Karel Breugelmans’ oeuvre does not yield to the temptations of time. Breugelmans is, and will always be, an architect-artist who pursues ‘building without finality’. His practice is a progressive cycle of visual trial and error with ‘forms’ that, at first glance, allude to plastic (constructional) technical findings.
Karel Breugelmans simultaneously and alternately creates freestanding or hanging sculptures and numerous paintings that testify to mastery and skill. His work tends towards the status of models and plans that belong in the vicinity of the (historically) utopian artistic movements that developed alongside their analogical, politically enlivened equivalents. The artist himself labels his works as ‘images of something that could be, without any intention of wanting to change the world’. Karel Breugelmans sometimes leads the viewer up the garden path with his work. His fantastic paintings in inconspicuously beautiful, ‘administrative’ colours – of the kind associated with architectural blueprints – depict robust constructions that obliquely remind one of utopian cities. The fact that his work remains ‘open’ to this kind of interpretation is the ‘quality’ of the oeuvre’s imaginative power. The artist smiles affably and doesn’t mention utopian architecture, although he does point to ‘black holes’ and ‘wormholes’ as an inspirational network.
Karel Breugelmans’ sculptures manifest themselves both indoors and in the open air. They are simple, made of untreated cedar (and thus natural in colour and texture), and are sometimes enhanced with small, mirrored fragments, or ‘splinters’. Karel Breugelmans (occasionally) hangs his sculptures from trees with an eye hook – thus creating a beautifully symbolic arrangement in which the tree functions, as it were, as both the support and ‘furnisher’ for a right-angled, geometric three-dimensional structure. The work thereby enters into an almost dialectic relationship with the organically growing branches. ‘Beeld/Boom’ [Sculpture/Tree] encapsulates the exquisite harmony that exists between the polarity of nature and culture (art) and the notion that art can float and escape gravity thanks to an ordinary tree.
More monumental, slender sculptures are assembled from pieces of wood and typically mounted on a pin within a concrete base. This allows the sculpture to rotate. They contain mirrored fragments that occasionally sparkle and shimmer, catching and reflecting both the light and the surroundings, yet without ever fixing this reality. Mirrors are memory-free and only ‘function’ in relation to a time-bound (human) presence and, ditto, perception. The artist adds that, for him, the mirror signifies ‘introspection, as well as a questioning of reality’. The fact that his sculptures, intended for outdoors, seem both fragile and monumental is confirmed by the artist, who notes that art and life are one and the same: transient.
The paintings are, will always be, untitled. This is because the artist seeks to limit discussions about the work and give the viewer free interpretive reign. Breugelmans’ paintings are so smooth and flawless that it is hard to believe they were made by human hands. The constructions float on the canvas; they are silky smooth dream images that neither disturb nor offend the eye.
The azure constructions resemble graphic blueprints without utility or functionality. His compositions are devoid of all superfluity and ornament. And although these complex drawings paradoxically elicit a ‘form’ of benign tranquillity, they also continue to ‘wreak havoc’ on the mind and imagination. This is because our ‘personal’ thoughts grapple with the suggestion that a ‘higher power’ lies behind such ‘remote beauty’.
This consistent, uncompromising oeuvre stands ‘apart’ from the hybrid spectacle that is the complex domain of contemporary visual art in our (near) parts. Karel Breugelmans consistently follows his intuition, which he converts into ‘form’ in a rational and ‘plastic’ way. His oeuvre distances itself from all technical-individual bravura of execution; it is as Breugelmans’ structures and compositions even detach themselves from the person (as an artist) and from the actual space... As he has occasionally indicated, he is fascinated by suprematism.
It is no coincidence that Karel Breugelmans’ title for the exhibition – which can only be described as an exemplary verbal expression – gives air and space to ‘his’ range of implicit and hypothetical intentions and considerations. The aesthetic pleasure lies in discussing what, in this case, the title and artworks might spark and arouse in us, the viewers. Which is par for the course in an exhibition entitled ‘The Other Side, a utopian image of something that could be’.
Artists: Karel Breugelmans