Born in 1973 in Kortrijk, Belgium
Lives and works in Brussels, Belgium
1973, Kortrijk, Belgium
Lives and works in Turin, Italy
1999 – 2001 HISK, Higher Institute for Fine Arts, Antwerp, Belgium
1991 – 1995 H.I.B.K., Higher Institute for Visual Arts, Sint-Lucas, Ghent, Belgium
Galerie Perrotin, Paris, France
Blueproject Foundation, Barcelona, Spain
‘Le temps de l'audace et de l’engagement - De leur temps (5) - Collections privées françaises’, Institut d’Art Contemporain, Villeurbanne, France
'Lines of Tangency', MSK, Museum of Fine Arts, Ghent, Belgium
Galerie Greta Meert, Brussels, Belgium
Galerie Perrotin, Hong Kong, China
Carl Freedman, London, United Kingdom
Team Gallery, New York, USA
Permanent Installation, Silo à sel, Site de la Voirie de la Ville de Genève, Switzerland
Permanent Installation, Galeries Lafayette, Biarritz, France
ProjecteSD, Barcelona, Spain
Galerie Perrotin, Paris, France
Be-Part, Waregem, Belgium
Londonewcastle Project Space, London, United Kingdom
Carl Freedman Gallery, London, United Kingdom
'Reception: Pieter Vermeersch hosts...', represented by ProjecteSD, Barcelona Art Basel Miami Beach, Miami, Florida, USA
ING Project Space, Art Brussels 2010, Brussels, Belgium
Elisa Platteau Galerie, Brussels, Belgium
Ensorhuis, Oostende, Belgium
'Reception: Pieter Vermeersch hosts...', ProjecteSD, Barcelona, Spain
Beeldenstroom, Berlare – Laarne – Wetteren - Wichelen, Belgium
Carl Freedman Gallery, London, United Kingdom
White Box, New York, USA
Galerie Les filles du calvaire – Project Room, Brussels, Belgium
SECONDroom, Brussel, Belgium
RONMANDOS Gallery, with Gert Mul, Amsterdam, Netherlands
CCNOA, Brussels, Belgium
‘Work in Progress III’, Cultuurcentrum Strombeek, Strombeek-Bever, Belgium
‘Work in Progress II’, Koraalberg, Antwerp, Belgium
‘Work in Progress I’, curated by Dieter Roelstraete, Off the Hook, Ghent, Belgium
'THREE POSITIONS. SIX DIRECTIONS. | CHAPTER I: THE BRUTALIST IDEAL', König Galerie, Berlin, Germany
'Renaissances, Un hommage contemporain à Florence', curated by Anna Morettini, Fondation Etrillard, Hôtel de La Salle, Paris, France
'Silver Lining - Interiors', curatorial program by OFFICE Kersten Geers David Van Severen, Richard Venlet & Joris Kritis, Interieur Biennial 2016, Kortrijk, Belgium
'Nomadic Images', XVI International Vilnius Painting Triennial, Vilnius, Lituania
Kenpoku Art 2016, Ibaraki, Japan
‘Un Voyage en Mer’, curated by Nicolas Jolly, Charles Riva Collection, Brussels, Belgium
'Double Room (Episode 1: Pieter Vermeersch - Denicolai & Provoost)', ISELP, Brussels, Belgium
'The Gap: Selected Abstract Art from Belgium', curated by Luc Tuymans, Parasol unit, London, United Kingdom
'L'abstraction géométrique belge', L'Espace de l'Art Concret, Mouans-Sartoux, France
'Karsten Födinger | Pieter Vermeersch', Cabinet, Milano, Italy
'Blue Pink Black', Carl Freedman Gallery, London, United Kingdom
'green postcard', curated by Max Henry, Ibid. London, London, United Kingdom
'Raaklijnen', MSK, Museum of Fine Arts, Ghent, Belgium
'Guy Van Bossche - Unterseeboot Über Malermeister', Cultuurcentrum Mechelen, Mechelen, Belgium
'Threshold', De Garage, Mechelen, Belgium
'Small Museum for the American Metaphor', Redcat, Los Angeles, California, USA
'Le Labo des héritiers', MAC's, Grand-Hornu, Belgium
'Monocrime' with Larry Bell, Alan Charlton, Paul Fägerskiöld, Marcia Hafif, Joseph Marioni, Olivier Mosset, Joshua Smith & Pieter Vermeersch, Albert Baronian Gallery, Brussels, Belgium
'The Fifth Dimension', featuring (in order of their works’ appearance): Pieter Vermeersch, Tauba Auerbach, Geof Oppenheimer, Iman Issa, Ika Kneževi?, Karl Holmqvist and Lili Reynaud Dewar, Logan Center Gallery, Chicago, Illinois, USA
'The Prélude Pathétique', Universiteitsbibliotheek, Leuven, Belgium
'Happy Birthday. Galerie Perrotin / 25 ans', Tripostal, Lille, France
'Jeunes collectionneurs', Maison Particulière, Brussels, Belgium
'Jo Delahaut - Hors Limites/Grenzeloos', Botanique, Brussels, Belgium
'Now and Then: The first five countries of the ECB's exhibition series', European Central Bank, Eurotower Foyer, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
'About Waves 3 - Via het virtuele', Museumcultuur Strombeek/Gent, CC Strombeek, Strombeek-Bever, Belgium
'Rewire 2012 Exhibition: A Matter of Time', Rewire Festival, The Hague, The Netherlands
'MER. @ Motto Berlin', Motto, Berlin, Germany
'The meaning of colour', Valerie Traan, Antwerp, Belgium
'Sense and Sustainability', Urdaibai Arte, Urdaibai Natural Reserve, Basque Country, Spain
'Le Prince des rayons', Galerie VidalCuglietta, Brussels, Belgium
'Tender Buttons. Becoming Gertrude Stein', curated by Guy Bovyn, resto Overpoort, Ghent, Belgium
‘Found in Translation, chapter L’, Casino Luxembourg, Luxembourg, Luxembourg
'(when will they finally see) The Power of Drawing', Geukens & De Vil, Antwerp, Belgiuù
'30/30 Image Archive Project 2: A collective collection', PS project space, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
'Public Private Paintings', Mu.ZEE, Oostende, Belgium
'Tegenlicht', S.M.A.K., Ghent, Belgium
