Bram Bogart: Focus On Boundaries Of Painting At The Saatchi Gallery

This Summer, the Saatchi Gallery will be hosting the second of a series of exhibitions under the new SALON programme within the Gallery’s Duke of York premises in Chelsea, London. The work of Bram Bogart is featured in a new solo exhibition.

Headed by Philippa Adams, Senior Director of Saatchi Gallery, SALON was conceived to present the work of leading international artists who have otherwise not been widely seen in the UK. Working in collaboration with galleries and artist’s estates, this venture hopes to promote key artists through a series of changing displays – giving local collectors, as well as the public, a chance to discover work from a wealth of influential practitioners. The first exhibition in the series, SALON 001, featured the work of the revered Japanese painter Tsuyoshi Maekawa, helping set a particular curatorial tangent by putting a spotlight on artists who have engaged with various forms of abstraction one way or another.

This focus on the boundaries of painting and the tactility of materials is also present in the second and current show in this series, SALON 002, featuring a display of paintings by the Dutch-born Belgian artist Bram Bogart entitled ‘Witte de Witte’ (White the White) in collaboration with Vigo Gallery. Known mostly for his thickly-painted surfaces and progressive development of the painterly form to almost sculptural effect, Bogart (1921-2012) was initially greatly inspired by the works of fellow Dutchman Vincent Van Gogh, whose use of bold pigments and textured surfaces would be particularly informative. The artist’s trajectory was further marked by his move to the South of France in the late 1940s, where the bright colours associated with Van Gogh gradually gave way to a more subdued palette, perhaps inspired by the interplay of intense light on the sun-washed walls in that region. Indeed, it is this relationship to architectural elements that remains a consistent keystone in Bogart’s practice, one that is very probably rooted in the artist’s earlier employment as a house painter. The paintings of the 1960s onwards, in particular, speak more to the aesthetics of construction, consisting of specially-constructed stretchers designed to hold the weight of the voluminously thick amounts of pigment applied to them. There is a sort of pleasingly workmanlike quality to these paintings that rises from the interplay between the stability of his medium and the uncertainty of his gestural process, mixing cement into his paint and applying it with heavy duty trowels to achieve a body colour of the right consistency. In this way, the artist rudely interrupts all the niceties and conventions surrounding painting as an act of image-making.

The Dutch-born Belgian artist, Bram Bogart, (1921 - 2012)

The Dutch-born Belgian artist, Bram Bogart, (1921 – 2012)

To Bogart, the painting exists in a world of other objects and is inextricably linked to them. Its status becomes challenged and is interrogated by reality. His focus on blankness and a ‘pure’ surface quality affiliates him to the ZERO movement founded by Heinz Mack in 1957, and the related Italian Movimento Spaziale movement, which concentrated on both the material essence of the painting-as-object and the cosmic potential of the void.

Young artists like Henk Peeters, Otto Piene, Günther Uecker and Bogart were influenced by the older Italian artist Lucio Fontana, who attempted to conjure a fourth-dimension through painting by puncturing the painted surface of the canvas, opening up a new dimension. These artists decided to start over from the literal endpoint, the ‘zero’ moment after the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to try and make painting that spoke to a world of new potentialities – a world we sadly know never quite came to pass.

Fontana, who came to befriend Bogart and visited his studio in the mid-1960s, shared a desire to expand the limits of painting with the younger Dutch artist, to continue the ‘liberation’ (in the terms used by Marcel Parquet to describe Bogart’s work from this time) of the form through reduction. However, the strategies of reduction enacted by Fontana and Bogart are remarkably different. Fontana sought to remove all trace of the artistic gesture, reducing the actual painting process as much as possible to achieve a neutral monochrome surface, interrupted only by the singular action of the slit which opened up to the infinite space of the void.

Bogart continued to apply a more painterly approach, indeed, he later magnified his gestural actions upon a grand scale, only reducing his palette to a single colour, usually white – making that most ’empty’ of shades seem so full of potential and energy. For these reasons, he would ultimately become more closely aligned with the avant-garde COBRA movement, and his later employment of bold, unadulterated pigments can draw comparisons to other artists affiliated with this group such as his compatriot Karel Appel, who was similarly unafraid of embracing colour as a sort of short-circuit to sensation.

The paintings could also be seen, as writer Sam Cornish notes, be compared to the thickly worked surfaces of artists such as Jean Dubuffet or the photographic practice of Brassai, both of whom also alluded to urban features such as the textured, graffiti-covered surfaces of decrepit walls. Bogart’s gestures are recorded through subdued marks like paint splashes and blobs, crude symbols, faded traces – all remnants of the artist’s Sisyphean creative process. The heft of the thickly-laid pigment bears testament to the pull of gravity. It is this inherently impassive tension between unseen forces that make Bogart’s work seem so paradoxically alive, so timeless and exciting.

Words: George Micallef Eynaud © Artlyst 2017 Photos: Courtesy Saatchi Gallery Installation Image of SALON 002 Bram Bogart: Witte de Witte Image courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London and Vigo Gallery, London © Steven White, 2017

Bram Bogart ‘Witte de Witte’ runs at SALON at the Saatchi Gallery, Duke of York’s HQ, King’s Rd, Chelsea, London SW3 4RY from the 12 July – 10 September 2017

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