et al. vol. 2 (2021) | Luc Tuymans on Raoul De Keyser — In conversation with Lucas Zwirner

Raoul De Keyser, Airy (Vederlicht), 2010, acrylic on linen, 34.6 x 44.1 cm. © Raoul De Keyser / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SABAM, Belgium. Image courtesy of Family Raoul De Keyser and David Zwirner.
Raoul De Keyser, Across, 2000/2009, oil on canvas, 49.8 x 70.2 cm. © Raoul De Keyser / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SABAM, Belgium. Image courtesy of Family Raoul De Keyser and David Zwirner.
Raoul De Keyser, Maquette for Construct, 2007, oil on canvas 30 x 40 cm. © Raoul De Keyser / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SABAM, Belgium. Image courtesy of Family Raoul De Keyser and David Zwirner.
Raoul De Keyser, Three Scarecrows in a Gale, 2006, oil on canvas 90 x 125 cm. © Raoul De Keyser / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SABAM, Belgium. Image courtesy of Family Raoul De Keyser and David Zwirner.
Raoul De Keyser, Scene in Pistachio, 2007, oil on canvas, framed: 71.8 x 45.7 x 3.8 cm. © Raoul De Keyser / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SABAM, Belgium. Image courtesy of Family Raoul De Keyser and David Zwirner.
Raoul De Keyser, Front, 1992, oil on canvas, 164.8 x 122.9 cm. © Raoul De Keyser / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SABAM, Belgium. Image courtesy of Family Raoul De Keyser and David Zwirner.
Raoul De Keyser, Passage, 2010, oil on canvas, 34.3 x 44.1 cm. © Raoul De Keyser / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SABAM, Belgium. Image courtesy of Family Raoul De Keyser and David Zwirner.
Raoul De Keyser, Falling Balls, 2010, oil, gesso, and charcoal on canvas, 44.1 x 34.3 x 2.2 cm. © Raoul De Keyser / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SABAM, Belgium. Image courtesy of Family Raoul De Keyser and David Zwirner.
Raoul De Keyser’s studio in Deinze, Belgium, 2012. Photo by Jef Van Eynde. Image courtesy of David Zwirner.

Raoul De Keyser’s studio in Deinze, Belgium, 2009. Photo by Christophe Vander Eecken. Image courtesy of David Zwirner.
Raoul De Keyser’s studio in Deinze, Belgium, 2009. Photo by Christophe Vander Eecken. Image courtesy of David Zwirner.
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His work is a work about the window in the window. The painting in the painting in a sense. The mark marking he made really has an extreme memory, has extreme research behind it, an extreme experience.

 

Raoul De Keyser, Airy (Vederlicht), 2010, acrylic on linen, 34.6 x 44.1 cm. © Raoul De Keyser / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SABAM, Belgium. Image courtesy of Family Raoul De Keyser and David Zwirner.

 

Lucas Zwirner: What were some of your first memories or interactions with Raoul De Keyser and his work?

Luc Tuymans: The very first time I really got a glimpse or an idea of the work of Raoul was “Initiatief 86”, which was a big show done in Ghent, Belgium in 1986. One of the co-curators of that [show] was Kasper König, who at that point asked, “It’s not possible that there is no painting in this country with such a history of painting?” They first showed him the work of [Roger] Raveel. And then, all of a sudden, they pulled out these paintings of Raoul’s, which was like a revelation.

 

Raoul De Keyser, Across, 2000/2009, oil on canvas, 49.8 x 70.2 cm. © Raoul De Keyser / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SABAM, Belgium. Image courtesy of Family Raoul De Keyser and David Zwirner.

 

Lucas Zwirner: And did a kind of a relationship between you and Raoul ensue? Did you see a connection between your works at the time?

Luc Tuymans: Not instantaneously. But later on we actually ended up at the same gallery, which was Zeno X and Raoul actually visited all my shows and was very interested in my work. He knew that I had visited Frank [Demaegd, founder of Zeno X], and he was quite adamant to get me in the same gallery, which eventually happened.

So, what was interesting is that the very first year I did a show there, he also had a show. And I instantaneously understood that we had something in common which is the element of, not only the pictorial, but mostly the tactility of the paint, which for me was actually very important. And this just became more and more clear during the fact that we were in several group shows together. And eventually, the first time we talked was two years later, when we both ended up in documenta 9 in 1992 and we were in the same temporary building by Robbrecht [en Daem]. That’s where we actually met.

 

Raoul De Keyser, Maquette for Construct, 2007, oil on canvas 30 x 40 cm. © Raoul De Keyser / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SABAM, Belgium. Image courtesy of Family Raoul De Keyser and David Zwirner.
Raoul De Keyser, Three Scarecrows in a Gale, 2006, oil on canvas 90 x 125 cm. © Raoul De Keyser / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SABAM, Belgium. Image courtesy of Family Raoul De Keyser and David Zwirner.
Raoul De Keyser, Scene in Pistachio, 2007, oil on canvas, framed: 71.8 x 45.7 x 3.8 cm. © Raoul De Keyser / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SABAM, Belgium. Image courtesy of Family Raoul De Keyser and David Zwirner.

