Thierry Diers,

Thierry Diers, "Facing the depths of time" (1974 - 2014)

Opening, Saturday May 17th. Gallery Duboys is happy to present a selection of 20 Thierry Diers' paintings and some drawings dealing with landscape, one of the theme that he likes. These creations have been done in the past 40 years, since 1974.
15 May - 21 June 2014

When, together with the artist, we start on looking at a selection of his works dealing with landscape over 40 years, an expression often reappears : in his paintings he says he is searching for “the thickness of things”. It seems to convey the thickness of the painting : all of them are born from a long process of work. Coats of paint are laid upon the others, colours blend together, threaten each other, get soiled, interfere. One has to be aware of the thickness in touching the surface of the canvas which is recovered with his favourite paint, oil paint, thick and smooth : “It is essential to touch the canvas”, he says. There is a “pleasure in the material”, one has to smell the painting : “When I enter an exhibition which touches me, I visit it with my nose and tears come up to my eyes. It shines, it stirs up”. He even turns his back to the paintings – “ and I am listening”. That is how the thickness of things is rediscovered.



The artist gladly describes his method of working : he puts his marks “at the four corners”,  then he starts painting, with the large and wide strokes of his brushes which characterize most of his paintings. The difference with the drawings – which “ lighten the spirit” and allow to develop a “vocabulary” – is that oil paint dries off slowly. Using oil paint obliges you to go back to the painting the following day and the day after. So there is sometimes an overbid “ of elements of writing” he will finally recover as with a veil in order to leave only a few remaining essential signs which he “confirms”. “It seems to be thrown, just like a cry, but it is very long to come”, the artist says. Through this slow sedimentation of many months of work, time itself is present in the painting.



Then, “all of a sudden”, the work is finished.  It “works”, Thierry Diers says, as if he talked about an artificial heart. A few decades later, it is still working. “During the rereading of my work and thanks to distance, I have noticed that this writing is still alive”.



The appropriation of the canvas is slow and difficult. These canvasses are already a space in themselves which needs to be controlled : one of his paintings is precisely called “ Til the end” – because this painting leads to  physical exhaustion. In order to have the same intensity in the large canvas and the little drawing, you need to fight, “ a match”, you need to climb up a ladder, draw back, move forward, look, take back. You also need to be psychologically well : “You leave your life there”, Thierry Diers says. So, for two years (1995-1996)  he stopped painting  : “ I made a survey of my paintings, I tidied up the workshop…”. Because “ in painting, you are on a string. People which say that painting is pleasant have never painted”. Pleasant, no, “necessary” yes. Thierry Diers remembers a recent reading, a passage from a book by Jean d’Ormesson whose title is melancholic : "Un jour, je m’en irai sans en avoir tout dit". Thierry Diers underlined in it a few sentences : “ I have known jubilation and I have known anguish. I have spent most of my life to scribble pages and pages which I threw away as I blackened them. I was desperate. I fell asleep on my work. I hated what I was doing and I hated myself. And then, all of a sudden, I rose above my lowness. I was inhabited by some sort of grace. The words came to my mind by themselves. They followed naturally. They did not even come out of me. They came from somewhere else. They came through me. They used me to be written on the paper”. This jubilation and this despair, the painter says, he knows them : “It hurts you, you are afraid but you know you must do it. There is something which seizes you, you feel like being on a wave, you are surfing and it comes out, it comes out…but it doesn’t come out of you, that is the mystery of it. That is the depths of things”.



This neverending come back in front of the canvas creates a space on the canvas. Space is the theme of the exhibition which this book illustrates. Moreover a few paintings are entitled “space”. One can often set apart a foreground from a background. Sometimes one identifies the upper part and the lower part, the sky, the ground, the sea, a skyline, as in “landscape” (1979) or “remembrance of a landscape – yellow” (1979). In other paintings, these quick lines are maybe traces of grass, of boughs, of birds in the sky. Thus they are “landscapes”.



