Damien De Lepeleire

La Lettre Volée

Damien De Lepeleire is a Belgian painter whose work proceeds in series, with all that this implies in dealing with difference and repetition, coherence and uncertainty. In response to the invitation from the publishing house La Lettre Volée to produce an art book, the artist chose as his subject—having already treated such diverse themes as soccer, Op art, and pornography—the art book. The result is “Trop beau pour être vrai” (Too good to be true), 2000–2001, a series of sixty watercolor and ink renditions, more or less exact, of selected pages.

One group took as a subject books devoted to Matisse published in conjunction with the Matisse exhibition at the Palais des Beaux-Arts and a retrospective at the Musée National d'Art Moderne de Paris in 1956. Sometimes an ink drawing reproduces the title page of a catalogue, with title, author, and date (Rétrospective, 2001); sometimes a watercolor reproduces a work, with the text or the page number that accompanies it, as in The Joy of Living, 2001. Following this were pages from (often) out-of-print books on Picasso and Cézanne, Velázquez and Géricault. The severe character of the scholarly book is softened, diluted, as it were, in the watercolor and the ink.This effect is accentuated when De Lepeleire takes on contemporary artists such as Panamarenko and Jan Vercruysse—Belgian artists, certainly, but also masters of the production of books, catalogues, and editions. It is to this art that De Lepeleire's book pays homage. The sketch in orange and pink watercolor of anatopia by Vercruysse (Histoire de l'art II, Atopie, 2001—a work whose austerity is equaled only by its seriousness of spirit) is marked by whimsy and respect, free of irony or mockery.

These are reproductions of reproductions, or rather interceptions, interpretations of reproduced reproductions. Le Peintre (The painter), 2001, is a watercolor of an image taken from the comic strip Lucky Luke by Morris and Goscinny. It shows Indians painting death skulls on a large rock, which they are preparing to push off a cliff. The pictorial interpretation of a drawing, characterized initially by a fairly loose style, creates the surprise; but above all the image makes explicit the simultaneous specularity and guile of De Lepeleire's undertaking. Besides, it's funny how the Indians and the vulture perched on the rock suggest, with broad brushstrokes, the formal and morbid coincidence between a stone and a skull. In his earlier series, De Lepeleire has often shown a certain defiance vis-à-vis painting, its virtuosity, and the traps that this engenders. This ambivalence has perhaps delayed the full blossoming of his expression. With this book, and perhaps because in making it he proceeded by way of the intercession of other artists, De Lepeleire has found the means by which the intelligence of his reflection does not ruin the pleasure of the form to which it has been wed. But that's a pleasure that the small exhibition that accompanies the release of the book concealed: Each watercolor was bound separately, covered by a case of Chinese fabric—a useless precaution.

Anne Pontégnie

Translated from French by Jeanine Herman.