Ex­hi­bi­tion of the week In­trigue: James En­sor by Luc Tuy­mans

The Week Middle East - - Arts -

Royal Academy, London W1 (020-7300 8090, www.roy­ala­cademy.org.uk). Un­til 29 Jan­uary 2017 The artist James En­sor (1860-1949) was an “enig­matic od­dball, both as a painter and as a man”, said Martin Gay­ford in The Spec­ta­tor. Born to an “ex­pa­tri­ate English al­co­holic” fa­ther and a Bel­gian mother, he grew up in Os­tend, where he spent al­most the en­tirety of his life and ca­reer. In­deed, as far as En­sor was con­cerned, the Bel­gian port city was more or less the cen­tre of the uni­verse, and its “gamey at­mos­phere” per­me­ated all of his work. (He was re­port­edly “badly of­fended” when a fel­low artist sug­gested that Os­tend was not “the whole world”.) Judg­ing from this new ex­hi­bi­tion, these ec­cen­tric­i­ties stretched into his paint­ing, too: he started as a “gloomy” north­ern Euro­pean re­al­ist, but then be­gan to in­cor­po­rate “wil­fully bizarre ad­di­tions”. The show has been cu­rated by the “cel­e­brated” Bel­gian artist Luc Tuy­mans, who has cre­ated a sur­vey of En­sor’s un­con­ven­tional ca­reer, in­ter­spersed with sev­eral works painted by Tuy­mans him­self and by his con­tem­po­raries. The re­sults are “cu­ri­ous” and “not al­ways easy to fol­low”, but ul­ti­mately add up to a dis­tinctly “in­trigu­ing” ex­hi­bi­tion. For En­sor, Os­tend was “a real place, but also a mi­cro­cos­mic land of myth and para­ble”, said Laura Cumming in The Ob­server. He was par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in the cu­rios­ity shop his mother ran, and painted al­most every­thing she sold there. As a re­sult, his art is “crowded with walk­ing dolls, masks and gog­gling Chi­nese ce­ram­ics”, giv­ing it the char­ac­ter of a “Hal­loween pageant”. What unites these dis­parate works is the “pe­cu­liarly ex­u­ber­ant en­ergy” with which En­sor could make even macabre sub­jects seem “fes­tive”. Even a paint­ing of a dead skate on a plat­ter seems to bear a “tragi­comic ex­pres­sion”, as if it had been “caught drink­ing too much”. En­sor’s “self-im­posed iso­la­tion” in Os­tend turned him into a “sour, an­gry pres­ence”, said Walde­mar Januszczak in The Sun­day Times. Look­ing at his work, it seems that he dis­ap­proved of ab­so­lutely every­thing he painted – in­clud­ing him­self. In one self­por­trait, he pre­sents him­self with a “grin­ning” skull for a head. In an­other, he sports a “lu­di­crous”, flowery hat that even Marie An­toinette might have con­sid­ered over the top. The best works here are a se­ries of paint­ings of fig­ures in masks. The In­trigue (1890) de­picts a “crush of es­caped loonies” ap­par­ently “gri­mac­ing, lurch­ing, laugh­ing and head­ing straight at you”. As an im­age of fin de siè­cle “dis­quiet”, it is up there with Munch’s The Scream. Though it is detri­men­tally af­fected by the “point­less” in­clu­sion of works by Tuy­mans and other mod­ern painters, the ex­hi­bi­tion is a wel­come show­case for this lit­tle-seen artist.

The In­trigue (1890): a “crush of es­caped loonies”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UAE

© PressReader. All rights reserved.