In part, The Angel is so pulse-quickening because it’s
so implacable. And that seems to define Borremans’s turf
fairly succinctly. His bodies–angelic and otherwise–remain
inanimate, yet suffused with a high-wire brand of tense
psychic abandonment. Jeffrey Grove, curator of As sweet as
it gets, probes a related topic in an interview with the artist:
Jeffrey Grove (J.G.): Would you ever do sex pictures?
Borremans (B.): No.
J.G.: Why are you so adamant that you wouldn’t paint sex pictures?
B.: Well I wouldn’t paint clearly political painting.
J.G.: Sex is politics?
B.: I would prefer it to sex, but I like to work in implicit ways
as well with politics as with sex and with other things.
J.G.: It’s too blunt?
B.: It’s too blunt. It’s too direct. It’s not interesting. I find
Vermeer’s work is very sexual.
J.G.: It is very sensual.
B.: He does it in a very nice way.
J.G.: Because it’s fetishized, you mean? The figures aren’t overtly
B.: Yes, and they’re not meant that way. In Rubens, they are
meant in a voluptuous way. But it was another fashion then.
J.G.: Does anyone paint the body that way now? Is that kind of
sensuality present in the painting of the human figure?
B.: It’s a difficult question. It’s not very much in fashion to
do that now. I don’t even do it. My figures are completely
sexless, but that’s the intent, of course.
J.G.: Because they don’t possess souls, they don’t possess sex, is that
B.: You are absolutely right—that’s a very good way to put it.
J.G.: I think it’s a hallmark of your work.
B.: It’s true.
J.G.: Because they’re not people?
Mr. Grove formerly worked fulltime for the DMA and
is currently living in New York and works as an independent
curator. In this revelatory bit of conversation with the artist,
he shows us precisely what we’re up against—or alongside
of. Namely, a kind of psychic isolation and strangeness that
might be best seen with what William Blake calls “Double
Vision.” It allows for sight “not with but through the eye”
and, further, is said to free us “From Single Vision and
Newton’s sleep.” In other words, it removes us from the
world of science and the “really real” and into a dense space
that is thoroughly psychological. Put differently, it’s the
anti-shamanic—a loss of the flight that the Vedas describes
as the signifier of intelligence and the understanding of
secret and metaphysical truths. “Intelligence (manas) is the
swiftest of birds,” says the Rig Veda. In a word, Borremans’s
work “grounds us.” We’re made to dwell in ways that are
discomfiting because he tells us how we’re feeling now. Right
now. The veneer of centuries of traditional transcendence
is shaken off and we’re left with things as they are—or are
we? In any case, that’s as sweet as it gets. For now. P
My work has to do the job itself. The
less I say about it, the better.”
Above: Michaël Borremans, The Branch, 2003, 31 1/2 x 23 5/8 in., Courtesy
Zeno X Gallery, Antwerp © Photographer Peter Cox © Michaël Borremans.
Below: Michaël Borremans, The Bodies (I), 2005, Oil on canvas, 23 5/8 x 31 1/2
in., Private Collection, Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London © Photographer Ron Amstutz © Michaël Borremans