Raoul de Keyser
Raoul de Keyser first came to prominence as an artist in the 1960s in his native Belgium, yet it is only in the last two decades that he has been launched onto the international scene. de Keyser's pictures teasingly occupy a space that hovers between abstraction and figuration, and thus appear linked to many of the developments that have characterised art, and in particular painting, over the last decades, be it in the work of Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke, who began to explore this territory at the same time as he did, or more recently Luc Tuymans and Marlene Dumas. Yet he brings a unique intimacy to his pictures, a sense of understatement that makes them all the more intriguing. These pictures are often elusive, giving a sense of vision yet deliberately leaving it vague. Throwing out all a priori knowledge about the nature of painting, de Keyser represents the world around him as sublimated, painstakingly-worked two-dimensional form, and thus salvages his discipline of choice while illustrating, and even revelling in, its shortcomings. While the forms in Untitled of 1998 and Across 4 and Across 4 (Zonder), both from 2002, have a clear abstract quality that is emphasised by the highly conspicuous painterly process with which they have been rendered, they nonetheless teeter on the brink of recognition.
In this sense, Untitled is the entry point: clearly depicting a staircase, this work looks back in a way to de Keyser's early paintings from the 1960s. It was then that de Keyser abandoned his career as a sports journalist, and instead took to the easel. However, he did not leave sport entirely behind, taking some of his inspiration from the football pitch, which became comparable to the picture-surface itself. In retouching the lines of a football pitch, the groundskeeper follows pre-ordained patterns, yet the application of the white to the grass takes on a new quality. So too, de Keyser used the everyday world around him, his own biographical experiences and the sights that he saw, for instance his dog, a hose or a monkey-puzzle tree, as his prompts to explore the surface of the picture, and thereby the entire process of painting itself. These links to the visual, subjective world that we ourselves live in and experience act as points of introduction; at the same time, they reveal de Keyser granting a new contemporary currency to the centuries-old Flemish tradition of genre painting.
In Untitled, that umbilical link to the recognisable, inhabitable world, through the motif of the staircase, adds a familiarity. Yet the subject has also been reduced, pared back to an almost Minimalist, elegant progression of forms ascending the canvas itself. It is in looking at this painting, which deftly balances between figuration and abstraction, that the viewer appreciates de Keyser's words in interview: 'When someone told me that the line was one of the chalk lines on the soccer field, I replied that it was something else. When they told me that it was something else, I replied that it was a chalk line on a soccer field. It is the same and it is not the same (de Keyser, quoted in B. Dewulf, ''You see it, you never understand completely, and you say: Thats it on Raoul de Keyser, pp. 54-61, Raoul de Keyser: Replay: Gemälde/Paintings 1964-2008, exh. cat., Bonn, 2009, p. 54).