Bram bogart, Building Beyond Mass and Colour
An unusual look at the artist’s unfamiliar side of practise.
If one is unaware of the exhibition’s layout (and title), he or she would probably expect to walk into a space bursting with vivid colours, perhaps Bogart’s most characteristic (and recognisable) feature as an artist. Indeed, I assumed the same when I heard that there’s a Bogart show in SALON.
That is why "Witte de Witte" surprises and delights: it makes us see another aspect of Bogart’s work; the monochrome colours exaggerate the tactility and materiality of the pieces, and it becomes easier to appreciate his role in modern art history. Why? While bold colours catch our attention easily and guide us through the artist’s gestures, they may mislead us into associating him with the Abstract Expressionists (they use monochromes as well but achieve a different effect).
As Michael McNay points out, “abstract, yes; expressionist, yes; but not abstract expressionist. He was not interested in gestural painting, brushed or poured from cans, not in his mature work anyway. His concern was building paintings.”
Bram Bogart, Blanc, 2016 | Bram Bogart: Witte de Witte, 2017 | Courtesy SALON, Saatchi Gallery, and Vigo Gallery
Bogart was a son of a blacksmith; he himself used to be a housepainter, and even though I’m probably committing the greatest sin in art criticism (relying on the artist’s biography), I think that the industrial hands-on approach is crucial for his practice. Most of the works included in the show, the earliest one completed in 1952, and the latest one in 2007, are a direct product of the artist's hands both literally and metaphorically: Bogart was the one making the solid frames carrying the weight of each piece; he was also the one mixing oil, siccative, powdered chalk, varnish, and raw pigment, in order to 'build' each painting. It's interesting that he started off as an assistant to his own father, and later on, when was no longer physically able to deal with the heavy works, his son began helping him.
But in the prime of his life Bogart was completely involved with every pragmatic aspect of his work process: that's why he never considered himself a 'normal intellectual,' and he tried to stay fit in order to take care of his works.
Bram Bogart, Signes sur Blanc / Witte Tekens, 1952 | Bram Bogart: Witte de Witte, 2017 | Courtesy SALON, Saatchi Gallery, and Vigo Gallery
The weight of the works defies gravity: the pieces look light and movable; most of them, originally painted on the floor, when exhibited vertically, lose their sense of mass. They are abstract because of their non-existent subject matter and visual illusion of movement; yet, they are very real: the texture echoes the walls' rough finish, thus making them completely belong to the space.
Bram Bogart, Variété, 1961 | Bram Bogart: Witte de Witte, 2017 | Courtesy SALON, Saatchi Gallery, and Vigo Gallery
The pieces play with the modernist idea of the void, capturing the void literally (especially in "Witte de Witte", in which the central point is nothingness, and Bogart extends the borders of the painting though gesture). At the same time, the paintings are very present in the space, and the artist is, indeed, very present through his work: one can trace Bogart's touch, as he painted with matter and surface.
As Bogart himself said in conversation with Peter Lodermeyer, "My vitality is very present in my work, I have to be constantly in good shape."
Bram Bogart, Witte de Witte, 2002 | Bram Bogart: Witte de Witte, 2017 | Courtesy SALON, Saatchi Gallery, and Vigo Gallery
In-between mass and gravity, void and presence, abstract and expressionist, these nine monochrome works play with expectations and our sense of the real: they retain the field of tension.
In an interview with Eliane Van den Ende the artist stated that "you need to look critically at your own work; you discover yourself." Messing with our sense of weight, space, shadow and light, figuration and abstraction, Bram Bogart's works can be interpreted as visual lessons of critical thinking.