Raoul De Keyser was born in 1930 in Deinze near Gent in Belgium, where he still lives and works today. He began painting at the relatively late age of 33. By now, his index of works comprises more than 600 numbers. This remarkable career may explain the fact that the early pictures from the mid-sixties already contain key elements that have remained crucial for De Keyser's painting to this day and which contribute to it's autonomy. Raoul De Keyser's abstract world of images conveys various approaches that are explored in individual pictures or groups of pictures.

A characteristic trait of his painting is the tense or balanced relationship between autonomous, amorphous, and/or clearly contoured colour surfaces. Figurative elements often overlapping these surfaces in his early paintings later step back in favour of gestural elements or disturbances, as well as monochrome overpaintings spanning the entire surface. A multitude of variants and combinations can be made out within this stylistic spectrum, with De Keyser frequently turning back on earlier working methods, thus contradicting a one-dimensional logic of development within his oeuvre.

The decisive aspect of his painting practice is, as already mentioned, layering separate elements constituting the painting. The shapes of the surfaces either intrude into the space of the picture without perspectival unambiguity, or they are pushed into or on top of each other on the surface of the picture. This aspect pertaining to pictorial space simultaneously conveys a temporal factor, insofar as the superimposition as overpainting decisively alters or deletes the earlier picture. Monochrome paintings signify a pictorial sealing of existing layers beneath it, layers which are invisible but can be felt as hidden sediments. This temporal dimension of layering is highlighted by the indication of two dates, which do not refer to a long-term, continuous process of completion, but to repeated overpaintings of a pictorial state that was once accepted. The exhibition at Portikus was previously shown with a larger selection of works at Kunsthalle Bern and is expressly not meant and conceived as a retrospective - even if works are included stemming from the very beginning of Raoul De Keyser's career as a painter. The main focus lies on works from the past five years. The same is true of the catalogue. The reason for this decision are not only general reservations about the canonising, final character of a retrospective and its ideological implications of searching for origins, but lies mainly in the nature of De Keyser's painting itself. In their layers, the individual works integrate - at least at times - their own history; they are themselves retrospectives under the condition of their negation. In a certain sense, a conventional retrospective would therefore function as an act of unveiling directed against the work. In his most recent works, it is this fact which attains significant relevance.

Photos: Katrin Schilling