Elisa Platteau Galerie, Brussels, Belgium
'With Your Eyes Only', YUM, Brussels, Belgium
'Vermeersch', 'De Loketten', Flemish Parliament, Brussels, Belgium
'Bij Ensor op bezoek', Mu.ZEE, Ostend, Belgium
‘With Your Eyes Only. Perceptive moment (an investment in time)’, Kunstverein Medienturm, Graz, Austria
‘Avec le temps – In Time’, Robert Miller Gallery, New York City, New York, USA
‘re:print’, De Garage Mechelen, Belgium
'Jeugdzonde. Over opus één en opus min één', Hedah, Maastricht, The Netherlands
‘Beyond these walls’, South London Gallery, London, United Kingdom
'There is no(w) romanticism', Galerie Les filles du calvaire, Brussels, Belgium
‘Contour Light’, Mechelen, Belgium
‘Fading’, Museum van Elsene, Elsene, Belgium, Belgium
‘Een Repliek’, curated by Guy Bovyn, Resto Overpoort, Ghent, Belgium
‘Take Off 2009’, Koraalberg, Antwerp, Belgium
'mypainting.nu', Lokaal 01 Breda, Breda, The Netherlands
'Isomopolis', Etablissement d'en face projects, Brussels, Belgium
'Multiple 12', REIS, Antwerp, Belgium
‘Brussels Biennial’, selected by Witte de With – Rotterdam, Brussels, Belgium
‘Honorons honoré’, De Garage, Mechelen, Belgium
‘Summer accrochage’, Koraalberg, Antwerp, Belgium
‘Narratives in space / spatial narrations’, ACEC, Ghent, Belgium
‘Entity/Identity’, SM, ‘s Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands
‘Multi/Plier’, Galerie Les filles du calvaire, Brussels, Belgium
‘Jafre Biennial’, Jafre, Spain
‘Pentimento’, Koraalberg, Antwerp, Belgium
‘Prix de la Jeune Peinture Belge’, Bozar, Brussels, Belgium
‘Four4One’, Oud-spinnerij de Hemptinne, Ghent, Belgium
‘A Bit O’ White’, CCNOA, Brussels, Belgium
‘[Mon Parnasse]’, Franciscanen klooster, Ghent, Belgium
‘Factura’, De Markten, Brussels, Belgium
‘BRAINBOX crox-room3: unit 5’, Croxhapox, Ghent, Belgium/B
‘Freestate’, Oud Militair Hospitaal, Oostende, Belgium
‘ERGENS/SOMEWHERE. Pierre Bismuth, Koenraad Dedobbeleer, Pieter Vermeersch in dialoog met de MuHKA-collectie’, MuHKA, Antwerp, Belgium
Koraalberg, Antwerp, Belgium
‘Mystiek van kleur’, Roger Raveel Museum, Machelen-Zulte, Belgium
‘Palais des arts 2006’, Palais im GroBen Garten, Dresden, Germany
‘Take Off 2006’, Koraalberg, Antwerp, Belgium
‘Lineart Playground’, Lineart ’05, represented by HISK, Ghent, Belgium
‘Super! Triennial Hasselt’, curated by Edith Doove, Hasselt, Belgium
‘Artificial Landscape’, Kasteel Schuurlo, Sint-Maria-Aalter, Belgium
‘Artuatuca Festival’, Tongeren, Belgium
‘Basics # 2’, Croxhapox, Ghent, Belgium
‘Overschilderen. Vormen van vermenging tussen Schilderkunst en Andere Media. Een dertigtal jonge kunstenaars uit Vlaanderen en Nederland samen met Virginie Bailly, Vincent Geyskens, Angelo Vermeulen en Pieter Vermeersch’, STUK Kunstencentrum, Leuven, Belgium
‘Expanded painting’, Prague Biennial 2, Prague, Czech Republic
‘Les Ventinelles’, Biennale d’Art Contemporain Edition 2005, ‘Flandre’, Anglet, France
‘FW: Painting’, Montanus.5, Diksmuide, Belgium
‘METAMORPHOSIS II. Sergio de Beukelaer, Maryam Najd, Hans Op de Beeck, Pieter Vermeersch’¸ curated by Christa Vyvey, Galleria d’arte moderna e contempornea, Rafaelle de Gradea, Musei Civici de San Gimignano, San Gimignano, Italy
‘Homemaker’, Ruimte voor actuele kunst ‘De Garage’, Mechelen, Belgium
‘We are family!’, Cultuurcentrum Strombeek, Strombeek-Bever, Belgium
‘Define Yourself – definitions of space’, CBK Deventer, Deventer, The Netherlands
‘A/MAZE’, curated by Philippe Braem, Tréfilerie, Brussels, Belgium
‘Regarding Muybridge: Eadweard Muybridge, Matt Mullican, Sol Lewitt, Iñaki Bonillas & Pieter Vermeersch, Erick Beltran’, ProjecteSD, Barcelona, Spain
‘Watou Poëziezomer 2004. Als een deur zonder huis die nog openstaat’, Watou, Belgium
‘Summer exhibition 2004. Anton Cotteleer, Nick Ervinck, Pieter Huybrechts, Arno Roncada, Pieter Vermeersch, Robin Vermeersch, Tom Woestenborghs’, Koraalberg, Antwerp, Belgium
‘Over de Grens/ Across The Border’, curated by Edith Doove, Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens, Deurle, Belgium in collaboration with Frac Nord-Pas de Calais, Dunkerque, France
‘A temporary monument for David Mc Comb’, curated by J.B. Koeman, STUK Kunstencentrum, Leuven, Belgium
‘Hal 23’, Ghent, Belgium
‘METAMORPHOSIS II. Sergio de Beukelaer, Maryam Najd, Hans Op de Beeck, Pieter Vermeersch’¸ curated by Christa Vyvey, Museo Abelló, Barcelona, Spain
‘Methamorphosis II. Sergio De Beukelaer, Hans Op De Beeck, Maryam Najd, Pieter Vermeersch’, curated by Christa Vyvey, Cultuurcentrum De Werft, Geel, Belgium
‘The Sublime was Yesterday III. Pieter Vermeersch & Anton Cotteleer’, curated by Guy Bovyn, Tijdelijke Kunst-Zone, Ghent, Belgium
‘Lieve D'Hondt, Tilman, Pieter Vermeersch, Tine Vindevogel’, Galerie CD, Tielt, Belgium
‘Once Upon a Time… Een blik op kunst in België in de jaren ’90’, curated by Bart De Baere & Guillaume Bijl, MuHKA, Antwerp, Belgium
‘Basics #1’, Croxhapox, Ghent, Belgium
‘Metamorphosis II. Sergio De Beukelaer, Hans Op De Beeck, Maryam Najd, Pieter Vermeersch’, curated by Christa Vyvey, L.A.C. Lieu d'Art Contemporain, Sigean, France
