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New Europalia exhibition Rinus Van de Velde: Inner Travels at Bozar
Europalia Trains & Tracks continues its journey with flagship exhibition Rinus Van de Velde: Inner Travels at Bozar. The Belgian artist’s diverse multi-media portfolio is on show for the first time alongside some of his fictional travelling companions, including Pierre Bonnard, Claude Monet and Edvard Munch.
Aside from the international art market, 43-year-old Van de Velde is best known in his native Flanders. The self-professed ‘armchair traveller’ has long preferred the privacy of his Antwerp studio than the constant travelling that pre-pandemic was almost a requisite for an artist at the height of his career.
From the interior of his four walls, he embarks on poetic imaginary journeys that form the nucleus of this exhibition – a comprehensive and coherent overview of his best work over the past 20 years.
While a life-size train – one of Van de Velde’s many prop installations - signals the start of the show, the Europalia thematic is resolutely taken on a new direction, one of internal travel and reflection.
The artist’s trademark virtuoso drawings are large-scale charcoal on canvas works. They're interspersed by colour pastels, ceramic sculptures and installations. Like his locomotive, they are crafted in painted modulated cardboard, wood and other humble materials.
Captions in English adorn each work, observations that reveal his preoccupation with other artists, his inner turmoil and wry reflections on the art world.
In dialogue with Van de Velde’s works are paintings often selected for their contrasting style to his own figurative drawings, injecting a depth and tension to this carefully-curated show. He may be a defiant non-traveller, yet his works sit harmoniously next to those proponents of pleinair painting, Monet and Bonnard (Beau temps orageux, pictured).
He recreates scenes from the artists he admires, from Rembrandt and Henri Rousseau to expressionists Edvard Munch, Mark Rothko and Joan Mitchell, as well as the equally inward-looking Swiss artist Josephine Troller (Garten Eden pictured).
Even David Hockney, whose works hung earlier this winter at Bozar, is rewarded with a nod in a coloured pencil work by Van de Velde referencing the famous art figure.
His self-portraits often show him in angst-prone position, surrounded by menacing tropical landscapes, all spiky fronds and dark corners, or alternatively intense confined interiors. Mastering portraiture and landscape, his technique veers from sculptural to realist, infused with a powerful physicality.
His 3D installations and ceramic miniature worlds are stand-alone works, which also serve as props for his drawings and films. For the past decade or so, Van de Velde has constructed large sets in his studio, parallel universes in which he photographs himself.
A fitting climax to the show is a his 13-minute film, La Ruta Naturel, a surrealist road trip featuring a man wearing a mask of the artist’s face. He encounters various scenarios in a never-ending loop; the fictional autobiography comes full circle, just like the palindrome of the film title.
For Europalia artistic director Dirk Vermaelen (pictured above with Rinus Van de Velde), the artist’s films and works are about expeditions and undertakings by man which lead to nothing. “In a way, it’s a metaphor about life, that it’s one big undertaking that leads to nothing.”
As co-curator of the show along with the artist and Julie Verheye, Vermaelen says Van de Velde continually wants to explore new things. “It’s also linked to his desire to be someone else within his studio, not only other artists. One day he wants to be a famous rock star or tennis player.
“When he explores other artists he really wants to know every detail and reads manically their autobiographies. They are the link between all these works, his fictive auto biographies. That’s why you see self-portraits in his work or you see him as an alter ego.”
Rinus Van de Velde: Inner Travels
Until 15 May
Rue Ravenstien 23, Brussels