Protagonist of the European avant-garde of the 1960s, Walter Leblanc shared with most innovative trends of abstraction of that period – the Italian groups Azimuth, N and T, the Dutch Nul, the German ZERO and the French GRAV – the ambition to defy the existing idea of abstract painting and its illusion of space by achieving the total unifcation of colour and form.
To do so, in 1958, Leblanc establishes in Antwerp a group of young Belgian artists, G 58, and following the example of Manzoni, breaks with the traditional art techniques and starts using such unconventional materials as cotton yarn, sand, glue, latex, etc. to create monochromes with alternately smooth or rough surfaces. In the core of these works lies the concept of structure as opposed to the spontaneous gesture of art informel that dominates the art scene at that time. Executed this same year, Composition Abstraite (lot 29) testifes to Leblanc’s frst attempts to explore the limits of two-dimensionality in painting by reducing the expressive means of colour in order to put emphasis on the form. Although still relatively thin in this work, the relief elements effect already the diffusion of light onto the fat and monochrome surface. The collage creates shadows that change the rhythm, tonality and therefore the entire perception of the work.
During this period Leblanc also initiates the series of so-called ‘sand gouaches’, to which belongs Gouache – Relief Sable (lot 28) dating from 1960. Leblanc initially marked the structure in it with a comb dipped in glue, then covered the paper with sand that would fx upon the adhesive parts and finally painted the whole with the unifying silver or gold. The gouache’s surface also bears traces ‘in the negative’ - the paper is scratched, pierced, punctuated with a needle.
Although the visual aspect of both works might be reminiscent of Tàpies’ material experiments of the 1950s, with whom critics used to compare Leblanc at his beginnings, the intention here is completely different. Leblanc intends to go beyond the exploration of the matter, his challenge is to open the surface to a new dimension, that of real space and light. In this sense, Leblanc approaches Fontana, who liberated painting many years before, by piercing the canvas with a cutter and thus ending with its illusory space,
endowing it with a real three-dimensionality.
It is in 1959 that Leblanc makes a breakthrough in this domain by introducing Torsion, which would become the key element of his esthetic vocabulary and would allow him to investigate a whole new spectrum of spatial possibilities. The first Torsions were three-dimensional polyvinyl strips, disposed on stretchers, which trap the light in their refections, making the perception of the work depend of the mobility and sensibility of the viewer. In the artist’s words: ‘Giving a third dimension to the surface was a constant concern and this was achieved by rotating on itself [...] thus the surface gradually became three-dimensional’ (W. Leblanc in N. Leblanc; D. Everarts
de Velp-Seynaeve, Walter Leblanc. Catalogue raisonné, Ghent 1997). Torsions Mobilo-Static (LB36) (lot 26) is exemplary of the further evolution of the idea of torsion as the movement here becomes more controlled and the rhythmic waves of high contrast alternating red and blue twists push further the tension between depth and fat surface. Executed in 1962, this work dates from the crucial year in Leblanc’s career when he organizes exhibition Anti-Peinture at Hessenhuis, which reunited Manzoni, Castellani, Morellet, LeParc, Raysse, Soto as well as Dutch Nul and German Zero artists and thus would confrm Leblanc central place in the international avant-garde scene. This show was a clear refection of this pivotal momentum in the change of art history as it regrouped ‘works from different movements that have transcended the stage of traditional painting by means of optical and physical
phenomena, invading space without being sculpture. This art has a new dimension and is measured in variations, movements, vibrations, light; born of new experiences it is neither fgurative nor abstract’ (idem).
Grand amateur of music and jazz, Walter Leblanc was against the idea of perceiving a single work as an accomplishment of his plastic research, but rather tried to fx different stages of its development in a succession of works, witnesses of this evolution. Similar to musical expression, where a sequence of notes, tones and chords forms in the end in our memory the melody which the composer wanted us to hear, Leblanc’s wanted his oeuvre to be perceived in its continuity. This singular approach was incarnated in the
series of multi-panel white monochromes made of cotton threads & latex that Leblanc started in 1969 using a particular type of stretcher in the form of a cushion and to which belongs Twisted Strings (Phase I, II and III) (lot 27) from 1970. In the same manner as this work’s composition, split into several units, achieves its full expressive force when all of its parts are put together, Leblanc’s work should be read in its entity. It is undoubtedly this profound understanding of Leblanc’s philosophy that inspired the present owner in
building this comprehensive collection of four works coming from artist’s most decisive periods. Seen through this prism, the present ensemble bears testimony to the evolution of Leblanc’s thought and the vital role he played in the birth and promotion of kinetic art in Europe.