‘Grand Tour’, MSK Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Ghent, Belgium
‘Speelhoven ’03. “Drifting – Dérive”’, curated by Bert de Leenheer & Dirk Vanhecke, Speelhoven vzw, Aarschot, Belgium
‘Work in Collaboration with Iñaki Bonillas’, Galería O.M.R., Mexico City, Mexico
Art Brussels, Dexia Contemporary Art Collection, Brussels, Belgium
‘Storage and Display’, Programmaartcenter, Mexico City, Mexico
‘At least begin to make an end. Strip Revert and Dewind’, curated by Ann De Meester, W139, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
‘Henry!’, curated by Luk Lambrecht, Tweebronnen Stedelijke Bibliotheek en Stadsarchief, Leuven, Belgium
‘Ik of een ander/Moi ou un autre. Zelfportretten van Belgische kunstenaars/Autoportraits d’artistes belges’, Dexia Gallery, Passage 44, Brussels, Belgium
‘Station2station. Kunstproject op netwerk van benzinestations in Vlaanderen & Brussel’, Brugge 2002, curated by Michel Dewilde & Robin Boone, Flanders, Belgium
‘Joris Ghekiere, Pieter Vermeersch, Kris Fierens, Gauthier Hubert. Kunstenaars van de galerie’, Koraalberg, Antwerp, Belgium
‘Floral’, curated by Sofie Lachaert, Phidias, Ruiselede, Belgium
‘21/5’, Ghent, Belgium
‘XIX in MMI in HISK. Expositie Laureaten’, HISK, Antwerp, Belgium
‘Painting – Show. 5 schilders’, M&M gallery, Bornem, Belgium
‘Mont-St-Michel’, Districtshuis Merksem, Merksem, Belgium
‘Raamwerk’, ING BBL Oostende, Oostende, Belgium
‘Pieter Vermeersch/Robin Vermeersch’, curated by Guy Bovyn, Galerie Kunst-Zicht, Ghent, Belgium
‘Open Ateliers/Open Studios. Kandidaat laureaten 2000-2001’, curated by Sam Dillemans, HISK, Antwerp, Belgium
‘Fingerspitzengefühl. Ives Maes/Pieter Vermeersch’, In/Out Projectspace, HISK, Antwerp, Belgium
‘Kunst voor Kunst’, Oude Abdij, Drongen, Belgium
‘Guerrilla in de Kunst of de omsingeling van de ruimte’, curated by Jan Carlier, HISK, Antwerp, Belgium
'IN/OUT project space', curated by Sam Dillemans, HISK, Antwerp, Belgium
‘Open Atelieres/Open Studios. Kandidaat-laureaten 1999-2000’, curated by Sam Dillemans, HISK, Antwerp, Belgium
‘Zonder Catalogus' , with Peter Lagast, Galerij Declercq, Knokke, Belgium
‘Travelnotes' , Hotel Erasmus, Bruges, Belgium
‘Grenier_d'amis' , Den Dwarskop, Bruges, Belgium
Best exhibition in a spanish gallery - 9915 Collectors Association
Young Belgian Painters Award - Centre for Fine Arts award
Lecture by Prof. Hilde Van Gelder & Prof. Paul Cruysberghs, STUK Kunstencentrum, Leuven, Belgium
Guided tour and lecture by Pieter Vermeersch, STUK Kunstencentrum, Leuven, Belgium
‘Janus is landing in Amsterdam…’, W139, Amsterdam, Netherlands
'Vermeersch', De Loketten - Flemish Parliament, Brussels, Belgium
‘Prospect 58’, Hessenhuis, Antwerp, Belgium
Dexia Art Collection, Brussels, Belgium
Flemish Parliament, Brussels, Belgium
ING Art Collection, Brussels, Belgium
M HKA, Antwerp, Belgium
National Bank of Belgium, Brussels, Belgium
S.M.A.K., Ghent, Belgium
Ce quelque chose qui est à mi-chemin entre la couleur de mon atmosphère typique et la pointe de ma réalité. (Antonin Artaud)
Time, space and colour. These are the elementary building blocks with which Pieter Vermeersch creates his
universe. How these elements are used and how they interact, is different in every work. Yet all the works
share one feature: it is the viewer who, through the physical act of looking, combines the different elements
and, more importantly, combines with them.
This implies an underlying relational aesthetics. And that becomes obvious in the works Vermeersch refers
to as gradations: monumental paintings (often murals) that are characterized by a very precise, almost
scientific, gradual 'shifting' of the colour: from black to white, from deep blue to white, from dark red to white,
etc. These are paintings that lack a focal centre, that are without harmony or counterpoint, without
(autonomous) balanced composition – they are a mere 'dis/solving'. From whichever position the viewer
contemplates the work, she sees and experiences an impalpable, intangible in-between, a pleasant
intrusive vibrating. The colours themselves are chosen with a certain degree of arbitrariness, or, if there is a
logic at work, they are 'applied' by the surroundings. Thus, though colour is used explicitly, this is not simply
an expressionist art of sorts. On the contrary, it could easily be argued that like artists such as François
Morrelet and Hélio Oiticica, Vermeersch adopts an objectifying attitude which sends the idea of the brilliant,
autonomous creator, back to the stage of the romantic theatre, where it belongs.
This inglorious, humble and worldly view of the artistic calling is also obvious in the average colours series:
monochrome—the mean value of the original colours—colour paintings, that result from an 'arithmetical'
redrawing of an existing painting, i.e. a statistical adaption of a painting results in a colour in-between. This
transformation, this 'objectification' often—perhaps not coincidentally—results in a monochrome brownishgrey,
with which the artist as it were 'devalues' the art of painting and hails it back in our own concrete world.
