Verheyen employed a sophisticated technique in which he built up paint in translucent layers, or glazes, to produce subtle gradations of colour. In adopting this method, Verheyen placed himself in the old-masterly tradition of Jan van Eyck, who perfected this same use of glazes in the fifteenth century.While the early Netherlandish artist used the glazing technique to create the illusion of depth and reproduce the reality of things in the painting with mimetic precision, Verheyen only represented the colours themselves, but his use of glazes disguised their materiality. The colours became visible by making invisible the fact that they consisted of tangible material, thereby allowing their intangible “essence”, to have its effect on the viewer.( 6 )The extreme smoothness of the painting surface also contributed to this dematerialisation.
To apply paint, Verheyen used a wide bristle brush or, according to Nic van Bruggen, “shredded nylon stockings”.( 7 ) He even avoided using brushstrokes and only when the painting was lit from the side was it possible to detect that the paint had been applied “mechanically”, namely with a brush or other implement. He avoided any brushstrokes, since the brushstrokes were only visible under a spotlight. The even application of colour created a dematerialising effect. Not a trace remained of the working process. The artist stayed in the background to create space for the colours to take effect. At the same time, Verheyen’s choice of support for his painting showed his desire to downplay the material he used. At first, in the 1950s, he painted on chipboard and jute fabric for financial reasons.( 8 ) Later, he moved over to fine linen. He spread the canvas with primer and then applied the paint in even and very thin layers, so as not to flatten or disguise the surface of the support. The application of the paint in fine layers left the structure of the support visible, so that the materiality of his later, finer supports is much less conspicuous than the coarser fabrics he worked with early on in his career. At the beginning, Verheyen still painted in the classic way with oils. Some of his early works are even varnished. From the mid-1950s, however,
he increasingly used water-based paints. According to the artist, he used matt paint (Polyvinyl),( 9 ) while according to a verbal statement by Christian Megert,( 10 ) he used Caparol and Capaplex. One of the advantages of waterbased paints is that they dry considerably quicker than oil paint, thus making it easier to apply the paint in layers. Speaking about his use of paints, Verheyen said: “I don’t work with traditional materials, because the paint that artists once used did not have the same intensity as the ones I work with.”(11) By “paint that artists once used”, Verheyen meant oil paint. But it was not only the intense colours of water-based paints that was important to
him. He also liked their matt appearance, which contrasted with the gloss of traditional oil painting. Verheyen also experimented with different paints and pigment additives. For example, in his white series he used fluorescent paints.(12) He exploited their enormous luminosity to highlight the whiteness of the picture planes.
He reduced to a minimum the colour spectrum underlying the white surfaces so that, at first sight, the colour underneath is barely noticeable. Only after long contemplation does the fluorescence begin to appear through the white surfaces. The big problem with fluorescent paints is their lack of durability. They quickly fade when exposed to light. Verheyen was well aware of this drawback, as he told the architect Claire Bataille.(13 ) In his dark paintings he used silver and gold metallic paint. Dieter Schwarz assumes that the idea for this came from Fontana.(14) Verheyen applied the strong, light-reflecting, metallic pigments to a dark, light-absorbing picture plane, so that the dark paints began to glow from within and break up. Durability is a problem with this material since, over time, bronze-colour paints lose their reflective properties. As a result, the subtle luminosity of these paintings became less intense.
Jenny Trautwein, 2010.
( 6 ) Jef Verheyen, “Essentialismus
= 0+1”, exhibition
catalogue for “Kreislauf der
Farben” (Colour Circle), Kunstmuseum
( 7 )Dieter Schwarz, exhibition
catalogue for “Antwerpen/
Bruxelles ’60: Bram Bogert,
Engelbert van Anderlecht, Jef
Verheyen” (Antwerp / Brussels
’60, Bram Bogert, Engelbert
van Anderlecht, Jef Verheyen)
Richter, Dusseldorf 2002. 33.
( 8 ) Freddy de Vree: “Jef
Verheyen auteur flamand”,
Retrospektive Jef Verheyen
1932 – 1984, Stiching Kunstboek,
Bruges 1994, German
edition, 16-17.( 9 ) Transcript of interview 1973
(10 )Verbal statement to the
author, 10 May 2010.
(11)Transcript of interview
1973 (see footnote 1).
(12) Author’s interview with
Claire Bataille and Paul Ibens,
18 June 2010.
(14) Dieter Schwarz, exhibition
catalogue for “Antwerpen/
Bruxelles’60: Bram Bogert,
Engelbert van Anderlecht,
Jef Verheyen”, Kunstmuseum
Winterthur, Richter. Düsseldorf 2002,33.