Michaël Borremans (b. 1963)
The Villain
signed, titled and dated 'MICHAËL BORREMANS -THE VILLAIN- 2003' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
15 ¾ x 19 ¾ in. (40 x 50.2 cm.)
Painted in 2003.
Zeno X Gallery, Antwerp
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Antwerp, Zeno X Gallery, Group Show, October-November 2003.
Stuttgart, Wuerttembergischer Kunstverein; Mucsarnok/Kunsthalle Budapest and Kunsthalle Helsinki, Eating the Beard, February-October 2011, p. 205 (illustrated).

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Eliza Netter
Eliza Netter

Lot Essay

Michaël Borremans’ works are characterized by a unique dialogue between the merging of 16th and 17th-century art history and contemporary art forms. At first glance, Borremans’ paintings look straightforwardly realistic, but beneath the apparent clarity of his images one discovers an unsettling world that calls for closer examination. His paintings are about paint and its infinite possibilities, about what painting can symbolize and represent, and about the struggle of a painter who can produce a fascinating world of works that have remained, for the most part, palpable question marks meant to engage the viewer. Borremans has the capacity to transform the apparent triviality of everyday life into something else. He mutates the overpowering dreariness of repetitive actions into an attractive and seemingly endless semiotic chain reaction of altering meanings. Borremans’ thick and lustrous application of the paint on his canvases evokes masters such as Velazquez and Goya interacting within a modern and contemporary context.

Borremans’ portraits show characters whose psychological density is conferred exclusively by the costumes they are wearing and the actions they are portraying. The Villain, establishes a relationship between Velázquez and Manet with the pictorial tradition of the portrait: the partial torso of a man, dressed in a vest, engaged in the action of constructing a bomb. With this composition, Borremans has captured a fleeting moment of a person in the middle of an intense action. There is something violent in Borremans’ work, particularly in the present lot; the character is caught frozen in a mysterious action where everything seems to happen in a perfectly unclear environment. To portray this dynamic act, he has depicted The Villain's hand as in a blur so the viewer can think they are looking at an actual hand that is moving realistically to construct the bomb. Hands are a recurring theme within Borremans’ oeuvre and are often used to delineate the meaning of his work: a painting is but a painting, the portrayal of a reality that only exists with itself.

Borremans has created in The Villain an enigmatic sphere as to the definite meaning of the work through the cropping of the composition. Through his use of close-ups one discovers the legacy of early 20th-century photography. As he recalls, “I don’t see myself as a pure painter, but use the medium because it’s the most suitable for me to create a specific kind of picture. It would also be possible in the medium of photography and with the assistance of digital techniques, but I just find painting more interesting. A painting is an object with complex character, and because of the historical dimension it is impossible to treat it impartially. In our reality, a portrayal is also always a reproduction. French philosopher Jean Baudrillard said that painting had become pointless because we live in a world in which paintings are simply reproduced. Yet there are paintings that are among the most widely reproduced pictures. It makes you think’” (M. Borremans quoted in: Michaël Borremans. Eating the Beard, exh. cat., Wurttembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart: Mucsarnok/Kunsthalle Budapest. 2011: translated from P. Zeichnungen, exh. cat., Kunstmuseum Basel/Museum fur Gegenwartskunst, Cologne, 2004, p. 89).

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