With this 'horizontalisation' of the painting, this lowering from the 'vertical' to the 'horizontal', we also
experience an activation or temporisation of the painting: the mental gaze of the viewer oscillates between
the image that is physically present and the image that remains physically absent (the original painting
which is still referred to in labels).
The concept is further explored—an expression that comes to mind is 'studied in depth', but then the phrase
may be inappropriate—as the artist applies the strategy to an entire collection. The result, a series of small,
monochrome brownish-grey paintings, is arranged according to a strict geometric pattern. As such an
'authentic' collection of paintings that was once collected by 'someone' and that was made up of different
formats, 'divergent' frames and conflicting stories is now reduced to a non-hierarchical series of paintingsobjects.
At the same time, the artist refers to the modernist emblem par excellence: the grid. Yet, once the
symbol of being-outside-time and consequently being-outside-the-world, the symbol of the autonomous and
autotelic, the grid we see here has 'fused' with (art) history and the active (re-)imagination of the viewer. It
can therefore hardly function as it is expected to, as apparently stable systems 'merely' result in this
instance in 'unstable' images. This grid that is and cannot become, carved as it is in the Now, this fortress
modernism once built as a defence against the narrative, is presented here in its naked existence, as ruin
that somehow 'adresses us', 'speaks' to us.
This by no means implies that the artist exalts the trivial image or that he trivializes the painterly image (and
by extension the work of art). What Vermeersch is seeking, is the re-translation of (the) 'painting', back to its
Essence: Colour, or matter and light, matter vibrating with energy, and Time. By introducing the aspect of
time the position of whom we usually refer to as the viewer, too, becomes different: the (allegedly rational?)
pre-conceiving individual is rewritten into a post-conceiving viewer, who, going beyond an all too
conceptualized 'observing', being herself matter-in-time (but was ignorant of the latter up till now), tunes
herself to the 'work of art'. Vibrating with the work of art the viewer thus is positioned on the same
ontological level as the work of art: the extremely subjectified viewer joins the painting and becomes Colour.
Like the painting she becomes part of an ever shifting Now and continues to be part of a process of
becoming. Two vibrations, one composing the other, two localized moments—the 'here and there' of the
recent past and the 'here and there' of the recent future: between those Colours (mutual signifiers) the
composition of the work of art takes place, i.e. we re-live the actual work of art becoming a shape in space.
Furthermore, not only the composition of the work of art, but the composition of the world and the subject,
the subject in the world and the world in the subject, occurs in this in-between. A ubiquitous mutual
What Pieter Vermeersch shows us, is not a representation of the concepts of 'time', 'space', and 'colour'.
The artist simply shows us nothing. We become experience, we become energetic vibration. Colour, Time
and Space as sensations, the subject and the worlds as composite. At first sight the work seems rather
abstract—for some people it even belongs to conceptual art. Yet, as we contemplate the work more closely,
it appears to be rooted in this world, the world. From quality to quantity and back to quality.
by Dieter Roelstraete interviews Pieter Vermeersch
My first question has to do with chronology, i.e. with the development of your work. The
“installation” Off The Hook (summer 2000, Ghent) marked a break in your career as a painter.
Roughly put, one could say that the work preceding Off The Hook belonged to “traditional”
painting: two-dimensional, in a certain sense figurative, in line with the flatness of the pictorial
surface. But then your work acquires the sculptural qualities of an installation, or even those of
a performance: transparent and spatial, three-dimensional. It seems to distance itself from the
traditional pictorial grammar and dimensions, though, of course, you still use paint. Is the
contrast indeed as marked and simple as I present it here, or are things somewhat more
Maybe I should refer in this context to 8 Paintings, a work of mine that is little known but that holds the
key to your question. I created the work long before Off The Hook. It consists of a series of eight
paintings, each of them depicting the same hazy image of a windscreen with a wiper. For these
paintings I used one single photograph as a model, a photograph without any aesthetic qualities for that
matter. Anyway, I had tried to reproduce this image as exact and accurate as possible. That precisely
was my point of departure, from which the act of painting had to emanate. An extremely dogmatic point
of departure, of course, and an extremely artificial approach of painting: the naked idea, the detached,
mechanical reproduction as practical premise. My primary aim was to formulate a sort of Neue
Sachlichkeit, a new objectivity, a pictorial idiolect that had to be as impersonal as possible. Sheer
technique, pure artificiality. The beauty of it all is that in the end a sort of “nature” surfaces anyway. A
novel “natural quality” emerges all the same. The more systematically you try to erase spontaneity from
the image, the more tenaciously it manifests itself. Exact reproduction is not only unlivable, it is simply
impossible. Even at that time this aspect was an important element of tension in my work.”
Even in a rigorously mechanically cleansed process, “natural” programming errors occur.
Exactly. For me 8 Paintings represents a key work, because it was my first radical attempt to “break
loose” from the canvas. Because every day, time and time again, I painted the same image, I was
confronted with painting as a process in a direct, physical manner. My attitude towards my practice as
an artist, my way of thinking, my aims, are embodied in an exemplary way in this work. In a manner of
speaking, you could call it a manifesto. Painting on the edge: in a tense, rigid, purified sort of manner
this work expresses everything I stand by as an artist.
And then you were invited to take part in Off The Hook, an independent, small-scale exhibition,
that turned out to be a turning-point.
It was the first time that as a painter I was confronted with such a strongly defined—and defining—
spatial context. At first I didn’t know very well what to do with these glass cases and the empty room.
There were actually two options to choose from. I could either opt for a historical approach, i.e. I could
create a work that revived the past of this empty showcase, or I could simply approach the given space
in its absoluteness as a sort of three-dimensional canvas.
It so happened some time earlier I had painted a self-portrait on transparent plastic. The choice of a
transparent non-entity as a support instead of the traditional white canvas bears of course witness to my
“enquiry” into the fundamentals of paint. How can we show the essence of paint, while at the same time
maintain the representation? Is it possible to show paint as mere paint and yet not renounce the image,
the representational content? The same questions emerged, of course, from the architectural
configuration of the Off The Hook venue, with the great glass surfaces that determined the space. Like
8 Paintings and the self-portrait on transparent plastic, Off The Hook provided an ideal opportunity to
explore the “edges”, the outer limits of the pictorial process. But in Off The Hook and in the works I later
produced for the exhibitions at Koraalberg and in Strombeek-Bever there is also a reductionist element:
all these projects were based on a schematic formula—one image a day, from which the image of the
work as a whole had to emanate.
