Introduction by André Posman on the exhibition of Etiene Loyson at Tielt
Dear ladies and gentlemen present at the opening of the exhibition
I am André Posman, I was a history teacher in secondary education and at the higher Saint Lucas Institute, I ran a very busy music centre/concert hall De Rode Pomp from 93 to 2011 with an adjoining gallery La Perseveranza, with a visitor number of ten thousand per year, with a bimonthly magazine of 8000 copies, etc. etc. I just want to say that I have seen a lot of art pass in my life, that I have visited many galleries and museums, that I was a colleague of famous painters and poets and artistic educators. Artists such as Borremans and Claerhout, for example, who now belong to the international elite, were among many others my students. I myself have always continued to concretise works of art; I would even dare to say that, in the final analysis, I have betrayed my true vocation, which is to be a plastic artist, by doing so far too little and too sporadically.
That is why I admire Etienne Loyson, who has answered that vocation 100% in the autumn of his life. I have known Etienne for about thirty years, I think, as a fellow practitioner of a cutting-edge yoga. When I was teaching in Ronse, I got to know him better, as a gifted interior designer, with a whole record of achievements. His house, a 100% updated farmhouse in Oroir, had been rebuilt, restored, stone by stone and beam by beam, and turned into a real museum of fine arts, with many nineteenth-century bourgeois pieces of a very high standard. When, in the adventure of my Ghent music centre De Rode Pomp, I had to put in 16 hours of work every day to work out all the plans and at the same time keep my head above water in all possible waters, I lost the almost weekly contact I had had with Etienne until then. It took years. I heard that he was very intensely involved with his art, that he had gone to India for a long time to immerse himself in the spiritual, to indulge in the cream of living yoga. Time rolled on, my own musical-plastic adventure of De Rode Pomp came to a screeching halt, real retirement dawned, with a certain end of physical existence on the horizon. But one day, a few years ago, another friend of mine asked me to come to Oroir to ‘have a look at Etienne’s work’. I jumped at it. Etienne’s beautiful farm still looked like it used to, his red Peugeot station wagon was still running: it had been many years since I had seen Etienne. He welcomed us, tawny and tough he looked, all white and with long hair. But his eyes were still shining with the same fierce, fiery gaze, and his voice sounded accordingly.
When I closed the front door behind me, a spectacle took place before my eyes that I had not seen in years. I was amazed, overwhelmed by an army of miraculously coloured, ordered, constructed and composed works, innumerable! I remember eight rooms filled to the rafters, I think there were 300 works. I had to sit down urgently, everything was so intense. While my friend Johan and Etienne were doing a tour, I sat there in the largest room, room one I should say, for about an hour, and let what I saw sink in, I looked at the works, one by one. To be honest, I was deeply moved. Afterwards, Etienne told me that he was over eighty, that he was in good health, but that he felt his strength diminishing, that he had been creating the works present here for the last 15 years, and that he was actually looking for a purpose for his work…
I will now try to summarise in a few points, for your benefit and because Veronique asked me so nicely, what was going through my soul and mind at the time. I’m not used to talking about art, I often have to search for my words and concepts, especially in the case of Etienne, who with his work has entered a domain which in my humble opinion is unique in our art history.
