The Deinze-based painter had a reputation for a rigorous attention to painting techinique and as well as self-imposed hermitage, earning him the moniker “sphinx of Deinze.” Before a career as an artist, which he came to rather late in his life, De Keyser was a sports journalist and an administrative assistant at Ghent University. He studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts, in Deinze, Belgium, underneath Roger Raveel and later became involved in the “New Vision” school of Belgian painters. After parting ways with the group to pursue his own artistic interests, De Keyser began to gain the attention of the international art community. However, it wasn’t until his inclusion in the 1992 Documenta in Kassel, curated by Jan Hoet, that he rose to such prominenceFeatured in Raphael Rubinstein's pivitol 2009 essay, "Provisional Painting," De Keyser has been particularly revered among contemporary abstract painters who embrace his brand of casualism. Rubinstein wrote that
De Keyser’s paintings tend to be modest in size, so that they have already forfeited “heroic” ambitions even before the first mark is made. Unlike many painters who wield impressive techniques in small-scale work (Tomma Abts, James Siena, Merlin James), De Keyser doesn’t compensate for modesty of size with complex compositions or dazzling brushwork. On the contrary, he works in a manner so low-key that even sympathetic critics can be unsure how to evaluate his paintings. In 2006, New York Times reviewer Roberta Smith noted his “weird combination of deliberation and indecision”; in 2004, Barry Schwabsky, writing in Artforum, described the oscillating responses De Keyser’s work can inspire: “Slapdash handling gradually begins to seem surpassingly sensitive—or is it? The grubby color, fresh and beautifully calibrated—but is it, really? The sense of doubt never quite goes away.”Last year he had a solo show at Zwirner in New York.
Raoul De Keyser, Turkish 1 Mai in Belgium, 2009, oil, gesso, and acrylic on canvas, 17 1/2 x 13 5/8 inches. Image courtesy of David Zwirner.
In his own words: In 2001 independent curator Greg Salzman organized a De Keyser survey at The Renaissance Society in Chicago that traveled to The Goldie Paley Gallery at Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia. The exhibition was accompanied by a fully illustrated catalog, edited by principle essayist Steven Jacobs, with writings by Roberta Smith, Ulrich Loock, Wim Van Mulders and others. Here's a video, produced in conjunction with the show, of De Keyser talking about his work.
Raoul de Keyser Artist Talk from The Renaissance Society on Vimeo.
Related article: Eugenia Bell's Frieze review of De Keyser's 2011 Zwirner show. "This exhibition further confirmed his commitment to the act, the texture and the struggle to locate beauty. The paintings, some as affecting as anything he’s done, are not intentionally beautiful, the near-irreverence they often emit is here subdued, but De Keyser’s work never fails to draw the viewer in to his meditative ambiguity."
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