The emphasis in your work shifted from the product to the production, from the painting to the act of painting?
Production is an important element, but the act itself I have never considered quite essential. Of course,
there is a certain part to be played by the self-conscious act of painting, but for me the essence is not
the action as such. In that sense I strongly oppose any attempt to characterize my work as a sort of
“performance”. I found it quite instructive to see Off The Hook evolve to become as it were a living
organism. Though the public could not actually access the room, every day some people came to see
how the work evolved, how the room would transform into a light box with different shades again. In first
instance my aim was to elucidate the fundamentals of painting, to bring to life the reality of light and
colour with means as basic as possible.
How did I actually proceed? I had set out to work along a rather rigorously worked-out scheme, but I
also allowed myself the artistic freedom to incorporate sudden ideas or influences, such as the
incidence of the light or chance combinations of colours. Despite the analytical point of departure, these
surprise elements make the work interesting. A work scheme should be flexible to allow room for
chance, for contingencies. In that sense there is a parallel with “everyday life”. We close the door
behind us, another day at the office is about to start—in my case a day working with the Off The Hook
glass cases—a day that will bring us the same sort of work as any other day. Yet every day is different:
there are minute variations that bring a third dimension to the flatness of everyday life.
But we, as the public, can only experience this by registering the entire transformation process
that keeps the work “alive”. How important is this element of registration? Are the photographic
and video registrations of the creative process in Ghent, Antwerp and Strombeek-Bever an
integral part of the work as such?
That depends to a great extent on the specific spatial context. In Strombeek-Bever, e.g., the video
projection was a sort of “encore” that allowed the public literally and figuratively to look inside the tactile
nature of the act of painting, i.e. inside the pure physics of the action—which, indeed, does play a part.
But I repeat: the video images that show myself while painting (“caught in the act”) are not meant to
submit to the demands of the idiolect of the performance. The images are not the images of a scene or
of a choreography; they are images of painting as such. Neue Sachlichkeit—New Objectivity—no more,
no less. Furthermore, the registration of the creative process is never restricted to the recording of one
image. On the contrary: there is an abundance of “illustrative” images and these all serve the same
instructive purpose: showing paint as paint, no matter what supports the paint.
What we see is mere paint...
Indeed. Feel free to refer to it as a demystification of the metaphysics of the work, a demystification of
the metaphysics of the image, too, of the romantic illusion of artistic calling. Painting is kind of job like
any other. Simply everyday work, to which all people are subject. In that sense the illustrative visual
material that registers the act is indeed an integral part of the work. It allows a view inside the work or
through the work, like the glass membrane of the showcases that demystifies and enlightens us about
painting. At the same time it is a sort of gate that enables “the Other” to enter the work. For [solemn
voice] “the work of art always remains in part in the artist’s mind, yet the artists incessantly hopes to
meet the Other.” Not my words, but those of some philosopher. I forgot whose—maybe Wittgenstein’s.
I had the feeling, anyway, that while painting the Off The Hook showcases or the Koraalberg windows
or the glass cases in Strombeek-Bever I was not merely present in a studio, but also in a study, in a
room to think. It was as if I was walking about in my own thinking head, as if the process of thinking was
expressed through my act of painting!”
“Meeting the Other”, that sounds rather idealistic. The works in Ghent, Antwerp and Strombeek-
Bever seem very off-limit to me. They look detached, as if they insist on the physical isolation of
the light box. Except in Koraalberg (where the spatial situation of the gallery disrupted the
continuity between the works in progress of Ghent en Strombeek-Bever), none of the exhibition
spaces could actually be entered. In Strombeek-Bever it was made very clear that such was your
intention, i.e. that the public was to be excluded from the three-dimensional experience.
There is indeed a border the public “should not” or cannot cross. But that does not imply there is
something I want to deny to the public or that I want to deprive them of something. In Ghent the
concrete spatial context of the exhibition room simply allowed no more than this sole view. In
Strombeek-Bever I deliberately tried to re-create this situation, precisely because I wanted to undermine
the mystification of the pictorial space. Actually, I do not deprive the public of something, I offer a lot, as
I allow people to look behind the scenes, inside the “brain” of the art of painting. True, I create a certain
distance, but in exchange the public is allowed to become a privileged witness to the analysis, to the
dismantling of the image.
And the dismantling of the image results in a new image: a meta-image.
Indeed. It all sounds rather theoretical and mathematical, but what is important, is that these metaimages,
these reflections on the creation of images, generate a lot of visual impact. In the end the result
should be an overwhelming visual experience. As far as I am concerned, the “sublime” remains a
relevant contemporary aesthetical category.
The word “overwhelming” reminds me of the monumental “murals” you recently realized in the
S.M.A.K. in Ghent and in the Programa Art Center in Mexico City: huge frescos that indeed
overwhelm us, that submerge us. A sharper contrast with the detached trigonometry of
Strombeek-Bever is hard to imagine.
But the contrast is merely spatial. Certain spatial conditions lead me to work on showcases or to work in
space, resulting in the meanwhile familiar fading gradations. The huge murals with the extremely subtle
gradations of colours may seem more spontaneous or intuitive—they seem perfect for the aesthetic
experience of the sublime—but in the end they are merely the result of meticulous three-dimensional
calculations. The philosophy of the gradations is no less mathematical than the reductionist philosophy
of the “one-colour-a-day” works. All these works result from the same basic intention, from the same
prime attitude, i.e. my work does not focus on a single theme, but on a specific mentality, which is
actually a mathematically inspired interest in the image, or an interest in the art of painting as such.
The calculus of colour, shall we say. Your work in Mexico City, too, led us to discuss the
contrast between the extreme objective attitude from which you depart and the overwhelming
physical experience of the finished product—the Apollonian and the Dionysiac poles: the
analytic reason of the “creative” formula versus the synthetic, almost holistic aesthesis of the
environment that is the “product” of this formula.
