Walter Swennen

° 1946

Lives in Brussels (BE), born in Brussels (BE).

 Walter Swennen: an ominous smile on canvas

Walter Swennen is a pioneer of the 'new painting' of the 1980s. His paintings are a precise pictorial treatment of ideas that could also have been developed in a text. Swennen's paintings and drawings teem with images from mass media and popular culture, particularly comics. While everyone recognises and identifies such images, we each react to them differently on an emotional level, and they have different connotations for each of us. Walter Swennen's work invites the observer to forego reason for the imagination.

A visual artist for more than fifty years, Walter Swennen is considered one of the figureheads of contemporary painting. After training as an engraver, Swennen veered towards performance art and poetry, heavily influenced by the Beat Generation. In 1980, he produced his first large-scale, mainly monochrome paintings and drawings in which language plays an important role. He is best known for his radical, experimental, and associative approach to painting, in accordance with his belief in the total autonomy of the artwork. His oeuvre encompasses figuration and abstraction, colour and black and white, language and iconography, image and underlying image, humour and irony, harmony and contradiction, and is highly diverse in terms of techniques, materials, motifs, style and scale. Swennen's paintings are associative in nature, exploring the relationship between symbols, language, legibility, meaning, and pictorial treatment. His practice essentially is an ongoing exploration into the nature and problems of painting.

From 1984 to 2010, Swennen lived and worked in Antwerp. In 1994, the M HKA organised a major solo show of his work, the first exhibition dedicated to a painter since the museum's creation in 1987. His show at Micheline Szwacjer Gallery the following year was distinctly political in nature, both in terms of the subject matter of the canvases and the choice of medium. Swennen used shabby materials, which he sourced from the residents of the largely underprivileged neighbourhood, which included the large migrant community that used to live there: a potent reminder that Zuidwijk was quite rundown before the art scene moved in. 

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