Dan Van Severen

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Dan Van Severen

Art arises out of a want, out of a longing for the elusive. (Van Severen, 1994)

Since Dan Van Severen passed away in 2009, critics and art lovers unanimously agreed on the quality of his work. Van Severen left behind an oeuvre that is instantly recognizable in its deceiving simplicity. The line, square, circle and cross, geometric motifs that have marked Van Severen’s oeuvre since the sixties have evolved over time, but the essence of the work never changed. His art arose from the attempt to join the two extremities of his personality: on the one hand there is the Dionysian aspect, marked by his love of life and laughter, on the other hand the Apollonian search for an ideal, platonic form of beauty, calm and simplicity. At the merging of these binary opposites, the seemingly formalistic geometric forms arose and became the foremost essence of his work.

At first glance, the work of Van Severen might belong to the abstract fundamentalist school of painting, but attempting to place his artistic attitude within this school is an external assessment of his vision. In fact, his formal and ascetic formalism conceals a deep romantic aspect. Dan Van Severen longs for the elusive, the universal and the absolute. He does not repress his own subjectivity, despite the reduction of the formal aspects of his work.

Van Severen shares this enduring passion to search for an essential, ideal truth in art with contemporary minimalist artists Ad Reinhardt and Agnes Martin. Additionally, Van Severen was a great admirer of Brice Marden. His Suicide Notes (1972-73) in particular struck a chord with Van Severen, for their merging of minimalism with an organic fluidity.

To Dan Van Severen, fundamentalism is no solution concerning the autonomy of art; he accepts the intermediate function of his painting, and even aims at extra-artistic goals. The canvas then becomes a manifesto of the artistic individual for Van Severen, enabling him to create a means of communication that is less subject to confusion.

Leonardo already knew that the plastic language is much more synthetic than the literary language, as the latter evolves. One cannot read – and much less grasp – a poem at a glance. The two-dimensional work of art is synthetic. (Dan Van Severen)

As early as 1957, Dan Van Severen started to turn towards an “economical synthesis”. From this moment onwards, the artist modifies his means culminating in the rejection of the oil-painting technique and in the recognition of the autonomy of the vertical element, in the 70’s. In 1969, he made his last oil painting “particularly to get around its materials consequences”. He then used different materials such as tempera, ink and charcoal.

The Stations of the Cross (1981) is the provisional copingstone of the artist’s reductive evolution: a series of 14 parts, in each a horizontal line is intersected by a number of vertical lines. It stands as both answer and tribute to Barnett Newman’s eponymous paintings.

While Van Severen continued to reduce his artistic alphabet in his geometrical oeuvre, he never stopped drawing figuratively. From the Eighties onwards he exposed some of these figurative works on select occasions. It is remarkable that Van Severen’s flowers bear such a striking resemblance to Ellsworth Kelly’s.

This exhibition is an attempt at dialogue between Dan Van Severen and the abovementioned artists.

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