A better-late-than-never post… Pieter Vermeersch must be one of my favourite discoveries of the last couple of years, after I spotted a small oil painting hanging in a corner at Frieze in 2012. This particular work was an incredible gradation piece of imperceptible brushstrokes and throbbing, stormy hues, much like the first image above. I have absolutely no idea how such a clean and smooth surface is achieved – I tried to paint subtle colour blends on a relatively large scale in oils for much of my final year of art at school to varying degrees of success, but these are incomparably skilful. A new theme to emerge from his recent show at Carl Freedman Gallery in Shoreditch, however, is vastly different: sporadic dabs of paint on often generously proportioned marble slabs.
Vermeersch is perhaps referencing the antiquated composition of paints – ground up pigments taken directly from the earth, suspended typically in linseed oil or egg yolk. He applies a product that harks to the past onto something which is most definitely grounded in history. A work in oil on slate was recently acquired by the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge – Marcantonio Bassetti’s c.1616 The Dead Christ Supported by the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene. The notion is similar, painting onto a shiny, cold surface so that the figures are superficial and the black background is the slate in its untreated state. Yet Bassetti’s image is achieved with comparative conviction. Using a material like marble negates entirely the phrase ‘starting with a blank canvas’, and perhaps Vermeersch’s brushstrokes are rather timid and tokenistic gestures which seek not to detract from the complexity and dignity of the surface. I remain unconvinced by the effectiveness of some, such as the grey striped piece above, whilst in others finding myself overlooking the handiwork of the artist himself simply to admire the beauty of the objects he has chosen as his panels. The full oil paintings – those I was familiar with beforehand – remain the most impressive and challenging, confronting the viewer in a similar manner to Ad Reinhardt with his obscure black series of 3×3 grids. They are works which draw the viewer closer and use their apparent simplicity to great effect.