ESSAYS, INTERVIEWS & REVIEWS
Flexboj & L.A. - Al. Voeding Al. Générale [EN, essay]
Al. Voeding Al. Générale
A few observations on the work of Flexboj & L.A.
On the landing are eleven large rubbish bags filled to bursting and, indeed, when I enter the one-hundred-square-metre studio, I am able to reach the other side without stumbling. The artists, Flexboj & L.A. (°1995), observe from a distance. L.A. looks like a Polish nobleman. He is blond and cultivates an erudite moustache. Flexboj looks like an Armenian prince who can still stake a claim to the throne. He has black hair and a stubble beard. Sitting on the window sill is a wooden dog, put together by them in soapbox fashion and more reminiscent of Professor Gobelijn’s flying barrel and Barnaby Bear’s car than Rauschenberg’s artistic assemblages. Leaning against the walls are lots of paintings, a number of which will be shown at the Barbé Urbain in Ghent in September.
It was 2018 when the publication of the first issue of Superstars Magazine brought Flexboj & L.A. crashing headlong into the art world through a side door. Their A-3-format magazine contained conversations with successful people from the art world with a view to fathoming the secret foundations of their success. This was followed in 2019 by the second and probably the last issue of Superstars Magazine, which was released in the INBOX space at M HKA. All the illustrations were painted by Flexboj & L.A., not only portraits of the people interviewed, but also advertisements for adult toys and businesses of artist friends. They were painted with acrylic paint, wet on wet, on 30 x 40 cm (or 40 x 30 cm) canvases. The paintings I see today look different. They are larger, they are built up differently (step by step, making more use of surfaces and blank spaces which leave backgrounds exposed) and not only acrylic paint was used.
The direct, quick and suggestive way the first works were painted is still in evidence, but that is now combined with other approaches, techniques, textures, supports, types of paint and subjects. Whereas before the joke was explicit (verbalized), today it is implicit. We recognize motifs, drawing styles, use of colour and other elements from comic strips, the advertising world or the work of painters like Sigmar Polke, Walter Swennen and Martin Kippenberger, but more as ‘form’, building blocks, bricks than as ‘content’. Not as a homage or bewailment, not as a postmodern appropriation, but as an exploration of the possibilities of painting.
These new paintings are best of all because of the unpainted parts of the canvas which gain depth through the addition of a line or shading and because of the areas of primary colours usually added at the end. When I ask the artists how they arrived at this, they point to several large tins of red, orange, yellow, green and blue oil paints, which they bought second hand. “Almost all the paint we use is second hand”, they tell me, “and that also dictates the use of colour, because amateur painters often use the same basic colours.” Each question is answered by them both, each expanding on what the other has said like a couple married for sixty years. When I point to the Asian characters in red on a painting, they tell me that it is a Japanese word, naso, which means ‘riddle’. “We came across it on a pack of 1950s Cracker Jack popcorn.”
Unlike artists who grew up in the 1950s, these young aristocrats graze on old pastures, which thanks to ‘less perfect’ printing techniques, look more colourful and so perhaps lend themselves better to being turned into paintings. Their graphic character is more apparent, I believe, which detracts from the importance of the representation and gives painting the chance to come to the fore. Screen-printed images that appear to be falling apart lend themselves to being turned into paintings, especially when you have large tins of paint at your disposal.
The painting representing a wooden, hand-built car is very beautiful. The vehicle is conjured up by adding white paint to a blue background. Above the horizon line, the edges of the planks are indicated by unpainted blue stripes, which appear between the added white areas. Below the horizon line, they are represented by lines of white paint on top of the blue. Because we are given a three-quarter view of the car, this level division has the effect of making it look lopsided, thereby creating a painting. Also very beautiful is a painting on a pallet representing a wooden treasure chest. And then there is the cowboy painting, in which the Rubenesque rear end of the nearest horse is suggested by areas left blank, next to the almost shoddily applied area of yellow.
What we are witnessing is a kind of crawling, as described by Kierkegaard in his diary: “If I do not reach it in the short term, I will reach it crawling. And if I do not get beyond crawling all my life, I will crawl all my life – but I am going in that direction.” So it is a kind of crawling, but a dancing crawling. So a crawling dance. Or a dancing crawl. At any rate, stumbling, but nobly.
Montagne de Miel, July 25th 2021
Translated by Alison Mouthaan-Gwillim