For me that summarizes the area of tension on which my recent work focusses. Automatism versus
experience. In my view this contrast provides the only means to create tension in a painting. Yes, this
tension is what makes painting “liveable”. If an extremely rigid conceptual attitude results in an
extremely rigid—i.e. completely conceptualized—image, the result is simply dead art. A stringent, pure,
technical concept needs to be “corrected” by a visually interesting execution.
If only to avoid tautologies, which, as we all know, are devoid of meaning. But what exactly do
you mean with the phrase “a visually interesting execution” of the work? Does that phrase refer
to the classical idea of beauty? From a historical point of view that idea seems out of date. It has
furthermore been deconstructed to such an extent that it seems more topical and fashionable
Beauty is of course an element of interest. It may a bonus, but the creation of beauty cannot be the sole
purpose. You refer to my works in the S.M.A.K. in Ghent or in the Programa Art Center in Mexico City
as a “plea for beauty”. I consider this beauty simply inherent to my method of working. Maybe true
beauty resides in the contrasting effect of the tension between the formulaic nature of painting as a
“conveyor belt job” and the aesthetic experience of something sublime that is manufactured at this
It is hard to see the sublime in pictorial terms separate from the work of Barnett Newman or
Marc Rothko. Do these associations annoy you, or do you find them stimulating?
I don’t feel particularly related to this tradition. My way of working is simply too objective to relate to this
tradition, while theirs is precisely extremely subjective. The primary impulse that inspires my work as an
artist is anything but romantic. In fact it is prosaic—which cannot be said in the case of an artist like
In your case the prosaic impulse can at the very most lead to a romantic result. There we are
confronted once more with the tension between methodology—de jure, a priori—and
experience—de facto, post factum.
That might be a way to put it. I think it is necessary to emphasize once more how important experience
is for me, for I paint to obtain a result that will bring me lasting joy. I, too, want to share this experience.
Ideally a powerful image is an image that can be consumed daily. Apart from my longing for a
conceptually solid foundation, I also want to satisfy my own visual hunger. And that results in something
that is useful to the public as well.
But reverting to this so-called key work that inspired this sort of thinking, those eight identical
“copies” of an utterly inferior photographic image: no matter how watertight that was with
regard to the concept, was it not an exceedingly dull work of art? What is the aesthetic surplus
value of this work, what about the “visually interesting” dimension? Or was is simply an
interesting work of art in itself? And you must be aware that the term “interesting”—which is
itself a product of Romanticism—usually is a euphemism for “irrelevant” or “ugly”...
That is correct, but this “key work” was not simply a work of art. It was more of a statement, a manifesto.
I have never exhibited it, for that matter. The rigidity of the pictorial gesture—painting the same subject
over and over again, “like a machine” Warhol would say—was the entire point, nothing more. And of
course I soon discovered that I could not go on with this sort of thing, that it literally was not
“interesting”. You could call it a theoretical and conceptual exercise, but the act itself was quite
instructive and, as it turned out, defining. It turned out a grid.
But the works in Ghent, Antwerp, Mexico, Amsterdam or Strombeek-Bever in a way also form a grid or
blueprint that generates other paintings, that prompts me to return to the canvas. There is an interesting
interaction that cancels the—in my view—artificial distinction between a two-dimensional and threedimensional
way of painting. The three-dimensional, “sculptural” work would not exist without the
impulses I received from my enquiry into painting on the traditional canvas. And likewise, my current
exploration of the possibilities of “traditional painting” is unthinkable without the incentives I got from
working in three dimensions and from literally feeling the edges of the pictorial surface. I have just
returned from Mexico, and already I know that the coming three or four months I will solely paint on
canvas. And the experiences that result from this work will be recycled in the “installations” that follow. I
want to move freely between the “extremes” of the two-dimensional canvas and the three-dimensional
space. They are the proverbial low and rising tides of my practice as an artist. Those two polar
tendencies reflect the opposition between Spartan technique and visual exuberance—which, for that
matter, is also manifest in other dualities that are important for a better understanding of my work. You
only need to think of the tension between the hard-edge reflection of painting on glass on the one hand,
and the organic, diffuse luminosity of the image that results from this manner of painting. Inside there is
the visual experience of “immersion”, but seen from outside there is the little attractive order of the grid.
Precisely these tensions, this dialectics of thesis (system), antithesis (experience) and synthesis (art),
make painting lively and attractive.
Is that the way to escape the so-called historic deadlock we usually refer to as “the end of
painting”? Or have you never experienced the feeling that our pictorial means have been
Of course I am familiar with this story of the end of painting. In a certain way the story of painting has
indeed come to an end, i.e. it has been “completed”. But I think you should not understand the end of
painting quite literally. The weight of the history of painting, or of whatever history for that matter, is no
impediment, but a challenge.
To that conclusion also Malevich had come. Having painted his legendary Black Square (1913),
he simply continued to paint. And twenty years later, he presented this magnificent self-portrait
with himself in a red cardinal outfit. Picabia, too, is another example. The bolts and nuts from his
Dadaist period seemed to herald the “end of painting”, while precisely his late work provided the
leitmotif for a prestigious retrospective about “figurative” painting.
That had of course to do with the spirit of the age. After the radical, i.e. “scientific” excesses of Cubism
(Cubism as method, as a mere formula), also Picasso sought new inspiration in the almost archaic,
“incorrect” figuration of a sort of neoclassical revival. “The end of painting”, that is actually the same as
reinventing the art of painting, starting all over again. And every new beginning always involves a sort of
turning back. And that, of course, confirms the idea that the story of the art of painting has come to a
close, that the rules of the game can no longer be altered. Image and representation versus
fundamental self-analysis and abstraction: these are the asymptotes that eternally define the practice of
painting. I do not think there is an alternative. There is nothing new to discover. In my own work, too, I
experience these two limits: abstract versus figurative, autonomous versus heteronomous, introspective
versus narrative. One cannot escape this choice, let alone that we could even imagine to be outside this
Your “photorealistic” landscapes are sometimes traversed by an enormous fluorescent stripe of
colour. Has that anything to do with what you just said? You “sabotage” the landscapes, you
curb the explicit figurative element by adding a “stripe of abstraction”?
