Critics’ Picks

Ben Sledsens, Bloemenruiker (Flower Bouquet), 2018, oil and acrylic on canvas, 78 1/2 x 69''.


Ben Sledsens

Tim Van Laere Gallery
Verlatstraat 23-25
September 6–October 20

Several of the paintings in Ben Sledsens’s new exhibition, “Two Trees,” could be illustrations for fables. There are thickets and forests, false-colored rivers, foxes, birds, and fish. There are people, too, with orbs for eyes, their faces free of texture, blemishes, or depth. On these canvases, in acrylic and oil, the particularities of our everyday world are smoothed away. Sledsens is a quiet technician: His marks play soft daubs off sharper, longer strokes, and his colors range from the melodramatically vibrant to the subtler tone-on-tone. By deftly combining the wild and the well-worn, his scenes acquire the achronological aura of myth.

Many of Sledsens’s works deal in the romance of folk archetypes: They show encounters in clearings, knights in basinets, girls with flaxen hair. But in prizing invention over plausibility, Sledsens is free to insert sly signs of a storyteller's wit. The Battle, 2018, is a painted triptych posing as a tapestry; two armies clash, with prancing horses and soldiers' swords aloft—but see how one shield is striped in solid pastels and earth tones, how the grass underfoot is impossibly neat. In the adjacent Bloemenruiker (Flower Bouquet), 2018, the forest flowers in the girl's hand attract your eye first, but look down—she’s wearing Ralph Lauren socks.

As in previous works, such as Tiger in the Jungle (Hommage Henri Rousseau), 2016, Sledsens’s idiom here is naive and proud; the homage is paid not just to Rousseau but also to the brazen colors and exotic charms of Matisse. Take Jaguar in the Jungle, 2018: The cat controls the foreground, its body muscular and bright. But peer behind it, and the trees begin to jostle and glow. There are no vanishing points, no answers to where or why. Sledsens prefers nature, like in any fable, to be rich in intrigue.