Léon Wuidar, Hong Kong (2024)
17 January – 16 March 2024
‘My paintings are like an interior [...] Small paintings of the 17th century with modest themes, or even the work of Italian painter and printmaker Giorgio Morandi, radiate this same sense of intimacy..’
Marking the artist’s inaugural show in Asia, White Cube is pleased to present a solo exhibition of paintings and works on paper by Léon Wuidar. Chronicling the artist’s remarkable six-decade career, the selection of paintings spans from the early 1960s to the present day, uniting Wuidar’s exuberant simplicities of form with his distinctive, exacting technical precision. Further illustrating the artist’s enduring experimentations with colour, line and composition, accompanying the paintings is a series of previously unseen works on paper, created by the artist in the 1990s.
A drawing teacher since 1960 and a professor of graphic arts from 1976 onward, Wuidar’s abstract compositions conflate a diverse lineage of stylistic influences. Exploratory arrangements of elemental forms pay homage to the seminal abstractist Ben Nicholson, while enigmatic and whimsied pictorial motifs evoke the surrealist visions of Max Ernst and René Magritte. Architectural resonances manifest in domed arches, fluted columns, projected shadows and decorative motifs, harmonising with organic meanderings of line that evoke biomorphic growth. Born in Liège in 1938, Wuidar’s early works resonate with childhood recollections of the Second World War, citing formative impressions of ruined bridges and stark military architecture alongside lighter recollections of the wildlife and natural landscapes that surrounded his home city.
Within the gallery’s lower level, a collection of paintings from the 1960s and ’70s foregrounds the artist’s early ventures into abstraction. Despite formally renouncing figuration in the mid-1960s, Wuidar’s paintings from this period nevertheless allude to the visible world in their embrace of free-form strokes, softened tonal palettes and rounded, organic edges. ‘This to and fro between oblique art and the visible world is a game’, the artist recalls, ‘I cannot stop playing.’ Elicited fortuitously through both title and composition, the 1967 painting Métamorphose reveals a discernibly arthropodal silhouette. With a broad singular stroke, a wing, face and foreleg take shape, while a corresponding second line delineates the hind leg and torso. Eschewing finer details, save for two spirited markings suggestive of an eye and antenna, the composition is defined through layered colour planes of taupe, graphite and muted grey-blue – elemental colours that further allude to the representational. A similar palette is employed in Wuidar’s earlier work, le 14 avec vue sur le Jardin 23 (1966), where clefted spherical shapes and earth-tone oblongs suggest the intricate design of a horticultural maze. In contrast, the central area illuminates a window of light, serving to orchestrate the disparate shapes into ordered configuration.
‘My paintings are like an interior,’ the artist has remarked. ‘Small paintings of the 17th century with modest themes, or even the work of Italian painter and printmaker Giorgio Morandi, radiate this same sense of intimacy.’ Reflecting this sentiment, Le Maure (1972) scaffolds the central activity of the composition – a plinthed, egg-shaped form embellished with ornate tendrils – within two broad yellow vaults. These are further encased by a striped border of mauve and gold, guiding the viewer’s eye inward, toward the asymmetric figurative central motif. ‘For this specific work’, Wuidar notes, ‘I had a memory of wrestlers whose faces were masked, which gave me the idea of this round, animated and contrasted shape.’ The aesthetic friction demonstrated in this composition and the later Tige 20 Juillet 77 (1977) is notably pronounced in Wuidar’s works from this era, as the artist gravitated toward a more disciplined form of geometric abstraction. Another key work from the 1970s, Tige 20 Juillet 77 limns a domed, cupola-shaped edifice. Dominated in the lower section by two spherical beams, the structure tapers upwards, converging on a vertical needle that pierces downward through the centre of the apex. For this work, Wuidar was influenced by the bases of public monuments, which are ‘anchored at the base and decrease upwards to install the figure of a general on top.’ Here, the titular ‘needle’ determines supreme authority over the composition’s balance while simultaneously serving to fissure the harmony of the solid forms.
Long affiliated with the late Belgian architect Charles Vandenhove, whom he met in the mid-1960s, Wuidar’s stylistic development exhibits close affinities with the angular geometries of Brutalist architecture, for which Vandenhove was best known. Their friendship led to numerous collaborative endeavours, most notably in 1972 when Wuidar commissioned Vandenhove to design his house and studio space in Esneux. In turn, Wuidar contributed to Vandenhove’s architectural projects, including the exterior and interior sites of the University of Liège, where he collaborated with fellow artists Daniel Buren and Sol LeWitt. Reflecting on his kinship with Vandenhove, Wuidar articulated, ‘Charles Vandenhove and I shared a predilection for work, research and renewal, a predilection for simplicity that is not simple-mindedness’.
