away the paint with water. In other cases he works ‘wet on wet’, resulting in paint that flows out, left to find its own way on the canvas.

This way, Bart Vandevijvere, brush in his hand, looks more like the conductor of the abstract, in which everything is possible, improvisation being the ultimate, until the brush comes to a stop and everything converges to one image, that hits the eye and the mind of the viewer (listener). At that point, the conductor finally sets the image free. Bart writes: “Making abstract work is acting without a tangible, perceptible reality as an example. It’s formal thinking and acting, and at the same time it’s thinking in abstractions, in metaphors. It’s interpreting and converting innumerable sensations, resulting undoubtedly from a real world. A transfigured reality. It needn’t ‘represent’ anything, however, it needs to be omnipresent. The creative process is thinking while acting. Acting while thinking. Make think.”

Marc Ruyters
November 2009