Donogoo Tonka

After the impressive Cleon Peterson exhibition closed in Antwerp last Saturday and the Panos Tsagaris’ ‘apocatastasis‘ closing in Brussels this coming Saturday, the next reason to visit the country already arises on Friday the 4th of March, when another thrilling exhibition will open its doors, this time at the Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst in Ghent. The Antwerp-based ‘Crown prince’ (after heavyweights Tuymans, Dillemans and Borremans) of Belgian contemporary painting (and Paul Smith’s favorite); Rinus Van de Velde created a new extraordinary series named ‘Donogoo Tonka’ in which he draws himself as the leading player in the biography of an imaginary artist for the museum. Inspired by an existing French novel, Van de Velde presents nine new life-size drawings in S.M.A.K. The works in his signature charcoal looks are as virtuosic and light as ever, demanding total engagement of its spectator to find the layers beyond just the highly impressive aesthetic side, showing great visual intelligence, cutting irony, a free imagination and great sensitivity. Without a doubt Van de Velde, who’s work reminds us strongly of another favorite of ours; Marcel van Eeden, is the next Belgian painter in the Hors catégorie.  

Van de Velde has a rather specific way of working which starts with the actual creation of a particular mis-en-scene which he wants to reproduce, together with his assistant, in his studio. Subsequently a picture is taken of it, which he then draws in charcoal on the large actual scale of the scene he had created before. In the sketches he writes the narrative, in which his own persona becomes part of. Making his works a fictional autobiography, a life that I never had. In the case of ‘Donogoo Tonka’ the protagonist, a man who wants to end his life, is not actually Van de Velde, although he understands the fictive motivations which drive the character.

Rinus on his work ‘And I am disappearing slowly’, one of the nine new pieces made for the exhibition, with this particular one seen in creation by the artist in the images above:

Counting the cars, an endless caravan of them, until I finally spot mine. The bridge is far behind me now. Suddenly Paris turns into a machine of modern life, spawning possibilities, none more special than any other, so all equally valid. What an idea, to let myself be driven by a senseless choice, to give my life away like this, to someone else, an accidental servant, a master turned assistant. Who knows what lunatic I will meet?

‘Mister! Mister!’ A truck carrying barrels, the man behind the wheel looking at me as if I just woke him up. ‘Can I hop on, Mister?’ ‘Why not?’, he mumbles, as if nothing matters. ‘I have been told to help you, whatever that means.’ A sigh: ‘I am beyond that, son.’ The caravan is splitting up slowly, the vehicles spreading though the city. ‘I am Rinus Van de Velde, once a suicidal artist, now risen from a mental death.’ ‘And I am disappearing slowly.’

The Van de Velde exhibition is combined with a retrospective of work by the renown German artist Michael Buthe, forming a double bill which must be among the most interesting exhibitions we will see this year. The work of Buthe responds in a subversive yet imaginary way to the disappearance of spirituality and myth from the Western world. Fascinated by non-European cultures he juxtaposes cool American Minimalism to an opulent sensuality. Apart from colourful and tactile assemblages, works on paper, paintings, collages and diary book objects, the installation ‘Taufkapelle mit Mama und Papa’, a top piece from the collection of S.M.A.K., will also be on show.

Images courtesy of Tim Van Laere Gallery.

The S.M.A.K. is located at Jan Hoetplein 1 in Ghent, opened Tuesday – Sunday from 10:00 until 18:00.

For more information see here