Early Modern Art, in particular the Flemish Baroque painting, The Brueghel Dynasty – these are the periods in the history of art one certainly thinks of after hearing the phrase Belgian art or Belgian artists. Indeed, Peter Paul Rubens, Rogier van der Weyden, the Bruegels – they were all Masters coming from the territory that is now part of Belgium. We say that they were Belgian painters since Belgium as a country did not exist at that moment, but these artists were mostly coming from Flanders (Flemish artists), which today belongs to Belgium (Belgium as a country was created in 1830).
With rich history of Flemish art, Belgian art (since the creation of the state) has always been under heavy influence of Paris and dominant art practices and movements coming from France. For example, in the 19th and early 20th Century, Impressionism was adopted by many Flemish and (now) Belgian painters (such as Georges Lemmen and Théo van Rysselberghe), thus there were the Belgian Impressionists. Other dominant movements of that time, such as Expressionism and Surrealism, also had a huge impact on arts in Belgium. Wallon painters in particular (Félicien Rops, Paul Delvaux, Pierre Paulus) were all part of these movements. Finally, Belgian Surrealism emerged as an important movement in the country, with René Magritte as the leading figure of this group of artists.
Today, Belgian art and artists are part of global contemporary scene. Brussels, Antwerp, Liege, and other cities are home to many important art galleries, while Brussels itself can be proud of its great annual event – the Brussels art fair. Situated at the very heart of the Western Europe, Belgium is perfectly connected with other parts of Europe and with the United States. This is one of the reasons why there are so many remarkable contemporary Belgian artists recognized both at home and abroad.
Editors’ Tip: Fading: 40 Belgian Contemporary Artists
Fading: 40 Belgian Contemporary Artists is written by Sven Vanderstichelen. This publication gives an insight into one of the most vibrant European contemporary art scene – the Belgian one. Although sometimes marginalized in media, Belgian art scene is respectable and recognized among contemporary art circles. Belgian painters and other artists participate at important art fairs, they are presented by major art galleries, their works are part of remarkable art collections from all over the world. Belgian art has rich history, but it also has rich contemporary art scene. And Belgian contemporary art scene deserves special attention as it is consisted of dozens of renowned artists from different backgrounds who constantly move the borders of contemporary art.
Dirk Braeckman is a world-renowned Ghent-based photographer. Braeckman also creates site-specific installations for various projects. One of his best-known works is a permanent installation of a monumental photowork that is located at the new Concert Hall of Bruges. Once exhibited, Braeckman’s photographs look like paintings – they are large, usually life-size, and they are unglazed. His works are always between abstraction and representation, between “objective reality” and the “real world behind the work”.
Featured Image: Dirk Braeckman - T.W.-G.P.-11, 2011
Born in Schaerbeek, Pierre Alechinsky has been living in France since 1951. In the early years of his career, he developed links with Andre Breton, but eventually became part of the famous CoBrA group. His work is related to Tachisme, Abstract Expressionism, and lyrical abstraction. Alechinsky’s art is also known for the use of Eastern tradition of pouring ink onto the surface of paper spread out on the floor that he adopted when he visited Japan. In addition to this, the Japanese calligraphy influenced Alechinsky’s practice a lot. He still lives in France.
Featured Image: Pierre Alechinsky - The Night, 1952, detail
One of the most prominent Belgian painters, Michaël Borremans, is well-known for his unique painting technique that dates back to the 18th-century art and artists such as Édouard Manet and Degas. Based in Ghent, Belgium, Borremans creates figurative paintings and drawings in which he juxtaposes somber figures, creating compositions that are comic, but also disturbing. Borremans is also a filmmaker. His works can be found in public collections of many respected museums and art institutions.
Featured Image: Michaël Borremans - Black Mould, The, Dance, 2015
Ann Veronica Janssens is a contemporary visual artist who works primarily in light. Although born in England, she has been living in Brussels for years. Science and minimalism play an important role in Janssens’ practice, as she is focused on the notion of perception. In her work, Janssens deal with materiality, and explores different ways of how materiality can be destabilized. Therefore, her work is all about reflection, balance, waves, lightness, transparency, etc.
Featured Image: Ann Veronica Janssens - States of Mind, detail
One of the most famous Belgian urban artists is Dzia. This Antwerp-based street and urban artist is best-known for his depiction of animals. The walls of his hometown are covered with murals Dzia created, but his murals grace the walls of many European cities as well. The animals he creates are defined by strong abstract and geometric lines and a fine color palette.
Featured Image: Dzia - Work in Vilvoorde, Belgium, 2015
Thierry de Cordier is not only a contemporary visual artist; he is also poet and philosopher. De Cordier had a long career as performer, sculptor and painter. Recently, de Cordier, who is based in the city of Ostende, devoted himself to painting seascapes. He is influenced by Chinese monochromatic topographical paintings from the 17th and 18th Century. De Cordier works with oils, enamel and Chinese ink. Apart from painting, he also studies the theories and themes of seascapes.
Featured Image: Thierry De Cordier - Artwork, detail
One of the best known Belgian contemporary artists – Hans Op de Beeck creates in a variety of different media. This Brussels-based artist makes installations, sculptures, video works, animated films, short stories, paintings, drawings, photography, new media, stage design, and so on. When it comes to subject-matter, Op de Beeck is focused on the relationship between mankind and time and space. He aims to capture grotesque and tragicomic images of humans in postmodern time and culture. Since he deals with spatial and time-related themes, Op de Beeck’s works are indirectly posing the questions of identity and reality.
Featured Image: Hans Op de Beeck - Still Life, detail
Michel François is Brussels-based contemporary artist known for his sculptures, videos and photographs through which he aims to represent humans’ incompatible desire to both destroy and create the world. He describes himself as conceptual artist, while the names of his exhibitions point directly to his interests. By exploring the position of mankind in postmodern world, François deals with quite contemporary issues, such as surveillance, police state… He explores these themes by using knowledge from psychology and the philosophy of language.
Featured Image: Michel François - Interface Pavillon, 2010
Jan Fabre is an artist of a particular style and character. From the beginning of his career, he has been associated with performance art. He became known when he renamed the street he lived in to "Jan Fabre street" putting commemorative plaque "Here lives and works Jan Fabre" to the house of his parents. Fabre is also known for blue ballpoint pen drawings and ornamented sculptures that question the themes of life, death and memory. He lives and works in Antwerp.
Featured Image: Jan Fabre - Troubleyn, detail
Luc Tuymans is probably the biggest name of contemporary Belgian art and is considered one of the most significant and influential contemporary painters working today. One of the leading figures of the new generation of figurative painters, he never lost faith in the medium of painting. He doesn’t focus on one single subject – his artworks are dealing with themes such as the Holocaust, Christmas decorations, everyday objects, the politics of the Belgian Congo, and so on. Tuysmans’ works can be found in collections of the significant museums and art institutions in the world. He lives and works in Antwerp, Belgium.
Featured Image: Luc Tuymans - Bridge, 2009. All Images used for illustrative purposes only.