review

Sophie Kuijken: dreamlike perfection

© Sophie Kuijken
Onze score

Sophie Kuijken presents her enigmatic and timeless portraits in a gallery in Brussels and also in Saint Bavo's Cathedral in Ghent to celebrate the return of The Lamb of God by the Van Eyck brothers.

They are portraits of no one and of everyone. Sophie Kuijken has never made anyone pose in the secrecy of her studio. The characters that appear in her paintings and drawings are composed using photographs that she assembles on canvas. One part of a face here, another part there, a hand gesture, the positioning of a leg, inspired by fragments of bodies that she combines for their formal qualities, an abstraction, stripped of all types of symbols and all historical contexts. That's what gives her portraits an indefinable strangeness, sometimes two different eyes, the trace of an antique sandal around a big toe, an enigmatic hand gesture.

1692 8 ZWKH 2019
© Sophie Kuijken

There is also the dreamlike perfection of her pictorial style. Sophie Kuijken works the old-fashioned way, sometimes on a panel of wood, patiently building up thin layers of acrylic paint, oil paint, and glaze that she places on top of one another to obtain a deep and even surface. The viewer is reminded, of course, of the Flemish primitives, but her paintings, like her subjects, don't belong to yesterday any more than to today. They are timeless.

Sophie Kuijken, who trained at the Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent, spent about twenty years working in the isolation of her studio, without even showing her work to her husband. It was only when she felt that the time had come that she agreed to reveal her work. Since her first exhibition, galleries have been scrambling to represent her and collectors have started to follow her. This exhibition presents a series of recent paintings and magnificent drawings done in pencil and metal point on plasterboard coated with casein.

With economy of means and fascinating technique, the artist creates work with an enigmatic simplicity, centred on the human face, with neither decor nor accessories. In most of her portraits, there is an element out of place, an indecipherable dissonance, for instance, a blouse pulled up over a woman's chest or four pairs of unmatched legs emerging from a cleric's robe. Impermeable to interpretation, Sophie Kuijken's world has a magnetic quality that lingers in the viewer's mind long after they have stopped looking.

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