Philippe Vandenberg at Hauser & Wirth
Figuring out the detail in Philippe Vandenberg’s paintings is like looking through the secret diaries of a lost soul. Despairing and torturous figures perform acts of bestiality, execution and represent the deepest darkest fears of the mind.
However, these are not just shocking or confessional, but deeply strange psychological explorations of the dark side we all share.
Although the figures are sketchy and immediate; certain images recur throughout different paintings, matching in detail and so betraying the deliberate control in their making.
He often repeats a painting a few times, like a recurring dream or nightmare that, while it may differ, always ends the same way in a dark murderous place. Obsessional marks and persistent taping on top of the paintings remind us of the ritualistic acts of a serial killer.
It’s hard to completely explain, that although Vandenberg’s paintings show protracted horror, they keep the eye entranced. The other elements – the backgrounds, the colour, the abstract depths and visual intelligence – draw and attract.
The naked bloody figures, dogs and creatures enact the worst of all possibilities, not to shock but to reveal. Drawn from myths and folk archetypes, we recognise a personal hell spawned from a shared culture.
Phillipe Vandenberg died in his native Belgium in 2009, aged 57. His work seems to sum up the anxiety of post-war Europe and how it manifests in personal psychosis and panic. This is the UK’s first solo exhibition of Vandenberg’s highly intelligent and important paintings and hopefully it is not the last.