David Zwirner presents an exhibition of new paintings by Michaël Borremans, marking the artist’s first show at the Mayfair gallery and his first solo presentation in the city in ten years.
Black Mould includes small- and large-scale paintings that feature anonymous, black-robed characters. Alone or in groups, they perform mysterious acts within monochromatic spaces reminiscent of an artist’s barren studio. Seemingly behaving according to a symbolic language of their own, they pose alone or interact in communal dances, with some figures holding torches and others exposed naked from the waist down. Their facelessness opens up ambiguous narrative possibilities, like empty canvases with which to construct meaning.
Exquisitely painted with dramatic contrasts between light and dark areas, the series reaffirms the tension between the real and the imaginary that exists within Borremans’s oeuvre. The solemn yet playful mood feels inexplicably up-to-date, with the almost cinematic sequence of paintings constituting an allegory of contemporary society. The lack of context or details provides a neutral, yet psychologically charged atmosphere. Like archetypes capable of embodying shifting meanings, the blank figures become a mold for the human condition, at once satirical, tragic, humorous, and above all, contradictory.
While Borremans’s technical command of his medium recalls classical painting—the rich tactility and special glow of his painted surfaces evoke the Old Master tradition and artists such as Francisco Goya—his compositions elude traditional interpretative strategies. Subtle elements within their pictorial structure defy expectations and leave attempts at decoding their narratives open-ended. The small size of the majority of the works within the series—dimensions vary, but most are no bigger than twelve by ten inches (thirty by twenty-five centimeters)—further challenges conventional standards, miniaturizing the subjects and highlighting the artificiality of representation more generally.
The elusive reality presented in Black Mould seems both topical and timeless, just as the robed figures emerge like actors without a clear script. The secrecy may ultimately signify the murky intersection within today’s society of faith, morality, and politics, but can also be seen to underscore the ritualistic nature of human life across centuries and cultures. In the process, Borremans’s minimal, affective paintings affirm the medium’s resilient ability to provide a space for introspective, nonverbal meaning.
Michaël Borremans: Black Mould – David Zwirner London – until 14 August 2015