Hans Theys is a twentieth-century philosopher and art historian. He has written and designed dozens of books on the works of contemporary artists and published hundreds of essays, interviews and reviews in books, catalogues and magazines. All his publications are based on actual collaborations and conversations with artists.

This platform was developed by Evi Bert (M HKA / Centrum Kunstarchieven Vlaanderen) in collaboration with the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp (Research group Archivolt), M HKA, Antwerp and Koen Van der Auwera. We also thank Idris Sevenans (HOR) and Marc Ruyters (Hart Magazine).

Manor Grunewald - 2011 - A New Blondness [EN, essay]

2 p.


Hans Theys

A New Blondness
On the work of Manor Grunewald

The exhibition

Several months ago I wrote how wonderful it was to see a young artist like Manor Grunewald reinventing the ‘appropriation’ of the 1980s and that I was curious to see how this might lead to the creation of a new kind of painting. Visiting his current solo exhibition at Ischa Tallieu’s gallery I was indeed surprised by the new lightness of the paintings. It was as if the stencil-like, black and white drawings had somehow withdrawn, while other form-related themes had grown in importance. It is a succulent exhibition, with tilting works spinning fine threads through the space.

What was there to see? A couple of paintings, asymmetrically scattered around the space, two series of collages and several sculptural additions, made with materials from a newly-dismantled studio.

Grunewald’s paintings consist of several elements which return in different ways. A white passe-partout on top of which he has painted might frame an entire painting, or you might just find a border at the bottom like a window-ledge. Sometimes the passe-partout is the thickest element, sometimes a yellow drip has fallen on it or a word has been stencilled over it. Other elements are leaves of plants which behave like brushstrokes, the colour yellow, confetti, circles and disks. What struck me most in this exhibition was the modified use of stencils, which increasingly amounts to his making ‘residue forms’, like the aureole left behind on the floor or the wall when you have sprayed a disk with enamel paint, or the horizontal and vertical strips left on the wall after painting the border of a painting, thereby conjuring up an image of missing planes or paintings which have been removed. These elements most probably reinforced the apparent withdrawal of the black and white images. It was as if we were looking at empty frames, at cut away images, at paintings with a minimal, agile texture.

The lovely thing about this exhibition was that Grunewald made his works more legible by displaying the poetic/documentary elements derived from his studio, such as a large fragment of a wooden floor which floats ten centimetres above the gallery floor, and a cupboard-like object, resembling a primitive copy of a washing machine. Next to this sculpture is a magnificent painting with a Richter-like, wiped brown background which becomes foreground and appears to be the sublime Platonic Form of the worm-eaten plank used in the sculpture.

The book

The extraordinary thing about Manor Grunewald’s collages is that they are constructed like paintings. They are paper paintings. Almost every addition creates a new pictorial plane, which seems to be on a different imaginary depth. Western painting (unlike Chinese painting, for example) was almost always an attempt to place objects in an imaginary space by showing how their collision with the light sketched their volume for us. According to Roger Fry, the extraordinary thing about Rubens was that in his paintings he could place each individual object with its own local colour in the space without his paintings (which might occupy twelve different depths) disintegrating.

Looking at the black and white reproductions in this book, at first I was surprised and even shocked by their flatness, especially compared with the painterly character and extraordinary pictorial depth of the collages.

But perhaps the painter shows flat reproductions of his collages because he likes the way the apparent depth of their texture emerges from the grey tones. There is something powerful about the images for him, I think, because they embody a depth that is not immediately legible. And perhaps the same applies to some of his paintings: the longer you look at them, the richer and deeper they can become. So a painter like Manor must be someone who loves to see depth emerge from flatness.

Now that I think of it, I have a sudden urge to go and take another look at Manet’s ‘Olympia’ and ‘Le Balcon’ to see if the flat painted black cat and the flat painted bars of the balcony emerge from the depth, like the unpainted volumes in Chinese figures. And then I remember how wonderful it is that this nineteenth-century, blond painter made light paintings which were described by his friends as ‘blond’, as if his appearance suggested the right wording for the new colour temperature. How beautiful the yellow in this exhibition of Manor Grunewald’s work! The yellow neon lights under the floating floor, the yellow spots, the yellow confetti, the yellow disks, the yellow strips of paper! A golden radiance illuminates the works and the exhibition. Golden threads link the works. A new blondness and lucidity are born and a new grey book refuses to discuss them, but tries itself to be something, like a collection of hazy shadows which create space.

Montagne de Miel, 12 December 2011