Can painting be a form of truth-finding? And can this truth somehow unite us? For post-Impressionist painter Paul Cézanne this question could only be answered in the affirmative. Not long before his death, in a letter dated October 5, 1905, he wrote to his friend and colleague Émile Bernard: 'Je vous dois la vérité en peinture en je la dirai [I owe you the truth in painting and I will give it to you.]'
Since the advent of modern painting, the idea that a certain truth might be communicated through painting has been a recurring issue; it also animates Bram Kinsbergen’s painterly work as much as it did Cézanne’s. In Mental Traveler, his first solo exhibition with Everyday Gallery, Bram Kinsbergen (Belgium 1984) fully explores this premise. At a time when everyone seems to have their own truth and individualization is affecting us more and more, Kinsbergen paints landscapes, objects, and figures that effectively characterize the tragedy of our social isolation.
As a painter, Kinsbergen works is a deliberately processual manner: with a few exploratory, well-thought-out strokes the image of an abandoned room (When the Party was in Full Swing, 2021; No Title [Interior], 2020) or a lonely swimming pool appears on the canvas (We Left with No Choice, 2021; No title [Swimming Pool], 2020). With a few well-placed contours, a car appears that has become stuck in the snow or seems to be slowly sinking through the horizon (She Kept me Warm, 2021; She disappeared During Together with the House, 2021; Who Would Have Thought, 2021). Kinsbergen makes all corrections to the canvas itself; the exploratory character of his work is reinforced by this technique.
Even and especially when people are absent from the spaces and landscapes that Kinsbergen paints, a keen sense of social isolation is still communicated. The landscapes are deserted; the are cars literally stuck. When Kinsbergen does allow human figures to appear in his paintings, this is often done in the same suggestive, exploratory way. Rarely do we see a richly detailed face. What we do see, effectively and often with the help of just a few sharp brushstrokes, is a body posture (Grieving, 2021; How I Got There, 2021), a lying body (Could have been the happiest day of my life, 2021), a look from behind glasses or a gesture that unmistakably suggests an emotional state (Big Moments Need Men on Small Paintings, 2021; Close the Windows, Will You, 2021).
But the brief contours and spacious surfaces through which Kinsbergen evokes a rich emotional world are always on the edge of the figurative. What becomes a strikingly figurative scene with just a few fine brushstrokes, always remains in close contact with the materiality of paint and the flatness of the canvas. Every suggestion of spatial depth, every rich emotional world that we see emerging on closer inspection stands on the abyss of the abstract. In Kinsbergen's paintings, a world emerges that we, as viewers, effortlessly construct with our eyes; but our eyes need to do the work and they need to accept the abstract abyss of the unknown is always looming at the horizon. If we keep looking, we discover that the world can be very fragile. In a blink of an eye the tennis court disappears into the abstract gray and black surfaces that dominate the canvas.
Perhaps, then, this is the truth of painting; a truth that Kinsbergen has learned to play within a virtuous and responsible way. It is not that the truth does not matter anymore today, as is sometimes claimed by those who first encounter the idea of a post-truth society. But truth is indeed a human matter, in which perspective and position need to be taken into consideration. Just as in the works of Bram Kinsbergen the world must be constructed with our eyes and always remains dependent on our gaze, bringing together the powerful yet fragile lines into a rich emotional landscape, so truth demands of us that we have attention and compassion.