Michaël Borremans, figurative with a strong touch of alienation
A photographer by training, who eventually opted for drawing and, in particular, for painting classically contemporary canvases with a good portion of mystery.
Michaël Borremans was born in 1963 in Geraardsbergen. He studied photography and film at the Sint-Lucas School of Arts and Sciences in Ghent. In the mid-1990s, after weighing his options, he opted for drawing and painting. In the end, that choice was a better fit with his tendency to create art without necessarily having to go outside. An anti-social trait, as he calls it. Yet photography is never far away. He finds inspiration for his paintings in old photographs of people and landscapes.
Through a fellow painter, he came into contact with culture conservationist and curator of the Municipal Museum of Contemporary Art (SMAK) in Ghent, Jan Hoet, also known as the art pope in Flanders. Borremans made the leap to international fame thanks to the Zeno X Gallery in Antwerp, which has brought many other names from the Belgian art scene to fame. These include Luc Tuymans, to name but one. In recent decades, he has exhibited all over the world, at prestigious museums and at leading contemporary art events. His work enjoys particular renown in the United States.
Borremans can best be described as a figurative painter, who gives a realistic twist to topics sprung from his imagination. Alienation with the brake on, so to speak. This is nicely illustrated by the series of 2010 paintings of lackeys in livery, hanging in the Royal Palace in Brussels. They wear their red jackets backwards, have an enigmatic look and one is apparently cutting his finger. It was commissioned by our former monarch, Queen Paola. Secrecy also predominates in his 2017 canvas On the Grind, a group of black men in motion, for which some hip-hoppers randomly encountered on the street were invited to come and be photographed in his studio. Those photos were the foundation of the artwork. Again that dubious and ambiguous element: are they dancing or fighting? The viewer is never sure exactly what to think.
For his technique, Michaël Borremans is indebted to his great examples, in particular the Spaniards Diego Velázquez and Francisco Goya. They too brought life and movement to their canvases with deniable craftsmanship.
A less well-known but equally artistic side-step is Borremans' cover design for the 2008 CD Vantage Point by the frequently acclaimed Antwerp rock band dEUS.