That is true. It is as if I cannot simply paint a landscape without asking questions about its nature. In a
sense I have to sabotage the image to make it interesting. The image must comment itself, it must be
broken down. And because of that, we are always aware that we are looking at an image. But this, too,
results from the polemic antagonism between the illusion of total figuration—the image coincides with
reality—and the illusion of total abstraction—the image is its own reality. There is no escaping this
opposition. This discussion has been going on for decades. But it quite important to notice that to a
large extent this discussion took place largely among art critics, and only among a minority of painters
themselves. “The end of painting” is a story told by critics, and as we all know, these are not always
aware of what is happing in the real world out there. Any artist who wonders too much if he or she is
working in an era that follows the so-called “end of painting” puts a burden on his or her creative
practice. The artist will become trapped in the rhetorical game of “the end of history”, a game that soon
ceases to be interesting. Of course, it is not obvious to paint in this day and age, i.e. to paint in and with
the language that was handed down by the history of art. But it is ironic that the ontology of the art of
painting and the ontology of the pictorial image endorse so many other visual media: the pictorial image
is ubiquitous. Painting has freed itself from its form.
Dieter Roelstraete is editor-in-chief of the quarterly magazine AS and organizes exhibitions in the M
HKA. He was co-curator of the exhibition Storage & Display (Programa Art Center, Mexico City, 2003),
which featured also work by Pieter Vermeersch. With Diederik Peeters they form the free noise jazz
power trio Spasm.
STORAGE & DISPLAY
by Dieter Roelstraete interviews Pieter Vermeersch, Mexico City, 2003
"What especially struck me upon my arrival in Mexico City - the six of us were driven into the city in the back of a
pick-up truck and had to lie down every now and then to escape the attention of traffic police officers, so there
really wasn't much else to see - was the totally dizzying deluge of billboards planted along all the main traffic
arteries of the city, jumbled together on each available roof, clogging your eyesight at every possible turn. Of
course, just like everybody else I felt intrigued the most by the huge empty ones, the blank spaces and empty
canvasses that often come with nothing more than the owner's telephone number on it, like some cryptic
numerological message from another planet or something..."
I find it quite fitting that you would call them canvasses...
"Oh yeah, of course they appeal to my painterly impulses. Let's be fair - who wouldn't want to paint a billboard like
that? Actually, I immediately set my mind upon one such instance in particular, an enormous white surface just
opposite the Programa block, on the other side of the Circuito Interior - I think it stretches some amazing 20 to 12
metres, an awesome simmering blank rising up from this crazy orgy of people, traffic and noise... It must have
been standing empty like that for quite some time - there's not even a number on it."
Did you actually inquire what a monstrous plane of whiteness like that might cost?
"Absolutely - that was basically the first thing we did. And it turned out to be a hefty $30,000 a year... So that was
out of the question obviously."
That's a sobering reminder of the breach that actually gapes between the world of contemporary art and
the crude universe of commerce and capital - that kind of money would keep Programa afloat for another
"I guess so. Anyway, looking at that particular billboard did start a train of thought that would eventually lead to
the project I chose to take on, the white cube being reflected onto the white square, toying with this notion of the
outside being the inside, turning the whole space inside out - or better still, turning the whole space's inside out."
Is this the first project ever to feature some of Programa's outside walls?
"I don't know, it might be, you should check with the Programa folks themselves. Anyway I think it is - as far as
my own practice is concerned, the tension between the inside and the outside has become something of a
recurring theme, which was kind of inaugurated in a project I did in Ghent in 2000 called Off the Hook - which in
itself was a dissident, do-it-yourself artist-run offshoot off a big-ass open-air show called Over the Edges. The
work consisted of me painting the windows of an empty storefront in a different colour every other day. The actual
inside of the store was off limits to the passer-by and the general art audience alike, but you could look into the
space through a virginal, unpainted side window, through which you could see the piece transform itself on a
daily, performative basis - daylight filtering through the painted panels to produce ever changing spectacles of
overlapping colour planes. This piece was actually about a lot of different things at once, but it did touch on the
idea of blurring the divisions between inside and outside in a way that is again specifically relevant to the project I
am now working on in Programa, where there's also a windowpane "falsely" dividing the interior and exterior wall
with my piece effectively "running through" it... Before that I had worked on a series of "identical" paintings of a
car window, so the window theme and its many variations, meanings and implications definitely wasn't new to me
at that time - that particular series of paintings was also of seminal significance in that it dealt with the relentless
repetition of sameness, which I should like to talk about in a minute. And then I also just finished working on a
site-specific piece in the project room of the city museum of contemporary art in Ghent that deals with some of
What's the actual procedure of the work?
"The actual procedure consists of me painting a band of changing colour intensities all over the north wall of
Programa's first floor, a space that actually is not that regularly used to house exhibitions or mount works of art.
The colour spectrum varies between the twin extremes of the whitest white and the bluest blue, with the white
starting from the left side of the wall and systematically, gradually morphing into the deep blue with which the
mural concludes at the right side of the wall - the point where inside and outside effectively meet. From there on,
my work will continue on the outside wall, slowly growing to a really dark blue at the extreme right side of
Programa's east-facing outside wall... Of course the blue refers back to the ideal colour of the sky (deep blue is a
rare thing in the scorched jungle of Mexico City); in that sense, the mural really is a landscape painting -
incidentally, landscape painting is where I learned my "trademark" technique of what is called "degrade", or
degressive colour fields."
Just like the other "colour field" works you just mentioned there seems to be a lot of performance
"Well, not exactly – not "performance". Sure, I like the repetition of what Richter called the "daily practice of
painting". Through the obstinacy of the procedure, the resulting image acquires a scientific-like character, which I
like a lot. Yes, I'm definitely into the mathematics of colour. But then this same "scientific" approach is of course
again contradicted by the fundamentally experiential nature of "undergoing" pure colour, which is what the work is
really about: if it were merely a scientific formula, it would be easy to extract the hard data of all the colours
involved, but the fact is that it is practically impossible to detect any one colour per se - it's all about experiencing
the all-overness of the motion of changing colours. The rhythmic metamorphosis of pure colour in itself also has a
vortex-like quality to it, which again brings things back to the experience of trance and transcendence. There's a
lot of ritual involved indeed - and a lot of self-sacrifice, obviously, because painting a mural like this is a very
physical affair, what with the blazing heat and the blinding light of the sun projecting itself onto the white plane...
