'Borremans began painting in 1995. He uses an antiquated style of oil on canvas painting, fraught with reminiscences of the manner of Gericault and Manet - and thus harking back to the licks and tricks of Spanish Baroque virtuosi of the order of Ribera and Velázquez - to render mostly figures, or details of figures, with a degree of realism that is more or less discreetly subverted through somewhat unexpected formal or iconographic means. His palette, loaded with beiges, browns and grays, hints at despair, and the paintings themselves purposefully exude ennui, perhaps hinting at melancholia.' (M. Amy, 'The Theater of the Absurd', in Team Celeste, July-August 2006, pp. 45-46).
The Tympanon Player (1) and The Tympanon Player (2) by Michaël Borremans are intriguing images underscored by an indefinable sense of space and time. In an intimate scale that recalls Old Master Flemish painting, both works seem arrested in a particular moment in time; one that compels and confounds the viewer in equal measure. The source from which Borremans took for the two paintings is La Joueuse de Tympanon - a mechanical doll made in the 1700s and presented to Marie Antoinette. Now residing in the Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris, it is a curiousity object that has inspired Borremans to depict, as seen in in enigmatic quality in The Tympanon Player (1).
Dramatically cropped and imbued with a filmic quality, the mise-en-scène in The Tympanon Player is laden with innuendo. Indeed, the figure's pose here is reminiscent of the figure in Johannes Vermeer's The Concert (circa 1658-1660); but while Borremans keeps the history of art in dialogue, he also anchors his iconography firmly in the present. Through his use of close-ups and framing devices as seen in both works, Borremans' pictorial language embraces the rich legacy of twentieth-century cinema. The two works oscillate between reality and a dreamlike state, evoking a feeling of melancholy and illusory quality that evades narrative details. Blending the familiar, the banal and the surreal, the viewer is left to engage with the paintings on an instinctive, even voyeuristic level. As such, The Tympanon Player (1) and The Tympanon Player (2) serve as a window into the surreal and quiet world that is the very hallmark of Borremans' work.