Gilbert de VriesGilbert de Vries
Gilbert de Vries is a “famous-unknown” artist: he doesn’t hang in museums and commercial galleries but has an increasingly big following among a young French crowd. This is surprising given the generation gap, but can be explained by the artist’s strong individualism and ironic eye on contemporary society. But it is perhaps also because of his refusal to follow stylish trends and his indifference to self-promotion which define him as the archetypal passionate artist, for whom art is not a business but an existential necessity.
Born in Garches (France) in 1929, Gilbert de Vries began mixing sculpture with painting and incorporating common objects at the beginning of the 1980s, disassembling these objects to reinterpret philosophical and political concepts or mythological and social archetypes.
In style, the artist’s artwork, which usually features the human figure but is sometimes virtually abstract, belongs to Neo-expressionism which pioneered a return to traditional formats such as easel paintings and which became a dominant force in avant-garde art in the USA and Europe. Like the late paintings of Pablo Picasso which played a major influence, the artist’s artwork is often sexual in subject matter and typically expresses strong emotions and views about the contemporary world.
In mood, the works of this French artist are coloured by the preoccupations of Existentialism which had its heyday in Paris in the 1950s. The paintings and sculptures are distinctive for their recurring use of an egg, which throughout the ages has symbolized new beginnings, the spark of creation, fertility, purity and rebirth. These constant references are evidence of the artist’s search for a meaning to existence and the origin and explanation of the cosmos. Although there is no truly self-professed movement calling itself “Existentialist”, existentialism naturally influenced many mid-century artists who experienced existence as a an isolated solitary phenomenon in an absurd world, but for whom Art was the medium to define themselves.
The artwork also shows originality and uniqueness in its approach to form. Originally a sculptor by training, the artist started painting in the later years of his life but with the eye of a sculptor. His work is an original combination of the two disciplines, experimenting with both in works which draw on influences from classical bas-reliefs to the early conceptual sculptures of Jeff Koons.