Not to mention the mental strain such an amount of monastic concentration on one particular colouring gesture
implies - a small mistake is easily made in mixing colours. And come to think of it, there's no such thing as "small
mistakes" in an operation of this nature... They don't come any more perfectionist than this one!"
Then there's also the third element of the supporting structure outside.
"That's there because I really couldn't let go of the billboard idea which gave me the original inspiration. [It also
protracts the visual process of the inside/outside mural.] So I eventually decided to have a billboard built on top of
the roof of the building next to Programa - which is apparently in the process of being rebuilt itself, it used to be
the supermarket to which the storage space that is now Programa used to belong. And now they're making some
kind of traffic police station out of it. I don't even know whether these people are really aware of what's going on
above their heads; it might not even be legal. Anyway, on this [white] billboard I will paint the telephone number of
Programa in deep blue lettering - actually the same deepest blue that makes up the extreme right colour band of
my mural painting inside Programa. Every day I will paint over the billboard's white surface in a gradually
"darkening" white until the numbers are barely visible anymore, until they are finally swallowed up in this vast
monochromatic field of one and the same, all-encompassing blue. Everyday a picture will be made of the state of
in-between-ness the billboard finds itself in at that specific moment in time, and these photographs will then again
be stuck back on the mural inside Programa, documenting the process of disappearance at work in both the
billboard and the mural itself. This work, then, deals more closely with the whole idea of conservation and
disappearance, which is very central to this particular strand of my body of work."
I especially like the idea of investing a lot of energy into "redecorating" a generic strip of exterior wall
almost invisible to the median Programa visitor. And of course the mural painting on the top floor's
inside wall will also remain in place for no more than a few weeks, whereas the billboard might be there
until the proverbial end of time... That will surely engender a whole series of different decaying speeds.
"Well, as far as painting the outside wall is concerned, I needed to stretch my work beyond the actual confines of
Programa to be able to relate to the Mexico cityscape and its vast array of blank billboards in the first place. And
yes, the ramshackle billboard on top of the neighbouring building and the outside "mural" also join together in a
monument of some sort - meaning something that will almost certainly remain in place long after the actual
exhibition will have closed down. I like the idea of the work withering away, eroded by the harsh conditions of the
Mexico City atmosphere, becoming one billboard among the many - better still: the one billboard, above all, that
has no economic meaning or reason for being at all..."
Despite their nearly platonic composure, the paintings of Pieter Vermeersch are rife with contradiction. Pure abstraction on the one hand and photographic realism on the other are perceptible in the colourfields and gradations (works occuring on canvas and architectural supports). A gradation is always both a demonstration of the range in value of pure, flat colour and a five hundred year old ‘trick’ used to create the illusion of three dimentions. If the works are hermeneutic, tautological even — referring to the behaviour of paint — they are also painstaking copies of worldly light phenomena. They tend to occur in series or remain contingent to a given space; but in the final analysis an autonomy is sought.
In each canvas of the latest suite of ten Untitled paintings, a pool of light streaming into a room may be perceived out of a spare arrangement of vertical and horizontal fields of chromatically muted paint. Each rendition has a different tone—moving from light to dark. But the movement is not marked sequentially in the gallery installation. If their free dispersal aids each painting’s autonomy, another strategy obscures it: the ten paintings are contingent on ten photographs, each exposed at ten different stops, or measures of time and of light. Like the Impressionists, Vermeersch studies the effects of light, but unlike their competition with and outdoing of the then new photographic apparatus, his (especially latest) work seems to submit to the a priori photograph only to prove that this is a way for contemporary painting to gain strength through complexity. What we get is a depiction of the behaviour of light and a depiction of the behaviour of paint and a depiction of real space all in a single picture. At the tonal extremes of light and dark the image most notably recedes to near abstraction. These are paintings that strain the eyes and reward a looking that is as intensive as the artist’s gaze, when he aims at the exact depiction. Here, a tension boils between the stillness and the movement of the image — not only the restless movement between dialectically paired conceptual conditions of abstraction/representation, autonomy/contingency; but also the phenomenal movement of an image that, when looked at long enough, seems to transform itself before the viewer’s eyes. Jeff Wall has written of still works such as paintings, photographs, sculptures and the graphic arts that “we judge the depictive arts on how they suggest movement while actually excluding it.” Subjected to this criterium, Vermeersch’s work may be said to sustain movement in two distinct ways: through the analytical dialectics of the image as concept and through the phenomenal contradiction of a moving/still picture. Call it a mind/body movement.
A much earlier suite mundanely entitled 8 paintings (date) depicts an equally mundane view of a window of a car with a wiper on a low diagonal. Executed eight times from the same photograph in an almost machine-like devotion to a machine-produced picture, this was Vermeersch’s early manifesto of painting’s limit conditions: laborious process, purified content and maximum tension between the prosaic and the sublime, all in the service of an intense experience of the conditions of visuality. His second project in the current exhibition consists of a videotape of a wall painted white which gradually dries as a shiny black field (due to the particular qualities of the paint medium) that is projected back onto that very shiny black wall (which, as the video testifies, was painted earlier in the very space of projection). Here we have painting as tautology. But we also have painting as an escape from itself — an escape because the experiment introduces actual movement to painting through the drying process and the time-based medium of video.
Now, if the artist is allowed his contradictions, then the onlooker (and the writer pondering all this) might also venture one — a counter to the tautologies, the meta-conceptions and the dialectics and even the experience of pure presence. This contradiction may arrive in the form of an old fashioned, literal or even literary reading of the depicted space in Vermeersch’s suite of ten Untitled canvases. What we have is an image of a door ajar, a space leading onto another—a threshold. Why choose this scene? If, beginning in the sixteenth century, windows, mirrors and maps proliferated in the genre paintings of the Low Countries to assert (rather self-consciously) the newly modernising art of painting as a window onto the world or a mirror held up to reality, then Vermeersch’s imagery may be read to allude to an altogether different condition for painting. The artist often deploys mirrors alongside his paintings, as a challenge as much as an equivalent to the image. As for windows—the car window depicted in 8 paintings does not frame a world with Cartesian assurance, but presents a thing caught in restless renewal (via the wiper which continually clears the slate not just for the window, but perhaps also for painting). Now, another scene appears, devoid of windows or mirrors. This threshold, read (even if only in part) literally, begins to designate a liminal space where painting is allowed movement between different worlds,