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Still Life compositions

appear to be a touchstone for Delmotte throughout his career. His prodigious output of still life subjects indicate that they represented a constant in his working process, a outlet for his creativity where he could explore methods of application and their visual effect. Looking closely at a still life painting by Delmotte is an immediately absorbing experience: the viewer encounters striking coloristic juxtapositions rendered by a variety of brushstrokes, meandering calligraphic flourishes, scumbled and scraped passages that evoke a sense of topography. Application of pigment range from delicate transparent glazes to heavy palette knife smears that resemble the viscosity of plaster or mortar. Delmotte’s paint handling creates an architecture of form and color within the microcosm of the composition. The absorptive visual interrogation of his works is part of their appeal: the act of looking at their complicated formal characteristics reveals the generative capacity of paint in his hands. One cannot help but try to determine how the artist made the work, in which order he applied the media, how the image was constructed. The illusion of beauty is reliant upon its process of creation, the physicality of which occasionally interrupts the illusion it is meant to create.

Delmotte’s Netherlandish origins geographically and genealogically locate him within an illustrious tradition of still life painting, aspects of which inform his own depictions of foodstuffs and flowers. Sixteenth- and seventeenth-century explorations of these ephemeral natural forms in paint extended into moralizing interpretations of the brevity of life (vanitas) and allegorical concepts of faith, as well as the proto-scientific study of botany and biology, and sheer celebration for the sensuous beauty represented--all subjects that find parallels in the works of Delmotte. His still life compositions seem to call upon these examples of the past, perhaps in response to more recent developments in the still life genre of the early twentieth century. Delmotte’s lavishly painted petals read as the antipodes of Cubist interpretations like those of Picasso and Braque, whose still-life compositions often focused on man-made objects that emphasize their existence in the current world through the inclusion of dated newspapers and implied domestic settings. By contrast, De Chirico’s metaphysical paintings--so influential for Delmotte--isolated individual objects to be examined aesthetically and symbolically, reinvigorating the primacy of naturalism and symbolism in the still life composition. Formally speaking, Delmotte’s arrangements are more closely allied with historical precedents than the contemporary pastiched still lifes of the Surrealists’ collaged compositions, but he similarly used breaks in the picture plane and disjuncture in the paint facture to simultaneously destabilize the composition and draw attention to the materiality of its components.

Although seemingly naturalistic, Delmotte’s construction of these compositions is far from organic. The floral arrangements do not seem to be a record of actual cut flowers gathered together in a vase; and the fruits take on a flattened abstract quality that undermines any gustatorial potential. Their forms are highly altered and artificial and their surroundings do little to ground them in a logical or natural setting. Waldemar George noted that Delmotte creates a “sterile universe” in which nothing could be believed to grow of its own accord.[1] The theme of sterility--seemingly in direct contrast to the luscious subjects depicted--is evident particularly in Delmotte’s encapsulation of flowers in pockmarked stone vases or his location of the bouquets as if they sprouting implausibly from rocky outcroppings. Yet, these geologic forms also convey an anthropomorphism in their shapely curves that recall Delmotte’s treatment of the human nude. The enormous scale of the flowers compared to their surroundings suggest a monumentality more akin to that of commemorative architecture or historic ruins, transforming the composition into a type of still life/landscape hybrid that seem to work at cross-purposes. The fecund and attractive qualities of these plants are found not in the generative potential of their surroundings, rather in the creative artistic force that created them in paint on canvas.

Far from mere decorative works, these still lifes are the result of an artist seeking to depict the act of creation itself. In this regard, one might be tempted to see these still lifes--attractive assemblages that grow from a creative process despite the barrenness of their surroundings--as metaphorical self-portraits of the artist.

[1] Waldemar George, Le monde imaginaire del Marcel Delmotte. Paris, 1969, 40.