Author's prologue: before you read any further, please take an unbiased look at this exhibition, as Ritsart Gobyn's work has the greatest impact when viewed without any prior knowledge.
Those unfamiliar with the gallery space might think that Gobyn's 'Prologue' exhibition is still in the process of being installed or that it is a stage setting. A few paintings are hanging on the wall and one is on a sawhorse. There are rows of shoring posts and a stack of blankets used by movers and a roll of tape on the floor. The seams and holes of a ceiling and a wall are plastered. Next to a painting that is still on the floor, there is a spirit level, pencil and some more tape. The paintings themselves are unusual, with the stretched canvas containing folds, creases, stains and smudges to which shredded paper and tape have been added. You also notice that certain colour accents are found in the paintings, objects and architectural interventions.
Ritsart Gobyn, Stabilart, 2023, PLUS-ONE Gallery
Strangeness gives way to suspicion. The longer you look, the more you doubt. Everything seems random and unfinished. But nothing could be further from the truth. You only see painted materials. The paintings consist of paint and visual language, while the objects are made of bronze or aluminium and painted true to life and the blankets are specially woven. Your eyes deceive you, as everything is counterfeit. Gobyn uses the trompe-l'oeil technique, which was a cutting-edge painting technique for centuries, but fell into disuse in the 20th century. The quality of a painting no longer equates to how realistically it was painted.
The trompe-l'oeil paintings by Cornelius Norbertus Gijsbrechts from the second half of the 17th century are a great source of inspiration for Gobyn. Gijsbrechts painted letter boards, as well as the back of a framed painting adorned with a piece of paper with a number on it. The back of a painting presented as an object works very well as a trompe-l'oeil because you tend to turn it over. This gave Gobyn the idea to show paintings as objects as well. Gobyn refers to Gijsbrechts' numbered pieces of paper with a post-it with the word ‘OK’ on it. An artist constantly questions his work, but by showing that doubt to the viewer, he or she is also asked that same question. Like Gijsbrechts, Gobyn likes to use trompe-l'oeil to encourage himself and the viewer to reflect.
Ritsart Gobyn, Untiteled (OK?), 2023, PLUS-ONE Gallery
Each of Gobyn’s paintings consists of several layers. To start, he lays the canvas on the floor as an object in his studio. The linen picks up traces of Gobyn's presence. He then stretches the linen and starts working on it. Traces like spots, folds and drops become visual elements that he carefully elaborates. He then adds scraps, tape and/or post-its. Several paintings also contain a fragment torn from a landscape. Gobyn copies work by famous historic artists. In the title of the painting, Gobyn mentions his inspiration. He also shows a series of paintings in which he places three fragments that together create a face. Here, too, he toys with our conditioned way of looking, with a focus on recognition and free association.
Ritsart Gobyn, Prologue, PLUS-ONE Gallery
Time is central to his work. Everything is staged and connected in order to make the creation process tangible to the viewer. Gobyn bridges the gap between the past, present and future. He shows what came before. The carved wall and ceiling might be traces of a previous exhibition. Other objects may refer to the preparation of the current presentation, from the structure of the space to the placement of the works and layers or indications that are normally no longer visible on completion. There is also a sense that nothing is final and changes are possible. For example, there is the illusion that you can remove the tape or post-its from the work. Gobyn reinforces the process and movement through interaction between functions or properties. In his work, he constantly pits a fascinating tension between extremes against each other. Accidental, flawed and fleeting turn out to be a thoughtful and time-consuming pursuit of perfection. Image becomes object and vice versa. In his visual elements, Gobyn confronts hyperrealism with abstraction. So-called 'high art' from well-known deceased masters and the highly regarded trompe-l'oeil technique co-exist with traces of the creative process and scraps. Yet it takes a tremendous amount lot of time and focus to fulfil the illusion.
We live in a society in which we consume more and more images at an ever-faster rate. Reliability is often hard to come by. Trompe-l'oeil is a means for Gobyn to contradict this. He invites us to reflect on images and examine them carefully and critically. Speed reduction takes place in the artist’s artisanal process and the viewer’s perception. A trompe-l'oeil deceives, but needs to be unmasked to achieve the intended effect. You pause and take a closer look. The confusion makes you think and then look again until you realise what you are actually looking at. The resulting astonishment is blissful, as you are fooled with a smile.
The finissage of 'Prologue' with the book presentation ‘Reclining fragments’. will take place from 1 pm – 6 pm on 18 June, when author Maarten Inghels will be reciting an excerpt from his book.