“I wanted to make my work as simple as possible”, he says. “Like somebody painting an advertisement on a billboard in basic colours.”
Instead of working on canvas like most painters, he opted for wooden panels of 26cm by 19cm (a bit smaller than a sheet of A4), which he cuts and sands himself. The size is mainly for practical reasons. “These panels almost have something sculptural – I like to polish and re-work them.” It also gives his paintings a tactile texture and an edge. He deliberately lets the paint drip, causing the background to shine through several subsequent layers of paint, and he leaves traces of the masking tape used to cover some areas. Thus the creation process is still visible in the final result. “I could also make a perfect, slick work, like the graphic design I create on my computer. But I also want to show the way I rework earlier mistakes. That’s why I called one of my shows Track Changes. It refers to the Word function in which you reveal your corrections in a text. But it also has the urban connotation of tracks and transport.”
It is exactly that physical aspect of Biltereyst’s wooden panels that distinguishes the original paintings from reproductions. “The small panels can fit on my scanner, so it’s easier to reproduce and archive my work.” This also enables him to rework certain elements on his computer. “When I’m not really happy with a painting, I start reworking it in Photoshop by putting a stripe higher or lower, for example. I keep on changing it until I’ve found the perfect composition.” Since last year, the artist has also been using larger formats, giving the work a new monumentality and his exhibitions more variation. Which is also the reason that lately he has been making temporary murals on the gallery walls as part of his exhibitions.
Unlike many abstract painters before him, Biltereyst does not want to create a new, autonomous world; rather, his work refers to the concrete reality he samples, disrupts, and crops, which originates in brands, logos, and other abstract fragments he sees in the urban realm – like a manhole cover, a fence, or a pattern on a truck. As a contemporary version of the 19th-century flaneur, he walks or drives through the city and photographs these graphic traces. “I archive them and then later rework some of them, until I find the perfect composition. A curved line on a logo on the side of a truck I see on the motorway, gives me a bigger kick than an abstract painting in a museum! To be honest, I am not so crazy about abstract art. I often find it too overworked and artificial. I’m more interested in a clumsy design by a local gardening shop with the wrong colour combinations and too much distance between the letters. I often find these kind of deviations much more inspiring than high art.”
Alain Biltereyst’s upcoming exhibitions at Jack Hanley Gallery in New York:
Attics of my Life, 30th Anniversary Show, 08 January – 05 February 2017 Solo exhibition, 20 April – May 2017