Early on in his career, Pieter Vermeersch abandoned the frame, which has proven to be another constant in his work. “I paint on various carriers, apart from canvas and paper.” His Off The Hook performances, presented on the sidelines of the Over the Edges exhibition in Ghent in 2000, formed a key period in his evolution. Every day, Vermeersch painted three windows of an abandoned building in different colours. The audience stood and watched. The colours he used then – and for many years thereafter – were bright primary colours. The colours of the works currently being exhibited in Paris are very different: light, earthy tones, in-between-colours. “At that time, photography was not so present in my work. Nowadays I start from an abstract photo – snapshots I’ ve taken with my phone: daytime and night-time images, pictures of architecture in which the context is left out, photos of landscapes that are unrecognisable, zoomed-in pictures of ancient masterpieces. The spatial context has been omitted; bold colours don’ t occur in this context. These images are an echo of time and space.” Pieter Vermeersch considers the work at Galerie Perrotin crucial. It is a step, a transition. “I see this exhibition as the confirmation of an element that has gained more and more importance in my thinking and in my work: I wanted to add an element that was of a different order, a reference to something recognisable and palpable – yes, a trace. I wanted to introduce this into the ephemeral, pictorial image. My recent work is therefore more connected to the here and now. I feel that in these newest paintings, time and space come together.” That new, surprising component: marble.
“My painting practice keeps evolving; it has been a kind of free association in paint: one step follows from the other. I usually know that a transition is happening when I’ m in the middle of it but often need some time to analyse it. In any case, the work only leaves my studio when the nature of this development has become clear to me, when I know what’ s happening. These transformations are a very slow process, but they cannot be ignored. Even though this marks an important point in my work, it may reappear in all directions. Perhaps I’ ll become more minimal again in my painting, or maybe just more baroque? We’ ll see!”
Regardless, everyone was captivated by the magic of the wall. With this piece, he had a much different audience; people were taking selfies and posting images on Instagram – not necessarily the same sorts of people who go to galleries, as Vermeersch is used to. It pleases him. Another work was a landscape in Japan where he placed a fluorescent yellow line in a beautiful, virgin valley. “It’ s like the brushstroke on marble. The aim is to reactivate. That is a constant in my work.” His first windows were no exception. “It’ s the reactivation of pure, abstract art – like I was making back then in the public space, where abstraction loses its autonomy and thus reactivates.”
Both are clearly descendants of the prominent Vermeersch family of artists. “I realise how unique it is and also how well we all get along. There is no jealousy or competition.” Several times, various family members have exhibited their work together, once it was even the entire extended family, artistic aunts and uncles included. “I was asked to curate the show and decided to give each artist a container. More than a diplomatic choice, this was a statement: the work of the youngest is worth as much as the work of the eldest, and equally interesting too.” Asked whether there’ s a link between all of them, apart from being blood relatives, Vermeersch answers, “We all share a love of good food and interesting conversation. Besides this, my father, Rik Vermeersch, once said that we are all leaning towards the mystical, and he’ s probably right. Yet our work is incredibly diverse, mine being the most abstract of the bunch, even though I do start from a representation of reality. And we all seem to have inherited a characteristic of our grandfather’ s work: everything is always very existential."
At this stage, Vermeersch still owed us an answer to that one burning question. “I would like to quote Wittgenstein, who says Nicht wie die Welt ist, ist das Mystische, sondern dass sie ist. It is not how the world is that is mystical, but that it is. And that’ s exactly my position as an artist in the world”, he concludes. Therewith we must content ourselves.
Pieter Vermeersch ’s latest work is on view at Galerie Perrotin Paris, France, until 11 March 2017.