Raoul De Keyser

Belgium / 1930 - 2012 / wikipedia / theguardian.com
Raoul de Keyser, who has died aged 82, created paintings that were inspired by American abstract art but nonetheless rooted in his everyday life in provincial Belgium. Though largely self‑taught, he was praised by some writers for his sophistication and irony (pre-eminently postmodern qualities) – when not being dismissed by others for his ineptitude.

Despite his lack of technical virtuosity, his work does explore, or at least play around with, the nature of painting. It flirts with different genres of abstraction and figuration, and this was in itself enough to secure him powerful critical support. At the time of his retrospective at the Whitechapel Gallery in London in 2004, he was even described as someone who "reconciles the irreconcilable", though his miracle-working may have been slightly exaggerated.

De Keyser was born and brought up in Deinze, a quiet town on the Leie river in East Flanders. ...

Although De Keyser first tried painting when young, he took it up seriously only in his 30s, after a brief training at the Academy of Fine Arts in Deinze (1963-64). He swiftly began to introduce his trademark qualities: a debt to American abstract art and an equally strong emphasis on the mundane and banal. These characteristics can be clearly seen, for example, in Baron in an Al Held Field (1964-66), a parody of the now almost-forgotten hard-edge painter Al Held, in which streaks of yellow and...

As well as producing bold, totally non-figurative compositions, De Keyser responded vividly to his environment, abstracting shapes from the monkey puzzle trees outside his window, or from vapour trails, venetian blinds or the corners of walls. His style may at times have seemed derivative, but he had a distinct, uncompromising sensibility. As he said in 2002: "I don't want to become the 'pretty' painter … Ultimately I want to paint ruthlessly." He resolutely avoided being decorative or ingratiating.
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First Collected by

Philippe Orlent


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