This painting grows on you. Like a virus.
Among the many works of art I would like to see in person, this is high on the list. I know there is something important going on atop this canvas, but it is too difficult to discern from a computer image. Clearly it starts with Artemesia Gentileschi (1613 and 1620), but then where does it go?
As a spectator one also seeks to recapture the process of creation: to what extent does the painter make the painting, or how much does it force itself upon him? Ysbrant himself has said: “You can think up a painting but with the first stroke of the brush everything has already gone wrong. Your hand and your materials have a life entirely separate from that of your head and won’t just follow blithely along. Paint has a life of its own, which isn’t always under your control.”
What Ysbrant does seem to have under control is the virtuoso play with the suggestive allusion, with surface and depth, foreground and background, figuration and abstraction, coupled with an extraordinary mastery of colour that determines the transparency or opaqueness of the paint, the harmony or discord of the tones. It makes no sense to try and align his work with a particular artistic trend or even to categorise it at all. Ysbrant is the scion of the great European painting tradition, which he – and his oeuvre proves it – both knows well and admires. It also seems unnecessary to try and give it a rational explanation. The best thing to do is simply to give oneself over to the pleasure of the limitless physical and mental experience of seeing. (1)
Ysbrant has also included Judith within one of his most famous paintings, The Flying Dutchman (1978) in the the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. As a visual expression of his inner world, Ysbrant places himself as the captain of the ship with a diverse collection of his favorite people and objects – fleeing the horrors of life, the evils that threaten him and his passengers. Among a number of female characters from literature and the Bible is Judith (and that slutty Salome) “dressed in flamboyant baroque costumes, with lots of bows and sporting provocative stockings.” (2)
I will have to take his word for it. Looks to me like that virus resulted in violent emesis.
(1) Florent Bex, “Ysbrant,” http://www.ysbrant.be
(2) Wiepke Loos, “What’s in a man’s mind: Travels with Ysbrant,” www.ysbrant.be