Revel in the Roger Raveel Retrospective

This year is the centenary celebration of the birth of Roger Raveel – one of Belgium’s most important painters.

To mark the occasion, BOZAR is presenting a massive retrospective of Raveel’s work – curated by Prof. Dr. Franz Wilhelm Kaiser.

The exhibition

The retrospective at BOZAR seeks to provide a comprehensive view of the breadth of Raveel’s work.

As Raveel’s career isn’t defined by a linear development of style, the exhibition is structured around ten thematic sections that reflect the consistent themes that featured in Raveel’s creations.

The themed sections are Self-portrait, Without Identity, Interior and Exterior (Table and Garden), Striped, Modernity in the Countryside, Closer to Nature, The Square, Combines, The Cart, and Monumental Statements.

Collectively, these themes give us insights into Raveel’s overarching focus – the universality of the everyday concerns that people are faced with.

I spoke with Professor Kaiser for a behind-the-scenes look at the exhibition.

What was the process to bring the exhibition together – was it fairly obvious what the organisational themes needed to be?

“When you dive into the work of an artist, you need to get an idea how the artist thinks and how he develops his style. A good way is to understand the work is as an exercise in problem-solving – this problem-solving often unfolds along subjective themes.”

“With the work of Raveel, we don’t have a linear development of his style but there was a thematic approach that imposed itself. These themes aren’t definitive or watertight – some pieces of work could fit into a number of themes – it just gives us an understand and access the artist’s work.”

What was the breakthrough moment in Raveel’s career?

“He was first recognised as a successful artist in the 1960s – when his style of work aligned with what was popular in the mainstream at that time.”

Raveel was inspired by his immediate surroundings but he had a fairly unique visual language – do we have any insights as to what shaped his creative vision?

“There are three key influences that we can see in Raveel’s work.”

“He was well-versed in the work of other artists, so we can see references to artists such as Giotto, as well as to abstract painters. Mondrian was an important influence for him.”

“He was very grounded in his day-to-day surroundings – his village, his wife, his father. His immediate environment shaped his work.”

“He was also very aware of what was going on internationally. In the 1960s, there was a return to realism, and that aligned to Raveel’s style. Rauschenberg became an important influence.”

As well as painting on canvas, Raveel was also commissioned for high-profile public work. Why is Raveel’s work something that translates well into public spaces and large-scale works such as these?

“He was excited by the idea.”

“From the 1960s, he began looking for ways to open up his painting – he integrated found objects, he incorporated mirrors, and he created site-specific installations.”

“We can’t really address the site-specific installations in this retrospective.”

“There’s an early self-portrait from 1952 that is a crucial piece. It’s called a self-portrait, but the face is blank. This is typical for Raveel – he always tried to achieve something universal.”

“Another important piece is where he first used a geometric pattern to replace the head of a figure – in this instance, it’s his father working in the garden.”

“We also have the first work where Raveel uses parallel lines to distort perspective.”

“In the last room of the show – Monumental Statements – we have a number of very large paintings by Raveel. These will be very prominent.”

What sort of legacy has Raveel left us with?

“As a visual artist, Raveel’s the legacy is the work.”

“More conceptually, Raveel’s legacy is his idiosyncratic approach – always trying to figure out things in his own way.”

“It’s also a message to the global art world – we need to look at art in a different way. Creating art is a very individual process. Raveel shows us art at its most personal.”

Who is Roger Raveel?

Early career

Born in Machelen-aan-de-Leie, Raveel trained in the academies of Ghent and Deinze.

Throughout his career, Raveel’s style continued to evolve.

Painting the everyday

While Raveel’s style is described as ranging from abstract to figurative, he’s often associated with Pop Art because of the way his work depicted everyday objects.

Fiction versus Reality

A central theme in Raveel’s work is the opposition of fiction and reality.

His paintings often explore transforming everyday objects such as bicyclists, birds, and striped poles into abstractions in the world he created on canvas.

A life dedicated to art

When we reflect on Raveel’s legacy, we associate him with his visual language – being able to be inspired by his immediate surroundings but finding a balance between figuration and abstraction.

Raveel died in 2016, at the age of 91.

The Roger Raveel retrospective is prested by BOZAR until 21 July