Jan Cox


Painting, 150 x 200 cm and 16 x 18 x 12.5 cm.
Materials: acrylic on canvas with object

Collection: Collection M HKA, Antwerp / Donated by Adriaan Raemdonck, 2014 (Inv. no. S0491_49).

The myth of Orpheus plays a major role in the oeuvre of Jan Cox, and this theme was to remain an ongoing source of inspiration from 1953 right up to the end of his life.  Cox feels a great inner fascination for this classical myth, where the desire for the absolute, for harmony and unity - as well as the tragic impossibility of such - stands central. 

In a conversation with Willem M. Roggeman in 1980, Cox explains this intense affiliation: “Orpheus especially struck me because he's the very personification of the artist.  So it was a sort of identification.  In response to the great loss he'd undergone - indeed, Orpheus loses his beloved - he transposes this to song.  And the more he suffers, the more he sings.”  (Willem M. Roggeman, Ateliergesprekken met Jan Burssens, Jan Cox, Paul Van Hoeydonck, Pol Mara, 1982, p. 52)  The fateful blow befallen Orpheus, functioned as metaphor for artistic and existential existence.

In Orpheus, the artist evokes an image of two irreconcilable realms.  In the middle of the painting, on a blue strip that acts as a borderline, Jan Cox integrates a figure playing the lyre.  At right, we see the warm glow of dancing fire; left, a number of thorny strokes representing the protagonist's grief.  

“It is the ironic, bittersweet commentary of the weary poet confronting the illusory nature of his artistic and existential struggle.  An illusion, or in the best case a substitute.  But he can find no manner of reconciliation in either; for the artist who in life and art strove for the absolute, this was simply not enough." (Francisca Vandepitte, Jan Cox. Ilias, 1997, p. 32)

As such, this work is described as a poignant and intimate self-portrait where the divide between the two irreconcilable worlds shows itself deeper than ever.  With this kitsch-like Orpheus figure, Cox visually calls into question his pursuit of the absolute.  

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