At the Baronian Xippas gallery, Robert Devriendt presents intriguing, meticulously painted small-scale works that are like the fantasies of a voyeur and shots lifted from a film that’s yet to be written.
A bare-chested man wearing military trousers talks to a blond girl near a caravan. There is a sports car in flames, a leaking tap, a bouquet of flowers squashed under a tyre, a man in a leather jacket looking into a pair of binoculars, and a woman picking up an antler in the undergrowth of a forest. The brushstrokes are precise, the colours have a pearly sheen. Robert Devriendt’s world looks like something out of a thriller or a romantic drama with no beginning or end.
To celebrate the opening of the new Baronian Xippas gallery – led by Albert Baronian and Renos Xippas – the painter from Bruges returns with the second part of “The Missing Script”. “Through the Eyes of David X” is a meta-narrative fragmented into images, unfolding like a film that will never exist, except in the mind of the viewer.
Who is David X?
Robert Devriendt: He’s my alter ego. He’s a fictional character who guides me towards my subjects. It’s easier for me. He’s the character in the leather jacket and sunglasses. He’s also someone I met in the street. He fascinated me because he is what I am not and what I will undoubtedly never be. It took me a year to convince him to pose for me. In my paintings, he is an actor; I never do portraits. With his sunglasses on, you don’t know if he is looking within himself or looking in front of him. We don’t know either, whether what he sees is reality or his imagination.
This series is called “The Missing Script”, a reference to the cinema, whose codes it uses. Is that also an invitation to the viewer to fill in the blanks?
Devriendt: In “The Missing Script”, I painted a story of which one only sees fragments. There are pieces missing.
There is a link between the images, even if there doesn’t seem to be or if I don’t immediately understand it. I don’t want to understand everything that I paint, that doesn’t interest me.
In every series, I need an enigma. I don’t create them artificially. Sometimes I discover the enigma by looking at the images. And for each of them, there are several possibilities, several solutions. But in the end, the most important thing is the image in the mind of the viewer. Without the viewer, there is no art. The work exists in the moment in which one looks at it, and thus its content is always changing.
What brings the images together in a single series: characters, places, or something impossible to explain?
Devriendt: What connects the stories is a certain mood. Everyone thinks it’s the subject, but what matters is how it is painted.
How did you develop your very precise technique and why is it necessary?
Devriendt: It’s a way of trying to see things in depth, in an obsessive way. Nowadays, we see thousands of photographs that we are bombarded with and which we barely look at. I try to go to the heart of things. Being a painter means taking 8,000 decisions.
This exhibition is the result of two years of work. It requires a lot of energy. I often paint twenty or so canvases at the same time. For me, there is no difference between realism and abstraction. Sometimes, I need a red or a blue, so I look for something I can paint in blue.
You live in Bruges and people sometimes liken your style to that of the Flemish primitives, is that too facile?
Devriendt: No, I don’t think so. When I started in the mid-1980s, painting wasn’t very fashionable. It was seen as something outdated. It was very difficult to work in order to develop your way of painting. At that time, I spent a lot of time in museums. That was where I learned that the more you look at a painting, the more abstract it becomes. There is something conceptual about my paintings. The work is not limited to what you see in the images. A lot of people are afraid of a beautiful painting. People concentrate too much on what is in the image, not on the way it was painted. To me, technique is first and foremost a means of seduction.
Is illusion also a key to appreciating your work?
Devriendt: Illusion is very important. Illusion is all around us but we always need other illusions. Our culture gives us illusions, but the artist must look for others. There are illusions of belief, love, money, and celebrity. That’s why I painted a woman picking up an antler in the forest, and then I painted her again in front of a blue background as though in front of a blue screen at the cinema. She’s in the forest, but she could have been in front of any other background. It’s all an illusion.
Cinema is implicit in all your images. Have you ever been tempted to make more direct use of that medium?
Devriendt: No, painting is my language. For a film-maker, it’s hard to show things and not show them. Personally, I think the things that you don’t show are as important as those that you do show. That said, I have been writing a novel for five years. David X is one of the characters in it. I hope I will be able to finish it, but it’s very slow work because every word, every comma counts. I am very fussy and there’s an obsessive side to my work. I have noticed, moreover, that the most interesting artists are the ones who go all the way with their art. It’s a bit like in flamenco, when the singing is pushed to the limit and becomes a shout.
Are you going to continue to reveal your “Missing Script”, image by image?
Devriendt: Every exhibition is a separate story. My images will change in the future. To continue to paint, I need something different. In this series, there is an image of a viaduct. Now that I have painted it and I see it, it makes me want to pass under it to go further into the forest, to meet the people who live there. I know that when I go there, I will discover a new world. For me, painting is a way of escaping.
> ROBERT DEVRIENDT: THE MISSING SCRIPT 2. THROUGH THE EYES OF DAVID X. > 18/5, Baronian Xippas, baronianxippas.com