- From the very beginning, I experienced Etienne as someone who searches without mercy and fiercely ‘for the heart of things’. The works that were shining before my eyes, and of which a fraction is shown here, are the harvest that he has quietly but triumphantly reaped, as a result of his search. For almost twenty years, he reaped the fruits of that search daily. He lost no time with other things, with sales and audiences and fellow artists and the Internet and Netflix and going to bars. Twenty years uninterrupted, like a medieval monk, he focused in the claustrum of his beautiful farmhouse, with absolute dedication, on his own, with the found core as his only companion. I think this is exceptional in the art history of our country. I do not know one like Etienne, who completes his ‘life task’ with such calm consistency, with such absolute artistic devotion, from his sixties to his eighties. We suspect that this life task, this inner assignment came and comes down to an honest and persistent testimony, a confirmation that the core of things exists, that there is a set of instruments of words, concepts and images, stories and myths available to communicate about this, that life is absolutely worthwhile, and that the only thing that counts is striving for the core of this life, and to connect with it, to surrender to it. Each of his works has this content. Each of his works is an affirmation, in Sanskrit translated ‘mantras’, which confirm the core realities as Etienne learned and experienced them. I would like to mention here that in my experience it is very effective to hang something like this in a room, because it sanctifies the space, whole. It scares away all kinds of ghosts. It makes you healthier and better. The unbalanced is balanced. To put it another way, and to connect a little bit to the psychology of cultures: Etienne’s works are a tribute to ancestral, atavistic positive hidden things in each of us. Even if we know nothing about the concrete meaning of the works, if we do not consciously recognise the symbols given, our eyes unconsciously see what is being told, and the work has its positive effect on our psyche. To my humble knowledge, such a series of works has never been created before, in such an unrelenting continuous movement of creation. It is a tremendous work that you have done, Etienne, and I am glad to be able to speak about it.
- In order to clarify the existential place in which Etienne’s work is situated, I would like to use the image of the spinning wheel. All contemporary existential events, from politics to aesthetics, from sports to science, etc., all have their place on a wheel that has been spinning faster and faster over time. There are forces at work on that wheel, especially centrifugal force, which tends to move everything to the periphery, the outside of the wheel, where it takes only a little effort to fall off the wheel, i.e. to enter the realm of death. War, for example, is such a peripheral state. In modern art, a kind of norm undeniably developed in the last century, that real art must be located in this periphery in order to be taken seriously. Preferably, therefore, art ‘on the edge’, on the border or crossing the border, in other words, ‘cross-border’. The young artists could only profile themselves by doing cross-border stunts, by looking for all kinds of modes in their work, new forms of breaking and even breaking centuries-old taboos. With such a way of thinking and acting, the artist gets in the grip of a killing centrifugal force, which makes him slide perfectly to the periphery, with all the never discussed consequences. Our modern museums are full of such works, which take the spectator to this periphery, and give him a ‘haunting’, ‘existentially repressive’ feeling there… Etienne’s work bears witness to the opposite: he uses the centrifugal force that also exists but is more difficult to fit into everyday life, he allows himself to be enchanted by the centre, the axis of the wheel, and does everything possible every day to get to that axis: That is the place to be, and at the same time the only place where reality reveals itself to us in all its glory… Those who have experienced it know it: the force that subtly draws you to the centre is real, provided that you accept that it exists, that you long for it, and that you then listen to it. Etienne looked for that middle force, found it, and is now used by it daily, from morning to evening. When Etienne makes his art, he finds himself in a calm, balanced way, on the axis of the wheel. His art is about that, breathes the atmosphere of the middle, of balance, of symmetry, of the mathematics of the heart, of the purity of colour and geometric form. As an appreciator of living contemporary art, this is a little difficult, because we have been busy crossing borders for a century…
- It is immediately noticeable that each work is preceded by a process of realisation that is purely and simply reminiscent of architecture, namely monumental architecture. The origin of each work is a simple inspiration, which Etienne sketches on the nearest receptacle: a piece of wood, cardboard, paper. This embryonic sketch ends up on his drawing table, on a pile of many ideas. It is on this table that, in a second phase, the precise plan for the monumental elaboration of the sketch is created. Etienne is an architect and knows how to do it, he doesn’t mince his words. The materials are determined in detail, what will go where, what colours will play a role, etc. Once the plan and the materials are known, the work is started. Once the plan and the materials are known, Etienne finally becomes the contractor and, under his experienced hands, eyes and machines, the drawn plan becomes a monument, large or small in size, and everything comes into its intended place, and the so-called coincidence is recognised as an additional inspirational factor, so gratefully included in the monumental project, in the artistic construction.
- Doing a contractor’s job properly requires great labour, skill, but mostly horsepower. I invite you to look at the works, and try to estimate the time that is hidden in each one. Hundreds of elements have been patiently and meticulously placed in the right place, with the right glue, the right shape, the right colour, the right tactile value. Unbelievable. The work of a monk, simple and childlike, satisfied with a meagre meal and with the result of his work. One step further every day, for 300 works. My wife, who knows the Koran, says that it says that ‘patience is one of the gates to paradise’. I think that Etienne has passed through that gate in many works, into paradise.