From the late 1970s onwards, Wuidar’s paintings comprise markedly reduced elements, indicating the artist’s shifted commitment to a form of abstraction increasingly informed by graphic procedures – of reduction, stylisation, bold outlines and hard-edged geometry. Relinquishing the suggestive titling of his earlier works in favour of temporal markers, Wuidar expunges any lingering referential reading of the paintings for a freer, more reflexive association, while also intimating personal experience or the memory of light and shadow on the landscape at particular moments in time. Presented anachronistically within the upper level of the gallery, the selected paintings consolidate the ensuing four decades of his practice, from the 1980s through to the present day. Within this timeframe, the works establish a continuity that demonstrates the artist’s sustained engagement with the unity of shape, line and balance.
Maintaining the levity of his early paintings through a vibrant and tonally contrasting palette, 8 décembre 1982 (1982) corresponds with a key work, Juin 94 (1994), produced over a decade later. Both paintings are emblematic of Wuidar’s evolved style, characterised by hard-edge geometric shapes that suggest an affiliation with Concrete art. Notably, certain shared attributes are present across both works: each is intersected by a central vertical line and incorporates a palette of orange, blue and black, mounted within a thin, mustard yellow frame. This exterior framing is redoubled by a painted frame within the image, a device Wuidar incorporated in the 1970s to serve as a window or portal into his world, ensuring, as he notes, ‘that the inner forms constitute a whole.’ While certain unmistakeable characteristics are shared between the works, they also display distinctive nuances. 8 décembre 1982, for instance, embraces a warmer, tertiary tonal range, while Juin 94 is dominated by a vivid orange, accentuated by monochromatic mid-ground motifs. Where the bisectional line is stanchioned and grounded in Juin 94, in 8 décembre 1982, the vertical line is asymmetric and interrupted by a perpendicular diagonal partition, channelling an inward motion reminiscent of a Fibonacci spiral.
On display for the first time are a series of collaged drawings created by Wuidar in the 1990s. In these works, the artist’s jocular geometry engages with a set of dualities: greyscale forms interlock with vivid polychrome segments, rectilinear striations collide with unrestrained marbled patterning, and hard-edged contours are set against unruly organic shapes. Wuidar integrates pieces of old book covers as sections of the drawings, initiating a playful interplay between planar surface and sensorial tactility.
Predicated on rigorous technical command and animated with subtle humour, Wuidar’s compositions attest to a lifetime of painterly exploration and the preservation of a unique presence that arises, as noted by Hans Ulrich Obrist, from ‘radical simplicity and extreme subtlety’.
Léon Wuidar was born in 1938 in Liège and lives and works in Esneux, Belgium. Recent solo exhibitions include White Cube Mason’s Yard, London (2022 and 2018); Rodolphe Janssen, Brussels (2021, 2018, 2017 and 2016); Musée des Arts Contemporains, Grand-Hornu, Belgium (2021); Museum Haus Konstruktiv, Zürich, Switzerland (2020); White Cube Bermondsey, London (2018); Bibliotheca Wittockiana, Brussels (2010); L’Espace du Dedans, Lille, France (2009); and Gesellschaft für Kunst und Gestaltung, Bonn, Germany (2007). His work is also included in numerous group exhibitions including Bonisson Art Center, Rognes, France (2023); Espace de l’Art Concret, Mouans-Sartoux, France (2015); BAM, Mons, Belgium (2014); Musée René Magritte, Brussels (2010); Musée d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain, Liège, Belgium (2005); Ville Ponti, Ricerca, Italy (2001); and Mondriaanhuis, Amersfoort, Netherlands (1999).
Léon Wuidar at White Cube Hong Kong
Sandra Ivanoiu, Sales Executive at White Cube, gives a guided tour of Léon Wuidar’s exhibition at White Cube Hong Kong.
Marking the artist’s first solo exhibition in Asia, the showcased works span from the 1960s to the present day, chronicling Wuidar’s remarkable six-decade career. Sandra details artists who have influenced Wuidar’s practice over the years, from the abstract compositions of Ben Nicholson to the surrealist visions of Max Ernst and René Magritte.
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