One plus one equals anything you want.
For Koen Delaere the possibility of 1 + 1 giving the answer F, or C, or i don't know, maybe H, is not only inherently important to the reading of his work but vital to a full understanding of what the painter is trying to achieve. Delaere's paintings play with the idea that each work's constitute parts can be seen together in myriad ways, and by grouping works together new combinations of readings can be found. In doing so creating whole new levels of thought which are completely different to the sum of their individual parts.
This layering of concepts leaves a real liveliness to Koen Delaere's work; when you stand in front of his large scale paintings you are confronted with an ordered chaos, a feeling that if you look away you'll somehow miss something forever. Wipe that Simile off your Aphasia pops with a performative energy comparable to an orchestra playing live. A level of uncertainty and spontaneity which seems almost counterintuitive when talking about static objects but is achieved through both method of production and method of display.
Before we go any further it's maybe important to return to my opening sentence; how can 1 + 1 equal F, C, or H? A phrase that Delaere is interested in, and that has come up again and again in our conversations, comes from theorist Marshall McLuhan; "Juxtaposition with out copula"1. It's phase that McLuhan came to in response to developments in painting (and, I think, the poetry of Ezra Pound. But the less said about Pound the better) in the 40s and 50s. Unpacking it a bit, he's talking about how abstract works can be made up from marks and colours that may seem to come from different voices, but somehow they all end up singing coherently. It is in this way that Delaere's work can have so many things going on at the same time. It's that ordered chaos again. These gridpaintings (as the artist calls them) are infused with this idea of juxtaposition without copula; strong concept is played off against raw intuition, and the structured grid against performative action painting.
This is where an art historical richness seeps into the work. For starters the idea of the grid harks back to Modernism and to Constructivism, to Mondrian and to Malevich. Rosalind Krauss even wrote an essay titled Grids (1979) where she notes how they [grids] "began to appear, first in France and then in Russia and in Holland, a structure that has remained emblematic of the modernist ambition within the visual arts ever since"2. Within Delaere's paintings the grid acts as a mode of organisation, it gives the works a frame that, in the artist's words, "serves as a vehicle for subjectivity as well as a constraint for action".
The performative manner of production spilling into the work and then into its display comes too from fertile ground. In the late forties Robert Motherwell and Harold Rosenberg edited an edition of the avant-garde periodical Possibilities in which Jackson Pollock discussed his practice (the text below didn't end up making the final draft but it kinda rings true with Delaere's work):
"I intend to paint large movable pictures which will function between the easel and the mural … I believe the easel painting to be a dying form, and the tendency to modern feeling is towards the wall".
Of course a few bits in that feel really dated. The idea of an easel for one. But its striking how much Delaere's work feels like a natural progression from JP's ideas4; in particular, the idea of his paintings moving and functioning, and their transition from work on canvas towards wall painting.
The way that Delaere's hangs his works definitely, well, to me at least, plays with this idea of the wall as performative space for painting. Using a baton which protrudes from the gallery wall, Delaere hangs each painting so it juts out into the exhibition space, a space (in a painting show at least) which is usually reserved for visitors not artworks. This artistic land-grab is a bold move, it makes the paintings act in an unprecedented way and leaves the viewer on the back foot. Rather than being an aggressive move it brings the audience and works closer together. The paintings are no longer these holy objects hung to shock and awe, but rather pictures stepping out into our world. If Pollock "point[ed] out the direction of the future" then Delaere at the very least has taken the next step in the same direction. Pollock talked about "being in [his] paintings"5 the viewer is absolutely in Delaere's. By entering our space they are breaking traditional rules that a painting hangs flat on the wall and has authority over the viewer.
This dovetails us neatly into the shows title; Wipe that Simile off your Aphasia, the title of a work by American poet Harryette Mullen. The poem is constructed from seemingly disjointed phrases mashed together; "as purple as we go / as heartbeat as if / as silverware as it were / as onion as I can…"6. This style of writing, known as Language Poetry, sees the poetic form as a construction of language where meaning is to be derived by the reader and not from the text itself. First published in Sleeping with the Dictionary (2002), the poem intentionally ignores convention and runs with an inherent disobedience. This is similar to Pollock's clear desire to rephrase the rules of painting in the 40s and 50s; both artists successfully dismantle traditional notions of their fields to then reconstruct them on their own terms. In a similar vein, Deleare follows Krauss's ideas of the grid to a degree, but where she aims to distance art and the written word7, Delaere is interested where these fields can intersect one another.
Poetry critic Joan Houlihan writing in The Boston Comment talks about Mullen constructing "not just a poem, but an uber-poem, a poem that does not mean something"8. Recreating through use, misuse, play and display is at the heart of Deleare's work and allows the artist to take apart history, picking the parts of culture that matter to him and to reconfigure these ideas taking them to new and unexpected places.
William Cooper - February 2016
1 McCluhan wrote this in a letter to Ezra Pound. Shortly after WWII McCluhan visited Pound while he was in, I think, St Elizabeth's Psychiatric Hospital. I can't find a definitive source for the quote.
2 Rosalind Krauss essay Grids 1979 quoted in W.T.J Mitchell Picture Theory: Essays on Verbal and Visual Representation, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1995, pp. 215 picture or mural. I believe the time is not yet ripe for a full transition from easel to mural. The pictures I contemplate painting would constitute a halfway state, an attempt to point out the direction of the
3 Jackson Pollock quoted in Frances V. O'Connor Jackson Pollock, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1967, pp.39-40
4 Pollock and Delaere also share a method of applying paint with different parts of their bodies and quote unquote unconventional tools. Delaere calls this his 'studio-dance', a process which is similar to Pollock's abandonment of brushes in preference of "sticks, trowels, knives and dripping paint". (Jackson Pollock quoted in Frances V. O'Connor Jackson Pollock, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1967, pp.39-40)
6 Harryette Mullen Sleeping with the Dictionary, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002, pg 80
7 "the grid announces … modern art's will to silence, its hostility to literature, to narrative, to discourse" Rosalind Krauss essay Grids 1979 quoted in W.T.J Mitchell Picture Theory: Essays on Verbal and Visual Representation, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1995, pp. 215
8 Joan Houlihan I=N=C=O=H=E=R=E=N=T: How Contemporary American Poets Are Denaturing the Poem, Part II, Boston: Boston Comment, 2000