Exploring Brussels in 10 graphic short stories and fine art painter Michaël Borremans doing… mini-comics?
Magnetics by Michaël Borremans
Reproduction of original artwork is one of the many concerns of contemporary artists in today’s mass reproduction media with its varying specifications and uses. Working in a mass medium like comics, one tends to ignore the dichotomy between online reproductions, reprintings and the original artwork since the final lettered and colored result stands miles apart from the artwork produced on the art board and what you see printed on the comic page or whatever digital app or handheld you’re using to read your funny pages. Some artists however have very specific views on reproductions and their relations to the original artwork; so much so that their catalogue ends up being a… mini-comic.
Michael Borremans is one of Belgian’s greatest living painters. His drawings and paintings are defined by classic brushwork and attention to detail. His keen eye for chiaroscuro and the conflicting moods in his subjects evoke a strange alienating atmosphere. His paintings offer a very focused dialogue between the artwork and the viewer. Despite the classical setting and painterly techniques, Borremans’ work sports unconventional compositions and strange setups.
For his latest exhibition in Vienna at BAWAG Contemporary, Borremans chose small art publisher Hatje Cantz to print the catalogue as a small 17.2 x 11.4 cm booklet on cheap paper. The cover is a cheap reproduction printed on a slightly larger paper that is folded in towards the stapled first pages of the booklet effectively making a crude bookjacket. The insides are black and white with a few color inserts and it comes wrapped in cellophane. I can only see it as the purest expression of an artist shouting in your face: ‘This is not the real work. These are reproductions and should be looked at as such.’ Even if the contents do not form a pictorial & sequential story, this is certainly a spiritual representation of mini-comics.
The essay by Christine Kintisch analyzing Borreman’s work is written with great clarity and an amazing insight into the processes of what makes the work of Borremans so unique. I enjoyed it greatly and I’m tempted to say that if you’re a critic of any kind, this is the standard to which we should all live up to.
Magnetics by Michaël Borremans is published by Hatje Cantz. It is a booklet of 60 pages in black and white with a color insert. It retails for €12.
Bruss. Brussels In Shorts
Passa Porta, the international house of literature in Brussels has put out a graphical swan song to Brussels, the capital of Europe. Putting a spotlight on the literary qualities of the graphic novel, a panel of judges – among whom Ever Meulen – have selected 10 authors whom each made a short story of 12 pages about Brussels in all its facets.
Compared to other cities, Brussels seems to lack an international appeal easily wrapped in a catchphrase, something Passa Porta wants to rectify. Each of the international selection of authors has been resident for at least a week in Brussels leading to stories that at least in spirit try to cut to the heart of the matter. It leads to a surprising high success rate for an anthology with contributions from Germany, France, England, Spain, The Netherlands, Tsjechia, Niger and of course Belgium. The good news is that they all turn in a worthy effort with a few noteworthy highlights though none of them reach literary heights.
The most pleasant one being UK talent William Goldsmith whose retro pencil work and watercolors turn in a pleasant tale of a man enchanted by an early 19th century namesake. His subsequent exploration of both the man and the city is well rounded and the illustrations are simply stunning. Here’s an english language interview with Goldsmith about Bruss.
Fellow British talent Karrie Fransman from The House That Groaned fame follows the life of a Euro 5 note as it passes from one hand to another. It’s a neat conceit to explore both the inhabitants of Brussel and the diverse locations. She employs a highly graphic style with dynamic page layouts and intersperses it with some paper cut and paste works. Elric Dufau’s black and white story employs a similar premise but uses a stalker in order to explore the streets of Brussels. Though beautifully illustrated in a mix of ligne claire, a cartoony line and realistic backgrounds, the story falls flat. The same goes for Antonio Segura Donat‘s contribution whose illustrations are accompanied by text pieces reminiscent of a children’s book. Nice work but he needs to find his own voice.
Tomáš Kučerovský‘s literal tour through Brussels is interesting for its many details and info dumping while still retaining a heart. Paula Bulling & Maman Salissou Oumarou’s tale of immigrants also is in need of a story but gets high points for being the most underground in style of the whole book. Bulling’s watercolors are rough and expressive transferring a wonderful emotive feeling on to the page. Here’s a clip of the authors.
The Flemish artists presented show off their high artistic skills with Frederik Van den Stock and Stedho being the graphic stylists in extremis. Their wonderful line work exhumes both the drama and adventure of the metropolitan side of Brussels. Both artists are currently on the rise in the Belgian comics scene. Conz draws a misogynistic old man and his imaginary dinosaur that leads into an inconsequential tour of Brussels and Wouter Mannaerts and Eva Hillhorst‘s colliding tales of both migrant and immigrant clash not only in style but also in execution.
All in all, Bruss. Brussels In Shorts is a collection of stories not only presenting a good introduction to the city of Brussels but also to a lot of graphic talent. You can watch all the interview movies at Passa Porta along with the respective creator’s bios.
William Goldsmith’s beautiful watercolours
Atmospheric and expressive line work by Frederik Van Den Stock
Emotional crowd scene in composition and subject by Stedho
Bruss. Brussels In Shorts is published by Oogachtend. It is a full color oversized anthology and retails for €19.95.