‘Everything in the baroc has a meaning’ could be a witty remark from an art history teacher. The exemple that he shows his students to corroborate his words could be the painting from Rembrandt ‘painter in his atelier’. The size, or rather the limited scale, of the painting contrasts sharply with the major metaphor hidden in the painting. If you keep an eye open, it suddenly hits you that the painter stands in the dark while the light in front of him shines on the wooden floor. There is light source but she is invisble as a result of which it appears that the painting illuminates. That’s how we need to understand the painting, writes Julian Barnes in his analyses of the artwork: ‘It is not the artists who illuminates but the painting. The artwork gives meaning to the artist and not the other way around.’ There is also another interpretation possible which expressess the same thought. The invisible light source represents an inexplicable certainty while the artist represents doubt. And thus, the artwork leads his own existence, one about which the artist does not need to talk. Isn’t that one of the oldest perceptions about figurative art which find expression in the myth of Pygmalion – the statute that moves away form his supporting base. It is and remains a myth. But that’s the whole issue. The artist needs to be protected from the illusion that everythin he makes is good. Painting must be process of doubt. I have not read a better novel than ‘the man with the blue scarf’ from Martin Gayford that captures that process so elegantly. The novel, set up as a diary, is the story about the painting of Gayford’s portrait by Lucien Freud. As an artist, you balance between doubt and certainty. There is always the doubt that it can done better but at the same time you experience your art as if it is the statute of Pygmalion. That’s why this painting from Rembrandt is so unique. It’s about putting things in perspective.
Three centuries later, we land with a selfportrait of Lucas Devriendt who pictures himself in front of an empty canvas. The painting and the painter are basking in light. It is no longer about the relationship between painter and painting. The painting breathes a sort of neutrality – the painting does not seem tob e concerned about anything more than describing ‘art’. It tells a story at best or, better, it provides an empiric registration of a given fact – it could be a representation of an atelier visit. From that perspective, it certainly tells. Although that certainly has some merit, is art which wants to take position against his own time instead of being absorbed by it, the ultimate goal. Isn’t it ? In the words that Nina Weijers puts in the mouth of a galery owner who visits his upcoming talent: this here – is not a wet fart that add to the frowsy air of a basement, no, this is a windblow that makes the door blip in its hinges – fresh air.’
Well then, this fresh air currently blows through the exposition rooms of SMAK in Ghent were Rinus van de Velde exposes nine new works. Where Rembrandt seemed to say that the artist does not need a biography, Rinus van de Velde draws scenes – with its own image included – as if it is his own biography. At first sight, it kinda looks like he adheres to the metaphysical notion of the artist as a genius. But than it hits you that he fits an armour to strenghten his hands in life. His works do not contradict the metaphors in Rembrandt’s painting. He builds on to it by way of a rhetoric typical for people of his generation: irony. Irony is in essence putting things in perspective vis-à-vis yourself, looking at yourself from a distance and be superior to all your lusts and desires. One might say that the possibility of a reversed Dorian-Grey experience lurks. He kinda draws things which he denies himself in daily life. His works are therefor more that a rememberance to his life, they become alife allowing to reflect on a (possible) life. He acts as if it is biography, which it isn’t while he perfectly known what it is. He negates the actual subject-matter because it makes him vulnerable. And there is not nothing amiss with. To the contrary, the vulnerability indicates a sharp look on contemporary culture. The only counter-argument could be that there is always an immanent threat of being forclosed from real life. ‘To live ironically, is to hide in public, is common wording. From interviews with Rinus Van de Velde it appears often that, after and even during an expo, he cannot wait to go back to his atelier and start working again as if public expo’s are a necessary evil. But ask yourself this question: is it not rather the doubt that calls him back tot the invisible light source in his atelier. With expo’s like the one in the SMAK, he proofs that the myth of Pygmalion might afterall be a reality. Although only visible in charcoal strokes, he – contradictory – is brought into being in these expositions. In short, if you see through the irony, you can begin to glimps his life.