April 11, 2016

Raoul De Keyser's Poetry

Drift, 2008; oil on canvas, 13 5/8 x 17 1/2 in.

Paint contains within it a wide range of possible expressions, from a precisely contained delineation of form to a free flowing burst of energy; from thickly textured surfaces to surfaces where paint is a barely-seen vehicle for an image; it can shout and it can murmur. For Raoul De Keyser (1930-2012), paint is a subtle medium, carrying a delicate expression, fluid and free, and at the same time concise and spare. His paintings are like brief poems, allusive, and richer than the minimal language suggests.

Detail, 2005; oil on canvas mounted on wood panel, 7 1/16 x 6 5/16 in. 

There is a beautiful selection of De Keyser's paintings at David Zwirner gallery, an exhibition they've titled Drift. De Keyser lived in Deinze, Belgium––a town not far from the sea––or his entire life and it is evident from the work on view that the landscape around him was a subject for his paintings.

Untitled, 2006; oil and charcoal on canvas, 18 1/2 x 12 5/8 in.

The three works above reference landscape in brief, rather clearly....

Untitled, 2006; oil on canvas, 20 1/8 x 18 1/4 in. 

....while this blue, barely there, cloud of color may point to sky, or water, or atmosphere, or simply the pleasure of paint. The softly irregular blue is pinned in place by a very small horizontal blue line above it.

Avondrood, 1992; oil on canvas, 32 3/16 x 26 5/16 in.

In Avondrood, reference disappears; what is left is paint on canvas, brushed more or less opaquely, giving a sense of space and air.

Avondrood detail

Embedded within the veils of paint are small wounds, scabs on the skin of the paint.

Hayward 3, 1993; oil and gesso on canvas, 21 5/8 x 12 5/8 in.

Sometimes De Keyser just plays with shape....

Recover, 2003; oil on canvas, 32 7/16 x 26 3/8 in.

....a soft geometry.

Recover detail

His use of paint is restrained yet luscious.

The Last Wall

The Last Wall is a group of 22 very small works (this image doesn't include all of them) that he completed before his death in 2012. They are wonderful paintings, spare and whimsical. The two images below are from this group.

Upwards, 2012; oil and gesso on canvas mounted on wood panel, 6 5/16 x 11 in.

A green line meanders upwards on a white field spotted with denser white.

Blue R, 2012; gesso and silkscreen on cardboard on canvas mounted on wood panel, 
7 5/8 x 10 1/2 in.

Rectangles of yellow and blue are intruded upon by irregular green shapes.

 De Keyser's work is mainly of a modest size, though he did do some larger paintings; this installation shot gives a sense of their different dimensions.

Come on, play it again nr. 4, 2001; 74 7/8 x 47 7/8 in.

This painting is about the same size as the one seen through the doorway in the photo above. I see it as a landscape reference: rocks in a stream or along the shore. They are beautifully observed and balanced quirky shapes, shown just in outline, hugging the edges and dancing in the center. Within his quiet language, De Keyser explored wide worlds.


  1. Inspiring post, and the David Zwirner site is very nice too.

    1. I'm pleased you like this work, JBS. I think Zwirner gallery does a great job in showing important work, and often having museum quality shows.