Born in 1948, Antwerp artist Jan Vanriet was the star of the show at the opening of the Roberto Polo gallery in November 2012. This is his second exhibition in this gallery.
The gallery has almost doubled in area since then, following the addition of the neighbouring retail space. It’s a huge, spectacular three-storey venue – the perfect place to effectively display Vanriet’s large canvasses.
From the entrance, we see immense paintings depicting pieces of red, bloody meat. It’s a metaphor for the socialist party, says Roberto Polo, smiling. Here, the promises (bright red meat); there, the disappointment (meat turned black). Beyond this symbolism – a bit blunt or subjective –, we relish in the way the artist enjoyed painting these very, very enlarged chunks of flesh in large strokes. The texture, colour and the gesture of the brush make us happy.
Jan Vanriet loves books, poetry, language and the latter’s relationship with images. He’s a painter but also a poet. Again and again, his paintings take us on a journey into memory. From the same community of painters as Luc Tuymans, Vanriet has consistently painted in a realistic narrative style which could also be described as romantic.
Vanriet is influenced by his private family history, but also by History with a capital H, which has largely impacted the life of his parents and grandparents, through the tragedy of the Holocaust. His work is most narrative when he evokes this history.
For example, he painted a couple dancing cheek to cheek or a musician/soldier holding a clarinet – images based on old snapshots. The couple is a recurrent subject in several of his paintings, giving him many opportunities to work with different backgrounds and different scales.
In the gallery’s basement, a large-sized painting depicts a gold bracelet with large links. For Vanriet, Big Bracelet is an opportunity to render complex materials, working with the reflection of light and, at the same time, deftly conjure up his history, since the bracelet belonged to his mother. In other works on the same theme of the bracelet, he breaks down the reflections to convert them into pure colour: bright yellow, black or an abstract grid.
In some paintings like Opéra Black, Opéra Blue or his bunches of flowers, we get the feeling that the artist has indulged in the joy of creating a beautiful image. And why not? Other works, such as Emptiness 3, The Promise or Halali, Man, tend to convey intense emotions like sadness or anxiety. Then there’s also this other series, The Visitor, which depicts one or two people in a museum like the MuZee, Kunsthaus, the Yvon Lambert gallery or the WIELS Contemporary Art Centre: lost in an massive space, these individuals become artworks themselves, solemn in the middle of the other artwork exhibited.
Roberto Polo Gallery
8 – 12 rue Lebeau
Tuesdays to Fridays, 14:00-18:00h, Saturdays 11:00-18:00h
Until 19 April