We’ve got one question: Michaël Borremans

Michaël Borremans US premiere of his survey show As sweet as it gets brings together 50 paintings, 40 drawings and 5 films from the last fifteen years. The show opened at the Dallas Museum of Art and was organized by Jeffrey Grove, the Museum’s Senior Curator of Special Projects & Research, who worked closely with Borremans to showcase this impressive body of work. The films in the show function to establish their importance to Borremans process of culling frames from moving images but the films also maintain an independence all of their own. The most effective film piece, The German, showcases an enclosed diorama which houses miniature figures standing in front of a stories tall (in terms of scale to the miniatures) screen that features a man’s face speaking.

The work expertly showcases Borremans imagination and most importantly his acute sense of scale that is also present in his drawings which exploit scale to depict grandiose ideas and scenes in a restrictive size. 

Michaël Borremans | A Mae West Experience, 2002, Pencil, watercolor on paper, 6 13/32 x 8 in. (16.3 x 20.3 cm), Private Collection, Belgium, Courtesy Zeno X Gallery Antwerp © Photographer Felix Tirry ©Michaël Borremans

Borremans drawings are full of fluid lines that describe figures and architecture while personal notes are utilized as compositional tools. These drawings are often on the inside of ragged book covers or aged, crumbled paper that Borremans decided to rescue with his skillful hand.  However, mostly everything in As sweet as it gets takes a back seat to Borremans intensely detached and serene paintings.

Michaël Borremans | Sleeper, 2007–2008, Oil on canvas, 15 3/4 x 19 11/16 in. (40.0 x 50.0 cm), Private Collection, Courtesy Zeno X Gallery Antwerp © Photographer Peter Cox ©Michaël Borremans

The body of paintings in the show presents a sobering palette.  All of Borremans blacks in the work are mixed and quiver between warm and cool hues giving the paintings a worn quality; the faux aged language shown in the drawings gets hammered home here by Borremans who paints the sides of the canvases to give the illusion of aged linen.  Borremans employs a technical savvy through his brush while maintaining a casualness that allows for an entry point into these desperately stark paintings. Although Borremans came to painting late in his life, one could learn as much from his work then they could learn from the Renoir’s and Pissarro’s down the hall of the museum.  I mention these examples because it became clear that outside of the powerful images he presents Borremans sense of light is a key element in fully coming to terms with the images presented. Maybe this is the case since Borremans also recognizes himself as a film maker where light itself is the medium. In his paintings the subjects, austere and endlessly lonesome, desperately grasp for any bit of light as they suffocate in their cropped frames

Michaël Borremans | The Branch, 2003, Oil on canvas, 31 1/2 x 23 5/8 in. (80.0 x 60.0 cm), Private Collection, Courtesy Zeno X Gallery Antwerp ©Photographer Peter Cox ©Michaël Borremans

It is these subjects that, in the end, hold your gaze. The image they present is direct and somber, especially in the small scale paintings but it is only the subject that is clear; the situations presented are forever hidden from the viewer. This rupture of content is so delicately played out, so staged, that it points to something horrifying and real; the illusion of truth and the false nature of being.  It is only when these paintings have pulled you in do you see how thinly painted the veil is that keeps us out of Borremans paintings and stuck in this world.

Borremans standing in front of The Angel, 2013, courtesy of the author

The starkness of the imagery slows the viewer down just enough to notice that these paintings are coming undone almost as fast as they were seemingly made; they are so loosely painted. Can you talk about the speed in your paintings versus the viewer’s slow reading of them?

I paint quite fast, yes. The conceptualizing of the painting takes a long time but I paint fast because that’s my temperament. But I also like paintings with some energy in them. If you paint slowly with no brush strokes, you’ll get a very nice image. But I like paintings where you see the energy and movement of the arm; it makes the painting come alive! I like how the paint can talk to you. I don’t like painting's that are too smooth, that’s why I like Goya so much. He painted with such fervor. It makes such an impression; it makes the paint speak in a sublime way. That’s the beauty of this medium, which is still alive. Painting as a medium can never go away. It’s so basic like drawing. We wouldn’t be able to replace it. I’m interested in new media and electronics but you need electricity and it’s not that interesting all of the time. After five years any new media is out of fashion. Painting stays the same. You put a nail in the wall, you hang a painting and it’s always been like that and always will be. I find this amazing.


Michaël Borremans survey “As sweet as it gets” runs through July 15 at the Dallas Museum of Art. Borremans upcoming solo show Black Mould will be showing at David Zwirner, London from June 13 - August 14, 2015.

Arthur Peña is a painter, arts educator and founder/director of Dallas’ roving music venue Vice Palace. His upcoming solo show the wants and needs of a fearful life will open this fall at the Dallas Latino Cultural Center.

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