Jan Fabre

To enter and exit this exhibition one had to pass through two swinging glass doors, dyed a deep-blue with ink from a ballpoint pen. The doors symbolically demarcated a room containing a wide range of colors from red-violet to silver, all in Jan Fabre’s signature style—ballpoint ink. Besides paper, Fabre has used wood, satin, or even buildings as the surface for his “drawings.” His process is borrowed from everyday life—from idle scribbling on scraps of paper, or in telephone books, etc. But Fabre’s process becomes one of conquest, in which he makes the chosen objects of his drawings his own. It seems almost cruel when he attaches dead insects to some of the drawings. Likewise, the visitor to this retrospective felt like an insect in this hermetic environment.

Fabre’s installation of works from the last six years resembled a laboratory in which animals or humans, as representatives of the real world, smash against the artificiality of ballpoint-pen ink. The tension between the living beings and the ink removed everything from a temporal and spatial context. Ultimately, it made the exhibition a drama without action. The drawings evoke a poetic level of the unconscious and of the imagination. In 1986, Fabre’s large-format drawings already expressed this level. In their obsessive density, the numerous layers of drawing became fantastic images, such as frogs fleeing a helmeted man, or a peacock sitting on a fallen column. Such scenes stand for a transitional realm full of incongruities,magic, and threatening danger, even death.

But the photographic series of the Tivoli castle seems almost romantic. The images are presented upside-down; like the drawings of 1986, they are dominated not by a concrete theme but by the unspoken and the uncertain. It has been noted that through his use of blue ink, Fabre points toward the “blue hour,” the time between day and night, between waking and sleeping. Out of this in-between his works draw their fascination, confronting both life and death. But Fabre is ultimately a nonconformist, a revolutionary. The beauty of his works lies paradoxically in that he robs them of their innocence with the blue, and in place of innocence imbues them with cruelty and force. He is reported to have said, “Art kept me out of jail.” Fabre’s compulsive scribblings entrap the viewer as they have liberated the artist.

Anne Krauter

Translated from the German by Charles V. Miller.