The scraping signs of Hans Everaert

When looking at the work of Hans Everaert, one gets a sense of a ‘hot air balloon perspective’. It makes a change from a bird’s-eye or ground-level shot. Respectively too much sloping down- or upwards. Hans Everaert is probably not included in ‘The world from a hot air balloon’ (2013), a book indicating the influence of this invention of 1783 in many areas of culture. Mistakenly, as this is the first impression I get when I let my eye travel along his work. It’s like the nearing of the earth in a descending pioneer of aviation history. This flat as well as spatial effect is my initial experience during a first visual exploration.

However, no enlarging people or houses can be seen, only stripes. ‘Stripes’ seems like the right word. Not lines, as this involves too much rationality: ‘the shortest distance between two points is a straight line’ and ‘being in line’ continues to ring authoritarian. Everaert prefers detours. For good reason. The detour is the core of all art. But ‘drawing the line’ throws a spanner in the works of my etymological badinage to find a good word for the painterly gesture of Hans Everaert. ‘Streaking’ would be better as it better indicates the unwanted purity. A streak on the wall isn’t created with a ruler. A ‘streak’ also conjures up the precariousness his work bathes in. The atmosphere is piercingly thorny, no frills of the party space, but demarcated solitude: an open world of emptiness. A streak can sometimes also fly out.

Coming down with the hot air balloon, one sees in the series of paintings selected by curator Sven Vanderstichelen for the exhibition in Herzele, just two tableaus with some reference to everyday reality. Am I seeing the edges of red wine from magnum bottles on tables at which partying giants have gorged themselves? Or are they merely loosely drawn red circles playing hula-hoop with each other? Or allusions to the quadrature of the circle? In any case, god is hidden inside every Mondrian. Can I see the controlled skid marks of the motorbike wheels of rushing Hells Angels? Or are they swirly black arabesques? These two evocations probably can be qualified as psychological Rorschach tests.

Hans Everaert works abstract. He experiments with what paint consists of, with its potential. The abstract artists of today do not shy away from references to reality the way the avant-garde did. Robert Delaunay’s work looked too much like window frames to belong to the club, and in Belgium Jan Burssens was excluded from Art Abstrait because his lyrical paint mush revealed the impetus of figures. The Belgian high priest of abstract art, Michel Seuphor, had after all, from Paris, in the first basic book about this innovative movement, decided that not a single reminder of reality should appear. This was done accordingly.

This attitude is long gone. It belongs to one of the many fruitful postmodernist corrections to break through modernist purism. Abstraction is no longer exclusively fundamental/fundamentalist. If it evokes something, then so be it. Descending with my hot air balloon I don’t see the figurative outdoor rock-drawings that made Erich van Däniken conclude that they were the work of divine astronauts who visited our planet before long. Yet I do note something. I perceive allusions to spatiality, types of floor plans. It’s impossible to be meaningless and the swabbing with paint on canvas of Hans Everaert leaves traces that flow from controlled hand movements. He applies paint higgledy-piggledy, but it remains controlled slipping. Does this result in the creation of faded playground lines or the demarcation of crime scenes? Who knows? His colouration refers to happiness as well as sadness, to being happy as well as to hidden grief. There’s movement in it in any case. Travel brings both joy and stress. The journey cannot be separated from the signs. They are needed to orientate oneself throughout space. But even the best GPS doesn’t provide certainty. Tracks can be erased and interpreted incorrectly. They refer to absences, which is why they often leave us in a state of uncertainty. His work evokes a labyrinth feeling. Meanwhile, the hot air balloon has landed and we are facing the paintings of Hans Everaert. It’s always difficult to situate a young artist without classifying or silencing him to death. Especially with the most recent generations, who have the entire arsenal of previous paintings as a sample sheet.

What is the work of Hans Everaert not? It isn’t lyrical abstraction. Jackson Pollock danced like an Indian, ritually splashing paint onto the canvas that lay flat on the ground, a bottle of firewater nearby. Thankfully Willem de Kooning raped women with his paintbrush, not with that of love. This type of lyricism cannot be found in Hans Everaert. His painter’s material is, by the way, as poetic as a rolling pin in a marriage, namely personally carved squeegees in various sizes, yes, floor wipers. This is what he applies his paint with. According to a strong physical rhythm, of course. An artist cannot help but let this determination (the hand of the master) decide as much as possible. In restraint the master is revealed. Still, Hans Everaert is not a gestural painter like, for instance, Antoine Mortier. He aims for a spatial result, not for the trace of a gesture. His technique is similar to that of Bram Bogart, who liked to speak of the essential action: ‘scrape it’. But Hans Everaert paints thin layers, sometimes quite transparent. He isn’t a matter painter who gets his strength from the thickness of paint that may or may not have been applied in layers, sometimes even directly from the tube or with a painter’s knife. This also gives his work a hesitant austerity. A streak is a streak is a streak. Not always a rose. This brings him close to fundamental painting, that wanted to try out the sole brush stroke or the result of applying layers with disappearing transparency. The classic brush is essential here. A manipulated squeegee is too objective a medium. Hans Everaert doesn’t mind a stain or splash, and the running traces where his arm movement stops are constitutive to his oeuvre. It lets his work vibrate. It brings a fleeting movement to the canvas, resulting in a connection with the dirty painting style of ugly realism. The ugliness of reality is emphasised by a very untidy way of dealing with paint and by letting colours bite each other. All with the intention of testing other systems of beauty. As the name suggests, ‘realism’ certainly doesn’t fit in with the work of Hans Everaert.

My intention is therefore not to categorise his work. Saying what something is almost, but not quite, also seems clarifying to me. ‘Everaert is Everaert’ is a well-considered tautology when it comes to art. And now, let me rise back in my hot air balloon.

Willem Elias

  • Dean of the Faculty of Psychology and Education (VUB)
  • Chairman HISK
  • Incoming President of the Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Science and the Arts.

Willem Elias, May 2014