The Last Day

© SABAM Belgium, 2024

Artist / maker

Pierre Alechinsky (painter)

Date

(1964)

Period

20th century
In an art-historical sense, Alechinsky is inextricably bound up with CoBrA (1948-1951), the post-war, avant-garde movement of Danish, Belgian and Dutch artists who included Karel Appel, Asger Jorn, Constant Nieuwenhuys and Corneille. During its existence CoBrA declared war on Formalism, functioning as a European counterpart of American Abstract Expressionism. It wanted to create an ‘international front of experimental artists’, as…
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In an art-historical sense, Alechinsky is inextricably bound up with CoBrA (1948-1951), the post-war, avant-garde movement of Danish, Belgian and Dutch artists who included Karel Appel, Asger Jorn, Constant Nieuwenhuys and Corneille. During its existence CoBrA declared war on Formalism, functioning as a European counterpart of American Abstract Expressionism. It wanted to create an ‘international front of experimental artists’, as co-founder Christian Dotremont wrote. This monumental oil painting could be read as a pinnacle of the stylistic idiom of CoBrA. Gestural abstraction, Surrealist automatism (écriture automatique), anti-intellectualism and expressionistic pictorial spontaneity coalesce in a bizarre yet poetic apocalypse. The end of days and death are suggested by the horror vacui in a pictorial space populated by Boschian or Bruegelian creatures. Those monstrous figurations are an inherent part of CoBrA iconography. In this picture the snakelike creatures (Serpents de mer), owls, ducks, fish and skulls are wriggling in a multicoloured way across a mass of largely North Sea green paint. ’Evocation of greenery, in movement, the height of the wave. Fringes’, according to the artist himself. ‘Such art is the expression of energy, it is the seismograph of inner tensions and emotional charges. It is supremely lyrical and dynamic,’ wrote Karel Geirlandt in 1970. In imitation of Japanese calligraphers – so only very partially or comparable to the Action Painting of Jackson Pollock – Alechinsky bent over his linen or paper supports from around the mid-1950s. In that way he created space with his free hand and wrist for a virtuoso play of line and colour. That is how he developed a personal, graphically inspired touch indebted to coincidence and the impassioned moment of creation. ‘A smudge, a line reveals itself to be a monster, with gaping maw and a tongue that changes into a little bit of calligraphy.’ This wall-sized painting is also a homage to James Ensor. Alechinsky has always greatly admired the Ensorian palette, the humour and the grotesque world of fantasy. Various commentators have proposed that the painting was made this size so that it could withstand a confrontation with Ensor’s iconic Christ’s entry into Brussels. In 1968 the painting was in the contemporary art exhibition Kontrasten 47/67 in the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp, after which the museum bought it. Ensor’s masterpiece could still be admired there at the time. Since the reopening of the museum after a lengthy period of renovation, this largest and last oil painting by Alechinsky (he discovered acrylic paint in America shortly afterwards) has been given a place besides another work of Ensor in the introductory gallery. It is presented as a benchmark in Belgian modern art history.
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Vlaamse Kunstcollectie - EN

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