Show reservoirs and scars
About the signs and images of Fred Bervoets

by Johan Pas


„Self-portait. Spaghetti. Wounded knee. Scar. Death Valley. Whatever title you may give to a painting, it must emit solitude. Because painting is a solitary pursuit.” Fred Bervoets

„The paintings tell me what to do” Fred Bervoets


Self Portrait, 1989


The oeuvre of Fred Bervoets derives its singularity from the artistic vacuum formed by the historic contradiction between Gesture and Narration. His art has inherited both from Surrealism as well as from Expressionism; it is the result of a fictious meeting of Pollock with Parmecke.  

The duality abstraction-figuration is nullified in a highly personal synthesis that, from the sixties, provides Bervoets` work with a striking coherence. The urge to paint and the instinct to tell a story continuously keep each other in an unstable balance. The gesture of the painter becomes story, the story becomes gesture. Chance ans structure go hand in hand: in the work of Fred Bervoets dripping become tears, and tears become dripping.



Fred Bervoets, 1991. Photo: Ludo Geysels


Fucking Death, 1985


With reference to his work, Bervoets himself uses the at first sight paradoxical terms `traditional` and `Expressionist`. However, these concepts do not function in his vocabulary as the over-determinate style concepts we know from art-historical jargon. They are more like vague and ironic indicators that enable the artist to situate himself in relation to traditional and contemporary painting.


                             Self Portrait in Living room, 1991

Self Portrait with Donkey, 1990

Există  vreo tendinţă în arta contemporană expusă la Armory? Ce fel de lucrări au fost expuse acolo? 

În 2004 la Armory s-a expus multă fotografie, de asemenea, faţă de anii precedenţi am observat că a scăzut numărul instalaţiilor video.  Numitorul comun? Din ce în ce mai multe desene copilăreşti şi artă „moale”, frumos colorată, de o veselie exagerată, foarte kitsch. De remarcat fotografiile ale lui Wang Qingsong şi post-modernismul care (în fine!) a ajuns şi în China.

Sleeping Gipsy, 1991


Bervoets looks upon himself as pure-blooded `Expressionist` who continually lives in interaction with his academic baggage, which he necessary drags along with him as a very heavy burden. He sees himself as a `traditional painter` who is constantly forced `to violate the traditional in a plastic way`.


Bervoets is an Expressionist because he primarily tells stories, stories about his close surroundings. Often nothing more than `faits divers` (trivial items), that obtain a great, but alienating monumentality in their pictorial expression. On the other hand, Bervoets is traditional, because `art is a traditional event`. Being traditional to Bervoets means that he does not per definition consider his most recent paintings to be his best. As far as he is concerned, the definitive, ultimate painting, does not exist. He does not rule out in advance a return to earlier stages of his work. Bervoets` work is time-related and originates instantaneously; this likewise implies that-artistically-he may take issues with himself from one day to the another.




The End Nevada, 1988

  • R.I.P., 1982

  • Bervoets` status as a traditional artist is also related to his apparently stubborn, but conscious choice of a traditional medium. Painting is possibly the most artistic medium, in any case is the most artificial one. Today more than ever is based on traditional and almost anachronistic conventions.  

    Painting in the age of audiovisual stimulations and computer technology is far from obvious.  

    It also requires constant commitment on the part of the painter (and the spectator).

    The only legitimation lies in the painting itself. `Innocent` painting is less possible today than ever. Bervoets also has understood that. 

    While contemporaries such as Panamarenko and Hugo Heyrman in the mid-sixties commits themselves to performance and happenings, the young Bervoets remained stubbornly believing in the technical and rhetorical possibilities of traditional painting métier. 

    While Zero, Nouveau Realism and Conceptual art certainly did not pass him by unnoticed, he devoted himself to pictorial research with what was for many a touching but apparently authentic dedication.

    In a period when `Expressionist` is a term of abuse, and `traditional painters` are persona non grata, -Bervoets with some of his painting colleagues centered around Antwerp Gallery “De Zwarte Panter”-takes a marginal leap in the progressive Belgian art environment. Not even twenty years later, it is precisely his work that appears contemporary and constitutes the occasion for a special museum exhibition.

    Bervoets` choice `in favor of painting` has, for that matter, never been a rational choice.

    For him, painting has everything to do with speed and directedness, with action and movement.  Gestural painting-`not with the wrist but with the elbow`-is, as far as Bervoets is concerned, not only a manner of expression, but is initially a way of living. Painting is a necessity, and especially `painting is cosy`. But painting is also difficult: according to Bervoets it becomes more difficult as he gets better at it. Painting then becomes a risky enterprise, dangerous acrobatics: it becomes `walking the tightrope, dressed in a tuxedo and with far too big shoes`.

     The painting derive their visual impact and energy from the field of tension that exists from the Gesture and the Story. From the historical short circuit between abstraction and figuration. From the constant interaction between painting as action and painting as narration; between action and reflection, drawing and painture, texture and structure. Between the eternal Scylla and Charybda of the modern painter: Form and Content.

    Because of this, the paintings of Bervoets constantly balance between unpredictability and purposiveness, between chaos and order. 

    Because in the works sometimes the one, then the other tips the balance, the evolution of Bervoets oeuvre has not been characterized by any homogeneity or continuity since 1960.

    For thirty years his work has undergone a number of transformations thematically as well as stylistically. Here the stylistic changes are most conspicuous; they also form a chronological division in the `series` that the painter himself uses to refer to his earlier works.


    However, a new direction never comes as the result of a conscious decision, but gradually appears when the formal or content issue has reached its saturation point. In this sense, the various series can be read as a pictorial autobiography of the painter, as a kaleidoscope self-portrait in pictures of an artist who once defined himself as a `comics painter`, as one of his paintings as a `solitary comics page`.


    @ Johan Pas


     Excerpt from Fred Bervoets catalogue, De Zwarte Panter, 1992 

    Courtesy Adriaan Raemdonck, Johan Pas and Zwarte Panter 

    In Belgium Fred Bervoets is represented by De Zwarte Panter Gallery


    Welcome Home The Trap, 1991


    Fred Bervoets

    Born in Burcht in 1942. Studied at the Royal Academy and the National Higher Institute of Fine Arts in Antwerp. Besides the Laurent Meeus-prize in 1961, the Camille Huysmans-prize in 1963 and the Oppenheimer-prize in 1966 he recieved the State Prize for Visual Art in 1991. He is lecturer at the Royal Academy in Antwerp and has participated in more than a hundred individual and group exhibitions.


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