The “landscape” is the painter’s constant concern. In order to realise it, you just have to leaf through the latest book and the previous catalogues, which were published in 2001 and 2010. You can already find in them respectively an essay entitled “the world is a landscape” and a chapter “space and landscape”.



Where does this love of his for landscape originate from in him ?  “ I was born in a town which is far from being pleasant, bombed and rebuilt too hastily and whose soul is coming back along the years”. On one side, there is industry, spread over kilometres”, on the other the border with Belgium, “which you have to cross”. Behind, “a landscape which I like, a belly which has been ripped open and which is not particularly beautiful, the plain of Flanders”. And finally, facing it, “you look at the sea, a magnificent sea. I have always taken delight in walking along it, on these boundless sand beaches. The sand prickles your skin when you, as a kid, are in your bathing costume. The sky is grey, the sea has ebbed back, and the glistening sand is grey and merges into the grey sky, the temperature is cool, there is the wind, the smell and bliss. When you are anguished, you just need to go to the beach in order to relax. When you fail your driving test, when you are in love, you go to the beach to shout out. That is where I feel well. And you walk, you walk in your head. The landscape is the one you have in your head, it is the one I paint”.



At the age of 18, Thierrry Diers paints the landscape he can see from the terrace of his grandparents’ house (1973) : “It is a vast plain with a wood in the far distance and behind it there is the town of Hazebrouck…”, the artist says. But painting is but “the evocation” of it . They are “mental” or “reconstituted landscapes”, which can sometimes be decipherable, like “strolling in the landscape” (1979), which, with its shadows of armchairs, reminds you once more of a terrace. The artist sometimes even identifies them : it is the case for “great canal” (1999) or “ rowing on the great canal (1999), which are remembrances of the years he spent in Versailles. Even if, as the artist says, these titles are attributed to the paintings a long time after they were created.



He arrived in Paris at the age of 24, and then begin the “uneasy” years when he paints “in a grey empty room devoid of any view”, “remembrance landscapes” which recall the “style” of the Northern painters whom he was acquainted with, Yvan Theys, who was very close to the Cobra movement, his teacher at Saint-Luc in Tournai, Eugène Dodeigne, Eugène Leroy, Marc Ronet. Besides, he is “influenced by expressionism and by a tradition in Flemish painting”, though he makes it clear that there “was a cultural border” at that time : “When you lived in Dunkerque, people mentioned Paris…”. As a teenager, alone he discovered James Ensor, Paul Delvaux, (his neighbours in Ostende and in Furnes), then followed Constant Permeke, Léon Spilliaert, Roger Raveel. The “neo-expressionists” Georg Baselitz or M. R. Penck remain references for Thierry Diers, just like Pollock’s abstract expressionism whose 1982 retrospective left its stamp on him. Then the Robert Ryman’s, Cy Twombly’s and Philipp Guston’s exhibitions will follow suit.



Thierry Diers knows perfectly the painters who preceded him. The Art historians explain that it is in particular landscape painting which gave birth to abstract art. The tree motif, which often recurs in Thierry Diers’ paintings but reduced to its outline or just to a trunk, a branch, a leaf, works like a wink at this origin. Even if Thierry Diers’ personal mythology links this sign to the tree-emblem of his grandparents’ brewery.



Thierry Diers who has been influenced by cultural borders, finally settled in the border zone between figurative and abstract painting. “I am not an abstract painter, Thierry Diers says, I am a realist painter”. Making it clear nevertheless : “But it annoys me to give it a resemblance”. For while you search resemblance you “forget what is most important, that is to say emotion”. Thierry Diers resorts to what he calls a “disguise representation”. For example : “That looks like a big bird, but I dare not say it”. There is a kind of discreet refusal to paint all these remembrances which evince a great sensitiveness. And it is precisely because of it that he endlessly comes back to them : “The themes of the first ten years, you are going to work over them again and again all your life long”.



Johannes Wetzel, Paris, March 2014