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For Delmotte, growing up in the industrialized mining and manufacturing setting of the Pays Noir (“Black Country”) of Charleroi and the Belgian region of Hainaut, nature itself was a source of fascination. In his autobiography, he identifies the study of nature as one of the pillars of his self-taught education. Supplanting his need for formal instruction, nature was something with which he claimed he was always “in perfect communion,”[1] although, as Marcel Frys aptly noted, Delmotte was someone who was more interested in the “greatness of nature than with its charm.”[2] He takes on a monumentality of scale and vision that supersedes a recording of a particular view or location; rather his views of nature become commentary on the landscape of human history and experience.

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Despite claims of his personal even innate connection with nature, Delmotte nevertheless applied his knowledge of historical art and aesthetic movements to his landscape production, either as a standalone subject or as elaborate backgrounds to his historical and allegorical compositions. His forest landscapes, with their tangle of dendritic branches and detailed arboreal textures, recall the work of the Renaissance landscapist Albrecht Altdorfer, while his marinescapes evoke both seventeenth-century Dutch marine compositions in their celebration of the power of the sea as well as the verticality and flattened space of Japanese landscape paintings on hanging scrolls. De Chirico’s work was clearly influential in Delmotte’s creation of otherworldly dreamscapes as was Max Ernst’s use of the dendrite or decalcomanie technique to create coral-like or fossilized geological forms in the surrounding environs.

Regardless of their historic pedigree, Delmotte’s landscapes--diverse in visual effect, palette, and scale--are technically assured in their layering of media that is both atmospheric, liquid, and solid, applied in thick impasto, with smooth wiping or sanding, alla prima, or by scraping out lines. Striations made with brushstrokes are both geological and decorative. His compositions are largely formed by dragging, wiping, or pressing the brighter pigments, and then he adds opaque darker color to create interstitial spaces or sense of depth. This masterful control of the media imparts a sense of planned structure that provides a foundation for the organic details that populate them. The jagged rocks, caves, grottoes that appear in his landscapes resonate against the botanical or human elements inserted among them. They appear to survive despite their seemingly barren surroundings, garnering a life force from the geological forces that shape the landscape itself.

Contrast plays as a thematic constant in Delmotte’s landscape production. His pairing of dilapidated buildings or sterile rock formations with dynamic, sensuous elements evoke ideas about the cycle of creation and destruction, the confrontation of man-made structures with nature, fractal patterns versus organic masses of flesh. Even Delmotte’s application of the paint contributes to this tension of contrasts, ranging from the illusionistic effect of highly finished, carefully rendered details to the flattened almost graphic effect of scraped areas applied and removed with a palette knife. The creative force of applying the paint to surface imparts on the subjects an energy that generates their existence and dynamic interplay with their surroundings.

[1]Exposition Delmotte, peintures de 1916 à 1950. Brussels, 1976.

[2] Marcel Frys, Delmotte: Surréaliste hors du temps. Paris and Brussels, 1969, 10.