Philippe Van Snick makes work that is characterised by an extremely simple idiom, akin to minimalism, and the repeated use of the same colours: primary and secondary colours, non-colours and shiny metallic colours. Van Snick thinks colours have both a mental and a physical signification.
His works are closely related to the notion of space and the physical experience of the viewer in a concrete room. Van Snick uses a simple and clearly defined visual vocabulary consisting of conceptual photography, mathematics, fragile sculptures and his own palette of ten colours. With these and other decimal systems, he creates abstract worlds that are governed by bipolar fundamental forces.
This bipolarity – the contrast between light and dark, colour and its absence, and smooth versus rough surface – is an important aspect in Van Snick’s entire oeuvre.
Starting on the 16th of January De Hallen Haarlem presented a solo exhibition by Belgian artist Philippe Van Snick. The exhibition departed from a key work from 1968, Synthesis of Traditional L-shaped Room, and ended with a new work, Mexican Dream Cabin. These two works, with nearly 50 years in between them, are monumental architectural structures in which Van Snick expresses his interest in systematic planning principles and a minimalist visual language.
In the late 70s his interest in systematic methodology leads Van Snick to develop and consistently apply a personal colour and numeral system, within which in the following decades he subsequently continues to gradually innovate. Through his ingenious handling of various mediums this consistent method has produced a richly detailed body of work, in which both the universal themes of modernism resound (the autonomy of the artwork, geometric abstraction as a universal language) and everyday observations and chance play a major role.
De Hallen Haarlem and Grazer Kunstverein (Graz)
In 2016 De Hallen Haarlem and Grazer Kunstverein (Graz) cooperatively organized two complementary solo exhibitions around the work of Philippe Van Snick (1946). The purpose of these exhibitions was to present the work of this Belgian artist to a wider, international audience, and together provide a broader picture of his rich artistic oeuvre, which is primarily known within Belgium where in 2010 Snick had a retrospective exhibition in M – Museum Leuven. The two exhibitions each highlighted a particular aspect of Van Snick’s oeuvre. De Hallen Haarlem emphasized the relationship of Van Snick’s painting to space. The exhibition has been accompanied by a small artists’ publication.
Philippe Van Snick, Synthese van traditioneel L-vormige Kamer, 1969
Philippe Van Snick, Economi’e, 1984
Solo show @ De Hallen Haarlem, exhibition views, 2016
The Grazer Kunstverein kicks off its 30th anniversary program with a large solo exhibition by Belgian artist Philippe Van Snick (*Ghent, 1946) as a continuation of its exploration into notions of social abstraction.
The exhibition spans almost five decades and traces developments in the artist’s highly consistent body of work, best known for its post-minimalist approach to painting. The exhibition is the artist’s first in Austria.
In the 70s, Van Snick developed an interest in systematic methodologies that lead him to formulate a consistent colour and numeral system. This allowed him to create a steady body of work in the following decades. For the artist, light and color are both scientific, objective descriptions as well as subjective codes inspired by our everyday experience. The concept of time, specifically the dualism of day and night and the lightness and darkness that signifies its passing, is often explored in works that underline the experiential relationship between the viewer and his/her surroundings. By finding itself within the realm between painting and sculpture, the predominant concerns of modernism are invoked by questioning the autonomy of the artwork and geometric abstraction as a universal language.
The artist’s early conceptual photography and film works form the backbone for the exhibition in which everyday observations are abstracted and formalized. Through early studies and explorations into form, space and dynamics the exhibition unfolds into Van Snicks in-depth dedication to cosmology and the rhythms of daily life through color and shapes, starting in the mid 80’s. The large- scale installation Instability of Fundamentals(1990) takes over one the main galleries and functions as a sculptural representation of the series entitledAsymmetrische Dag en Nachtreeks (1987–1989). In 1984, the artist began to work with the duality of the phenomenon ‘day’ and ‘night’ which was symbolically represented by a light blue and a black rectangle that always occur together. Since then, he has developed an important series of works in which reduced reality through abstraction underlines the fundaments of daily life. The work Instability of Fundamentals pushes this notion further by reflecting upon cosmology through a constant rearrangement of single particles. Van Snick’s interest in the relation between scale, volume and the viewer is accentuated with a series of works such asTerritorium (1990), Punt (1992) and Groot Vertikaal (1999), which through a simple form symbolizes human scale and perception. The earlier work Indifférence orbitale (1979) takes over most of the back gallery and consists of one hundred gouache paintings on paper representing lozenges painted different colors and elongated into various configurations; these shapes are derived from a series of photographs showing the back of a house partially covered by a colorful sheet stretched out like an awning and understood to be the model for the gouaches.