 

Lucas Zwirner: In preparing for this conversation, I found a nice quote where Raoul was talking about your work and he says that he notices you hold onto an image, that you never really let go. And then he also talks about how he always feels there’s more to your paintings than immediately meets the eye.

Luc Tuymans: Well, likewise for Raoul. I mean, I think the problem with Raoul is he’s such an underrated artist. It’s insane in a sense, seeing the era where he comes, and of course [the] whole trajectory with his assessment of pop art and back then again, the work Raoul makes is really a work that has a huge scope.

It’s a completely different take on abstraction than, let’s say, the Americans or even the Germans. That makes him a painter for painters in a sense. And if you would ask me what kind of image would come up when I think of Raoul, it’s not necessarily Clyfford Still or things like that, but it would be something like Albert Marquet.

His work is a work about the window in the window. The painting in the painting in a sense. The mark making he made really has an extreme memory, has extreme research behind it, an extreme experience.

 

Raoul De Keyser, Front, 1992, oil on canvas, 164.8 x 122.9 cm. © Raoul De Keyser / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SABAM, Belgium. Image courtesy of Family Raoul De Keyser and David Zwirner.
Raoul De Keyser, Passage, 2010, oil on canvas, 34.3 x 44.1 cm. © Raoul De Keyser / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SABAM, Belgium. Image courtesy of Family Raoul De Keyser and David Zwirner.
Raoul De Keyser, Falling Balls, 2010, oil, gesso, and charcoal on canvas, 44.1 x 34.3 x 2.2 cm. © Raoul De Keyser / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SABAM, Belgium. Image courtesy of Family Raoul De Keyser and David Zwirner.

 

Lucas Zwirner: I’m curious when you say the idea of a painter’s painter, and other artists have described that too, what do they mean by this?

Luc Tuymans: It’s really about the essentials of painting which are hard to explain with words, basically. [In Raoul’s practice] there is also [a sense of] immediacy and necessity to the work— he immediately understood the power of it. And this is undeniable, it’s something that is born out of necessity, and you can see that, so it is also not a pose. It is a real entity, and a part of Raoul’s life.

[Also] the way Raoul was able to, like in Retour I (1999), overwork the idea of the trace. I don’t mean that in terms of calligraphy, I mean that in terms of mark making. Although it looks so simple, that mark making is so informed and infinitely subtle, the simple gesture [leaves the painting] kind of naked in a way. And I think this element of truthfulness, which [is what] I mean [by the genuinety], is something that you have to experience. [They are] paintings that you really have to see in real.

 

Raoul De Keyser’s studio in Deinze, Belgium, 2012. Photo by Jef Van Eynde. Image courtesy of David Zwirner.

Raoul De Keyser’s studio in Deinze, Belgium, 2009. Photo by Christophe Vander Eecken. Image courtesy of David Zwirner.

 

Lucas Zwirner: Did you ever visit Raoul at his home/studio?

Luc Tuymans: That’s a very good question because he never did [studio visits]. He did with people like, Ulrich Loock and Kasper maybe, but with artists he never did that. So I never did. Also he never asked to come to my studio. In that sense, he was rather introverted. [The studio] was kind of a sacred place.

Lucas Zwirner: Was his closest friend a poet? It feels like he had relationships with writers as well. Was that something that you guys had any conversation about?

Luc Tuymans: Yeah, like in documenta 9, we talked about writers we actually liked [such as] Robert Musil and Thomas Mann. And also the thing that a lot of people may not know [was that] he was a big football fan. And you can see that actually in one of the early works where you have the white lines on the football field. That’s an anthem that comes back, but there’s also the territorial element in the work that constantly repeats itself.

 

Raoul De Keyser’s studio in Deinze, Belgium, 2009. Photo by Christophe Vander Eecken. Image courtesy of David Zwirner.

 

Lucas Zwirner: Did you relate to Raoul as someone who decided to maintain almost an outsider’s perspective on the centres of the art world?

Luc Tuymans: Yes, Raoul was in a sense a person who needed this particular privacy to actually work. It was important to have this sort of rooted element, which I think is also important for his work. It probably all has to do with the light, and also with the form, the shape, and all those things that were a source of how the vicinity of things could inform his idea of how a pictorial image could function. And that has to do with time. He needed time, I think, to do that.

The most important statement is that [Raoul] is really an artist’s artist, and on the other hand, he is a very underrated artist. And it is really important that the legacy of an artist like this will not get lost. That is important.

 

Raoul De Keyser (b. 1930, Belgium; d. 2012, Belgium) was a Belgian painter known for his sophisticated and tempered paintings that subtly and evocatively explore the relationship between colour and form.

 

 

 
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