1. Text by Xavier Verhoest (2021)
My personal journey in Palestine, in Somalia, in Rwanda or in Kenya has forced me to create a displacement geographically and emotionally, there is a shift between what is real, remembered or imagined, going beyond the specifics of places and time.
I create open images between oblivion and remembrance. I do not really know how they come back, why they haunt me at times. In art, there are so many moments in between doubts and certitudes, completeness and incompleteness, placing one foot after the other, learning to stand, make senses of the disappearances, of the ghosts, of the lost hearts, as they had all gone and I stayed. No paradise here.
Most of my works are photographic based, transferred into a support (paper or vinyl), and then starts the work of applying, erasing, destroying, adding, removing, anticipating until something appears, comes to life. Many sessions on one work, at times weeks. No knowing, not always planning but applying a lot of attention to it.
To slow. Inventing a new place for me, a personal form of erasure. Disparate pieces of my jigsaw. As much as possible, try to obfuscate the specific of these images and their sources. I like to believe that each of them could be anywhere and my experience of the world makes me belief that one place can be many at the same time. Can it be that I am the subject?
Time is always on the side of the artist, a slow form of technique with pigments, acrylic and oil paint, pastels, charcoal, ashes, a liquid process most of the time, drying, a form of experiencing sensibility, a form of ‘intelligence’ is deposited in layers in the construction of the image. I must be patient and always wondering, how can such an image be of interest, can it stir something in my mind, not being too sentimental and personal, can it interest others, does it deal with something bigger than my work?
All what is indirect is stronger, it opens imaginary reflection where sensations are conveyed. I want to understand and to be confronted by what I do. These are images in formation, keeping the fluidity and the solidity, between fragility and strength, between quietude and inquietude.
In this saturated world, bring me back to the essence, to enlighten, open the horizon, an attempt to approach a certain depth that can echo the senses. Bring ambiguity in the making, the reading and the interpretation of the work. These are images that are not, but rather to become. Painting as the weather, the water, the skies… running, dissolving, flowing, changing, ending. Maybe, this is the only souvenir, the absolute and transcendental image, obscure and clear, the reflection of the passage of time, the ever fleeting nature of the human condition.
I guess that my identity and the images I make are not made of stability. I can make no statement about reality clearer that my own relationship to reality and this has a great deal with imprecision, uncertainty…Work with the accident of the painting, to paint without conventions, observe discipline by reproducing the accident. I am interested in the surface, the tactility of the material. Create layers of ‘significance’ and blurring definition. Create another reality, escaping from the one definition, postulate that there is another reality because the images exist.
Creating images where ‘nothing’ happens other than the weather, the sea, the clouds with the aim of exhausting all possible meaning in the eye of the viewer is my answer, at a rate natural to the rhythms of the human body and its senses, creating works that allow to stop, breath, explore, approach the world outside by going inside. I can feel that I am on the side of the wind and the swell in a state of absence and silence in this world. Looking at nature and its silence as the horizon of the Sublime (in the Western tradition) of the18th century landscape painting.
A landscape image as a contemplation where at times a deafening silence can be heard before men took over, and that silence will reign once again after their disappearance.
2. On Xavier Verhoest's work by Dale Webster (2014)
The first of Xavier Verhoest’s images that I encountered were in a small exhibition space in Nairobi. They were large pictures which seemed to resist the confinement of the gallery space and expand into a picture space which was both figurative and abstract, the figurative elements providing access into to a deep internal space dominated by blues and grays, a sort of atmospheric perspective of the mind. One in particular suggested an open sea stretching to a distant horizon crossed by breaking waves, but strangely, this “seascape” did not present openness and vastness, the usual characteristic of such a construction, but rather enclosure and containment.
It is this apparent visual contradiction which is a theme running through much of his work, a theme which is at once unsettling and quite beautiful at the same time.
It’s not easy to write about Xavier’s work and the layers of visual metaphor. If it were, I guess the images would be redundant. They certainly have an initial visual impact, and this belies the intricacies of small detail and thoughts, often expressed in written phrases which weave from the surface, where they should be, into and around elements in the picture space, sometimes fading as if rubbed out by the weather they encounter.
Thought integrated into the fabric of the picture. And the thoughts, the metaphors, seem consistently to focus on our inability to break free, from oppressors, taboos, clans, and in the end ourselves. Hence the contradiction in the painting of the wave. It originates in Gaza or from his experience with migrants, people contained, where the sea seems to offer an escape, but in reality it is of course another barrier, a further constraint. There are flowers from the border between Syria and Turkey, the place where thousands escaped, there are trees falling from the sky, have they been cut, did they really die? Because they can live hundreds of years, longer than any human beings, one can think they are between heaven and earth just like us, suspended. With time, despite these various imageries used ( sky, water, tree, flowers) one feels that these paintings express something much more personal, much closer to the artists own experience of displacement, separation, a quest of belonging to the higher.
The metaphors expand. It’s as if we are led by these small details of tree or petal or stem, always natural elements, into an internal space which by its very incoherence is quite repellent. There is no peace here. This is not a safe place. It is the place of the dispossessed and the displaced of the world, a place of vulnerability and fragility.
These are benign and beautiful images of skies, sea, flowers and trees, a powerful reflection on the nature of the human condition, in its social, political and personal manifestation, without forgetting the environmental issue.
And we are left with the contradictions with which we started, and which are at the very heart of the matter. The truth in Xavier’s work, the final extension of the visual metaphor, is that we cannot but be a part of, and yet we are of course, all of us, displaced.
Dale Webster, ex-lecturer of Art Theory at the University of Leeds (UK)