Contemporary painting is doing very well. When it was pronounced dead due to the storm of conceptualism in the seventies and eighties, the paint, brush and canvas that had been handled for centuries seemed to be on the way to their demise. But we know the rest of the story: the genius of Gerhard Richter, the conceptual approach of Luc Tuymans, as well as a number of other factors, put painting back at the centre of attention. Characteristic for this new generation of painters was their change in attitude: they no longer (only) focused on the tension between lines, colours and fields, between figuration and abstraction, between signs and meanings; they were specifically concerned with the reinterpretation of existing images. These images they got from photographs, videos, clippings, documents and other media to which they added, in a flash of inspiration, the aspect of ‘concept’. They stopped creating individual pieces of art. Instead they painted series, ideas, strands of thought.
Since then, contemporary painting has fragmented and scattered itself in a multitude of directions. The British art dealer and collector Charles Saatchi launched ‘The New Painting’, phenomena such as the Leipziger Schüle (Neo Rauch, Matthias Weischer and others) emerged and painters such as Johannes Kahrs, Thomas Scheibitz, Wilhelm Sasnal, Jenny Saville, Jonathan Meese, Dan Walsh and many others stormed the international scene, each in their own way. Belgium did not stay behind. A young generation of painters developed their very own thoughts about painting that centered (and still centers) around the idea: where will you take this medium? What do you do with the big picture? Are aesthetics making their return? At this moment the country is full of young, interesting painters who all approach their art, which has apparently refused to die a silent death, in a very individual manner. In this line of contemporary Belgian artists there is nevertheless a number of painters who, while gladly picking up the achievements of the new way of painting, cannot and will not let go of what the past has given them. Much of this can be brought back to the tradition and evolution of landscape painting: since the ‘Mont Ste Victoire’-versions of Paul Cézanne and ‘Impression: soleil levant’ of Claude Monet, but also since the work of Constable and Turner, ‘the landscape’ in modern art has become a captivating quest, with the radical abstraction of Mondriaan, the perspectives of Spilliaert, the earthiness of the Latem School and the contemporary work of Per Kirkeby and the aforementioned Gerhard Richter.
One of those contemporary Belgian painters at the centre of this quest is Yves Beaumont (Oostende, º1970). Landscapes take a central place in his paintings. He knows and admires the great masters, but has gradually developed his own pictorial language, which, in essence, is “to translate”. Beaumont does not just translate the real picture of a landscape, as he sees it, to some proper aesthetical interpretation, but uses what he calls a “pictorial logic”: a logic that feels the character of the canvas surface and of the skin of paint, touches and kneads the paint and offers the subject to the viewer in an entirely new form. Thus the painting (or drawing) becomes detached from the actual subject, and therefore independent. Actually Beaumont does what is essential to the art of painting, as opposed to most other forms of visual art: by applying paint and pigment to the canvas he is creating, with hand and spirit, a completely new image. Typical for his work is that he does this figuratively one time, abstractly another – after all, working with a new image is, always, working with artistic freedom. And for Yves Beaumont this freedom is very specific: he looks for innovation in the pictorial language, while respecting the “old” art of painting.
His oeuvre shows a number of ‘milestones’. Take, for example, the series ‘De Nachtdragers’ or ‘La nit eterna’: ‘black’ paintings that were created around the idea of nocturnal landscapes. ‘Darkness’ takes a central place here: not the pure black (a colour he doesn’t even use), but the play of minimal light and and maximal darkness, the usage of colour, light and paint ensures that the artist is no longer occupied with a landscape, but with a thorough artistic research into form and balance. In his lighter works Beaumont applies several layers and mixes several hues, always looking for the ideal light, which covers his paintings like a veil. The same can be seen in other series, such as the Iberic and Ardennes landscapes. In the former the sun seems not to appear on, but behind the canvas. In the latter a haze of shadow and darkness predominates. Whether Beaumont is painting a landscape, a forest, a tree or a branch, the figurative element continues to exist, more or less, but unmistakably withdraws itself to make way for all possible forms of light.
In the ‘Waterlines’ series this is taken to the extreme: here one can see the reflections of vegetative forms on the water, the rippling effect of horizontal lines. Yves Beaumont creates imaginations, pregnant with the product of six centuries of painting, but at the same time so concentrated and distilled that they carry a remarkably strong personal signature; the master’s hand leading the viewer’s gaze to where he wants it: to the world, in a certain place, on a certain day, at a certain hour, with a certain incidence of light and a certain atmosphere. The world of light, the light of the world.