Monthly Archives: February 2011

Manor Grunewald – “I’m not a conceptual artist, I’m just a painter”

Manor is a true image collector or even just a collector, considering all the random objects you encounter in his studio. You arrive in the room, situated near a canal in the north of Ghent, and find floors and shelves full of images, old magazines and clippings of newspapers with amazing quotes.  When I asked him what his art was  about, he gave me the answer I wanted to hear: “I have no plans, I just collect, randomly, and then find a narrative”. Welcome to Manor Grunewald’s studio.

He hung a first painting for us composed of two canvases: “It even ‘sleeps’ you” and  “Operation for a nosebleed” which pictures a ‘history of warship’. I enjoy the calm and soothing way of painting the background of those two paintings that are simply linked by a black spot.

Manor is autodidact who trained on the streets. After four months of academy, he drops out and decides to continue without the cumbersome framework of art schools. Meanwhile since his teen years, he has painted some 1,000 walls “Graffiti is the first thing to become involved in nowadays if you are interested in painting – when you’re young that’s what you see on the streets”.

Why does Manor Grunewald paint? For the absurdity of it, emphasized by this world of photoshopping and digital photography, overwhelmed by pictures (which was the object of Ponyhof’s first curated exhibition). Why on earth would people continue to use such a slow and useless medium? I asked him then why using oil? “Because it dries so slow and you can easily rework it, unlike acrylic” says Manor while he stains his hands black from a fresh painting he hasn’t touched in two and a half weeks.

Funny thing is that I’m sure many conceptual-art advocates would be very enthused by Manor’s conceptual developments. But by talking for more than two seconds with him, you understand that he doesn’t care much about concepts. He offers experience to his viewer and refuses to impose concepts on them. People are often insecure to see what they want in art and always need “keys” to cling to.

So what is Manor’s work all about? “Just images, who cares about the meaning, it’s about narratives, like when you’re reading a book”. Manor likes to play with art history. We are all subject to the overflow of images, so what is left to do? Just collect them and play with them and try to make it interesting for the viewer. “To me it makes sense”.

The painting “Who will survive and what will be left of them?” (tagline from the Chain Saw Massacre) is dedicated to all artists. I asked why there is so often a layer of white on his paintings and he explained how when he uses texts or other very graphic elements, he uses such a white film to make it a painting.

He then takes out “Maybe you were satisfied but we weren’t”. How did he come up with it? No plans, just found this silver reflecting film and then decided to create a narrative around it. That’s what Manor means about narrative. He finds something like an image, a material, a quote and then plays with it and ends up creating a work. He doesn’t want to create stories and hand out keys to the viewer but just enable him/her to make up their own story in what they see, to confront them to watch something from a different angle.

“The works have to stand on their own” he says. As Kippenberger said, who cares how the works are hung, they can be stacked up on top of each other, if they are good they’ll stand out. And this is why Manor arranges his own pictures at his own exhibitions in his own way. For his next exhibition at Bozar he’ll use some crates to compose his space. He likes crates for they carry so much history. Stacking paintings on top of each other reminds him of photoshop and how you end up with windows on top of each other, except that painting does not exactly take the same amount of time…

Manor does not care about the perception of his viewers, in the sense that they are free to see what they want to in his work. It makes it much more interesting for him to know that each person will apply a different meaning or story behind the images he produces. His work shows it is more important to look, feel and ask yourself questions.

See more of his work on his website:


Art Rotterdam’s picks

Last week-end was Art Rotterdam. My first time at this rather young and intimate fair (if you can say so about a fair). I can’t believe though that a couple of years ago it still hosted amateur works and now it boasts a good selection of up-and-coming galleries. The fair takes place at the cruise terminal ‘Las Palmas’, near Hotel New-York and offers a view on the infamous Erasmus bridge and the harbour of Rotterdam.  Here a little condensé of our picks.

Adam Leech is an American artist, both a painter and videast, who produces painterly videos. He lives and works in Brussels. Besides the reference to Bacon, I was attracted by the way the artist deals with decoration in painting, still in my quest of what is the use of painting in 2011…to follow.