Philippe Van Snick, Instability of Fundamentals, 1990
Solo show @ Grazer Kunstverein, exhibition views, 2016
We are honoured to present the 4th exhibition at the gallery by Belgian artist Philippe Van Snick. Since his retrospective at Museum M Leuven in 2010, Van Snick has rightfully been receiving growing international acclaim. In 2015 Van Snick was invited for a project with Daniel Steegmann Mangrané at MAM, Rio De Janeiro & Casa Modernista, São Paulo, curated by Marta Mestre (newly appointed curator at Inhotim). Currently De Hallen Haarlem & Grazer Kunstverein are co-presenting two parallel exhibitions that create a broader picture of his rich artistic oeuvre. Van Snick’s work is also part of ‘The Gap’, an exhibition on Belgian abstract art curated by Luc Tuymans, on show at Muhka, Antwerp after traveling from the Parasol Unit Foundation, London.
The exhibition at Tatjana Pieters complements this exposure by presenting Van Snick’s latest incarnation of his ten-colour practice. ‘Eviter le pire’ (2013-2015) is a monumental series that consists of eleven grids of nine canvases, with one grid in each of his ten colours and an eleventh grid featuring all ten colours in a particular combination. On the coloured backgrounds, Van Snick paints what he calls ‘characters’ in sky blue, a colour that reminds us of his attention to the cosmos and the relationship between abstraction and the real world, and which is often used as a symbol for day in a duality with black signifying night.
Van Snick arrived at these characters through an interest in Aztec culture, in particular undeciphered codices. His abstract shapes look somewhat like incomprehensible symbols that conjure up the notion of an alphabet but avoid any direct connection to a known language. Van Snick is conscious of the hazards of working with such graphic compositions, including the risk that they may be confused with familiar symbols such as religious or radical signs. His concern to avoid such a fate led him to the title of the series, ‘to avoid the worst’. For Van Snick, the characters are ‘a sort of pre-language, unfixed, unsettled. It’s like the language of paradise, in which words are not necessary.’
‘Eviter le pire’ is presented alongside a group of works from different periods, marking the consistent but varied use of the same parameters throughout his oeuvre since the ‘70’s. Right after he graduated from the academy, Van Snick temporarily left the medium of painting as it did not fulfill his need for experiment. Fascinated by the conceptual art of that time, Van Snick started to examine patterns in cosmic logic and in daily life which led him to develop formulas and cipher codes that would later result in the use of his decimal colour system and the concept of duality in various forms. The title of the exhibition is based on this mathematical concept of permutation or the ‘rearrangement of elements’, apparent in works like ‘Kruispunt’ (1972), ‘Bogen’ (1979), ‘Symmetrische en Asymmetrische Dag- en Nachtreeks’ (1990), ‘XX’ (1993) and ‘Eclips’ (2015).
Despite of the simple but consistent use of colour, shape, material and concept, the work by Philippe Van Snick can be considered a unique witness of its time. It seems to drive on a visionary force explaining its continued relevance in today’s society.
Philippe Van Snick, Dynamic Project, 2010
Published by ASA Publishers
Authors: Lies Daenen, Liesbeth Decan, Marie-Pascale Gildemyn, Anny De Decker, Hans M. de Wolf, Alexander Streitberger, Paul Tanghe, Hilde Van Gelder, Lore Van Hees.
(click on the picture to read the whole book)