- Then there is the respect for the ‘found’ matter. Etienne does not often go to the shop: he has usually found what he needed for a long time. He is a finder of the most beautiful materials in the most unlikely places, and immediately recognises the possibilities, and therefore the intrinsic value of the objects. Old parts of furniture, all kinds of metal gear and fragments from the ruins of factories, scrap material that nobody wants anymore: everything is recognised as a potential building block for his monuments. Etienne is the beachcomber of what washes ashore in Oroir and its surroundings, his existential beach. Everywhere he picks things that can ‘serve’, nothing is lost, everything is incorporated in the monument, because of its colour, its shape, its skin, its special appearance. Ressorts and steel spirals, old doors, planks of respectable age: everything is respected. What was doomed to the hell of the incinerator is saved and given an elevated function; it becomes an indispensable element in the structure of the monument. Monument literally means etymologically: ‘something that reminds one of something important in a grand way’. Etienne brings forgotten things back into the field of vision by making them part of his monuments, which themselves want to remind the viewer of hidden and forgotten inner realities. The items he takes as subject, all stemming from the most beautiful spiritual traditions and recent inventions, he hides and shows in his ‘monuments’, in his ‘objects that remind us in a grand, majestic way of this much needed data from the world of the middle’. You could say it like that.
- Finally, I would like to talk about the second element in the naming of the exhibition ‘Monumental Symbols’. I have always been interested in the reality and the functioning of the symbol. For most people, the word symbol only indicates a ‘sign that refers to something else’. E.g. Green light: you can pass. Red triangle pointing downwards: danger! Red light: stop. But when we enter the world of symbols, especially those connected with the great spiritual traditions of mankind, we notice something very strange in the end. I could talk about that for hours, partly because I actually did some physical research on it with other people in the 1980s. I would just like to say here, without any proof, that symbols are actually special realities, in the sense that they have a ‘working’, a direct influence on the environment where they are found. Today’s culture is dominated by a struggle between ‘atheism’ and ‘classical religious systems’, with an ever-expanding spiritual market in-between, where modern man in all his confusion tries to obtain what he seeks. From one side, that of the agnostics and atheists, there is a constant struggle against, for example, the concepts of hell and heaven, devil and angel. There is no heaven and no hell, no angel and no devil, no God and no Lucifer. From the other side there is a persistent affirmation: after all, these are all realities. From both sides there is a kind of political correctness. One is either not allowed to think that God does not exist, or on the other hand, even the slightest doubt about whether or not God exists is an attack on reason, common sense. In the midst of that fight, the spiritual man, the searching man, seeks in the middle: he literally seeks the experience of heaven and the angel, direct contact with the divine. Well, the experience of these people shows that symbols work. Symbol’ comes from the Greek word ‘coincide’, or ‘sunballein’. Now, if you assume that there is a heaven, with god and gods and angels in it, then you can also understand that a sign referring to that world is a kind of bridge with our world, and that something ‘positive’ runs through that symbol to our world, and vice versa a signal from our world to that other world… And on the other hand, too: If you put on a mask of the devil, something comes via that symbol from that demonic underworld into this world… Of course, if you are an atheist, you can dismiss all that as silly, and it is not at all my intention to start a thought war with you on this. But consider for a moment the extent to which contemporary culture mass-produces symbols, all year round and certainly in this ‘Halloween’ time, that all refer to hell in one of its manifestations. Would that really have no effect on the whole of our world society? I think the people who claim that are on the wrong track. What I am trying to say is that each of the works on display here, created by the artist Etienne Loyson, transmits something from heaven. Through his work, which is a symbol of all the deep and ancient and fresh wisdom, something salutary flows into the space where they are exhibited. Each work is a plastic, monumental confirmation of these wisdoms. Each work is an effectively working monumental symbol.
With that, I think I have said the most important things. Please forgive my inaccuracies, and thank you for your attention. Enjoy the exhibition.