Recent sculptures & poems

Appel lookingthrough

Karel Appel’s work belongs with that of Asger Jorn, Pierre Alechinsky and Corneille in the central core of the SMAK collection. Even today it is a mainstay on which museum shows are founded. 

SMAK is therefore especially delighted to present a sizeable selection of recent work by this almost eighty-year-old artist. The exhibition comprises twenty monumental sculptures from the nineties. These works will be shown in an unusual combination with a selection of the artist’s poems.

Although Karel Appel (b.Amsterdam, 1921), one of the major representatives of the legendary international Cobra group, is best known as a painter, his painting has in fact always been accompanied by experiments in sculpture. For a long time this sculptural work remained hidden from the general public. Such a large selection of his sculptures has never previously been seen in Belgium, and it shows Appel’s enormous creativity and his talent for incorporating found objects into his own visual language. In these works he mixes forms from several cultures and eras. They show how the artist combines the most diverse images to be found in our world. The artist’s themes are the individual human, his creative power, and his fantasy. In his early days, in the forties, he was fascinated by the assemblage technique: the surprising and poetical connection of different materials (found objects), colours and weights. His recent sculptures also consist of found objects: dolls, fragments of architecture, bits of household equipment, wooden beds, wheelbarrows, totems and much, much more. They are objects he finds here and there and drags them to his studio. They wait there until he finds a place for them in one of the assemblages he is working on. He often works on several at a time. Their composition is instinctive. A typical characteristic of the new works is that they have their feet planted firmly on the ground. They are visibly heavy (like classical sculptures) and are exceptionally compact. Once an assemblage has been put together, the paintwork can be started. The sculpture is gradually given a skin of colour. In this way they once again become works of painting after all: a third dimension in painting, with an imposing beauty and absolutely unique. In 1964 Hugo Claus suggested calling Appel ‘classical’. He thought the artist’s irrepressible instinct clearly distinguished his art from the work of other painters, which is full of repressed romanticism, secrecy and ‘mythomania’. It is true that Karel Appel is anything but a romantic. As a painter he is also classical in the traditional sense, as a master of modern art; as a sculptor he is a discovery.

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