Adam Leech (2011) 'Window' - Galerie Hoet Beckaert

Nice discovery of Spanish artist David Predraza who lives and works in the Netherlands. I was first attracted by his style because it instantly reminded me of our Céline Felga. He plunges the viewer in a very uncomfortable world dominated by catholic references, which could only echo my own childhood spent in a very catholic school. To follow too…


David Pedraza ‘Comunión 2’ (communion 2). Oil on linen. 200 x 150 cm. 2010. Galerie Gabriel Rolt

It was this particular painting of Nanda Runge that attracted my eyes, not sure why, it reminds me of a Wolfgang Tillmans pictures or a former personal passion for biology, the very descriptive and direct picture of those plants. This is the thing with fairs, it’s great, you discover a lot in one day, meet people, see much, but without getting into anything…one piece per artist, a short insight into galleries’ programmes, too much too see.

Nanda Runge – Galerie van den Berge

But what I appreciated above all was the whole galerie programme of Eva Winkeler which focusses only on paintings and other medium relating or alluding to painting. Each single artist this gallery presents is a gem.

Peyman Ratimi - Untitled (2010), silkscreen and oil on paper, 95 x 124 - Galerie Eva Winkeler

Martin Hoener 'Farbewerte 2' ( 2008) Acrylic on canvas, 145cm × 118cm - Galerie Eva Winkeler (different painting than the one presented at the fair)

Eva is a very engaging and friendly person and her selection really worth being seen, in case you are in Köln or Frankfurt, make sure to pass by her gallery.

Liv Vaisberg

Sfumato in contemporary painting?

Most of you who had some sort of art history education must have heard of sfumato. Think Leonardo da Vinci and his revolutionary painting technique consisting of obscuring lines or borders to create soft and mellow transitions between shades and colours; basically using high contrast and diffused light. It was his way of rendering the “mystery of life”. Now my question is: what about sfumato in contemporary painting? Is it enough to just make a blurry painting à la Gerhard Richter to create sfumato effects?

Sfumato comes from the Italian ‘sfumare’ which means  “to tone down” or “to evaporate like smoke”.  Take a look at the background landscape of the world’s most famous painting and you’ll see this subtle transition light to dark areas which evokes a hazy feeling whilst adding a gloria of enigma to facial features as if they were seen through a veil.

Leonordo da Vinci - Mona Lisa

It is not the role of this blog to give expert lectures on art history techniques, but in a nutshell, sfumato could be summarised to the “no brush” technique.  By using X-rays, scientists discovered how da Vinci perfected his technique by using 40 layers of ultra-thin layers of glaze and paint. They suspect he used his fingers as absolutely not a single brushstroke can be identified. The way da Vinci managed this near-perfection has long been a mystery for art historians.

Gerhard Richter - Landscape near Hubbelrath (1969)

Gerhard Richter is known for his “out-of-focus” trademark. Whether for representations of landscapes, still-life or portraits but also for his abstract pieces, Richter gives a blurred and hazy appearance to his paintings. No one before applied such a systematic blurry  approach to his work as Richter does. None of the Turners, Monets or Renoirs, who created a flowing unity among colours, went as far as managing this “perfect” blur (although unlike da Vinci he uses dry brushes to “feather” wet paint or in somes cases scrapes into the drying portrait with a ruler or spatula).

Gerhard Richter - Selfportrait

When I first encountered the work of Sophie Pigeron, I had the reflex to say ‘Ah Gerhard Richter’, by the sight of all those blurry paintings. But by giving it a closer look, I realised that Sophie draws the “blur” concept much further as she focuses on details of the “hazy” landscapes to the point of flirting with abstract painting. She wipes out details and points of focus completely so that the painter’s hand vanishes. Sophie deliberately called her series Sfumato and lay claim to the Renaissance technique. Yet, through her use of saturated colours such as fluorescent pink, her paintings are also reminiscent of graffiti street art and contemporary culture.

As we have set forth already, there is a certain return of the pathos and the emotions in today’s contemporary art and Sophie Pigeron’s work typically encourage the viewer to contemplate and remain puzzled by her work, which similarly to da Vinci, attempt to render the “mystery of life”.  As colours blend with light, it is for the beholder to fill in the detail with the help of his sensibility, personal memories and imagination.

Just as I decided to write on Sfumato and ‘blurry’ painting, I heard that there is currently a exhibition at the Hamburger Kunsthalle called “Out of Focus. After Gerhard Richter“, which runs until 22 May 2011. The exhibition description refers to “the tradition of European painting since the fifteenth century, like for example in the sfumato-technique of Leonardo da Vinci.” The exhibition offers a closer, coherent look at this stylistic principle by presenting the paintings and photographic works by 21 artists all born after-1960 together with 21 works of Gerhard Richter. It shows how the artists used different kinds of blurring in various combination as a part of their pictorial language.