« […] Un navire […] à demi caché par
les ouvrages avancés de l’arsenal,
semblait voguer au milieu de la ville. »1
Marcel Proust

Robert Suermondt’s art of painting overwhelmingly strikes me as a series of cinematographic shots. It ‘makes its own cinema’, blatantly inviting us to make our own in front of it. But by no means via freeze-frames. Suermondt’s painting-cinema revolves around the way in which the images are composed. It consists of time-material. The frame lies in space, as Suermondt would say, whereas Godard asserted “the frame lies in time”. Who knows where time goes, where movement occurs, what is inside, what escapes one’s grasp in this way of painting, whose essential aim is to create catastrophes, creods (series of catastrophes), and even to simply compose chaos. In terms of painting, it’s comparable to the fiftyish tightly edited shots Hitchcock used for the shower scene in Psycho (1960); or that fairground stall where Orson Welles traps his heroes, having large mirrors flying around them (The Lady from Shanghai, 1947); or even the senseless editing of Jean-Luc Godard’s Two or Three Things I Know about Her (1967): Marina Vlady’s blue pullover, a whispering voice, excavators, the break in the soundtrack, a black coffee swirling into the cosmos…

Such images come to mind when I think of Robert Suermondt’s tableaus. Art today can only benefit from seeking materials outside itself, in spheres external to its own medium. It is in decentralising itself like this that it revives itself. At the time Matisse and Picasso were drawing inspiration from the ‘negro’, they were not yet recognised as major artists: they were common makers of exotic ‘curiosities’! Suermondt’s cinematographic immersions do not at all distance him from painting. This is not about betrayal or loss. One can in turn muse upon prestigious pictorial references, those inspired by the world outside of painting: Rosenquist (publicity) and Caravaggio (opera).

Suermondt machines (fabricates) a montage, something Baroque, in the sense that Baroque is an art of concertinaing and overflowing. Suermondt multiplies the staccato by puzzling together the syncopations at several levels: decapitated portraits, coloured planes, areas of pencilling, neutral whites, combinations of heterogeneous materials along the edges, and so on. Baroque is a line of madness that never ends! Damaging the percept, Suermondt proclaims: “I like for the glance to diverge just as much as I like to turn the images over. […] During the time I was at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam I painted ‘reversible’ landscapes that could be read just as one sees them, hanging on the wall, as well as upside down. There is an idea of reversal that also suggests some kind of otherness”.2 One cannot help but refer to Kandinsky’s famous anecdote about a reproduction of Monet’s Haystacks that had fallen wrong side up in his studio and provoked the very first abstraction. With Robert Suermondt, this turbulent machine of abstraction is continually at work. He knows that geometrical shapes haunt the images; that there are, as he says, “geometrical echoes inside the images”. The abstraction is thus part of the flesh of each and every image. There exist the image, the form and the impulse. These are three degrees of representation3. The thing is to phase them in such that they construct a rhythm, emit a frequency that causes the certainties of realism to tremble.

Since Degas, painting has come to renounce its centred and enclosed frames in favour of the framing technique of the photographer and the cineaste. ‘Le cadrage’ (framing) only first appears in the Petit Larousse dictionary in 1923... And for ‘framing’ read ‘cutting angle’, a break in the flow of the representation. Robert Suermondt likes to talk about framing: "I think we are still bathing in the glorification of the frame, although we are actually a civilization of framing. When you look at a standard press photo, time and time again there is exclusion and thus negation of that which is to the side.” Consequently, how are we to react to the indefatigable and nostalgic photo-centrism of our culture? In multiplying the cut edges within the painting, Suermondt avoids defining just a single focal length. Like something from Pollock or hermetic Cubism. Merce Cunningham said that "any point on the stage must be equally important to the dancer”. But this will not suffice. Robert Suermondt knows that to trigger and sustain the viewer's nomadic gaze (nomadism is ‘subversive’, he says), it is necessary to introduce breathing space. Within the folds of textiles, the folds of skin, the folds of an accordion, it is as with breathing-in-breathing-out. The ‘fold’ describes the point of oscillation in his painting, its Baroque swing4. All his tableaux are to be read as music: curved, swollen, bent; inflections in which geometry becomes breath. For Suermondt, this breathing renders the forms porous, tempers them a metallic aspect that they assert in other respects. One can also say that its twists of inside and outside make of the painting a kind of membrane in which the function of visual scope loses its dominant force. One goes from the retinal to the tactile, and even to the sensations of taste: "One could say that the tactile is in the nature of the caress”, said Suermondt, “while all desire presupposes a gap, a separation." It’s always the fold that separates and connects.

Intersecting frames, nomadic cuts, lateral telescoping or catastrophic zooms, baroque folds, optical pathways to tactility... it doesn’t take more to qualify Robert Suermondt’s painting as chaotic. As is the tradition with painting, one could say. Have painters ever done anything but closely approach chaos, or immerse themselves in it? Certainly, but there are several approaches to chaos. The paintings of Hieronymus Bosch, linked to the origins and to the plague of Eden, are not those of Turner, enraptured by the blaze of Brownian thermodynamics. All cultures do not invent their Orpheus and his quest for a Eurydice forbidden to return her glance. To jump into chaos and back, such is the question. Today, chaos is more defined as the turbulence of living, of seizing life at its most intense level: there where a plethora of meaningful propositions jostle and intermingle. And this is the level that Suermondt explores. This overabundance of simultaneous elements is for him the media. Because cinema alone does not suffice. He loves magazines. He cuts out hundreds of images. When he was invited to Unlimited, at the Art Fair in Basel (2008)5, Robert Suermondt exhibited a large mural composed of photocopied fragments of images. It was as though everything was rushing into a corner of the room. Or springing from the selfsame angle in the wall. Regardless, the impression that prevailed was that of such an overabundance of information that there arose an immense racket, a roar, an avalanche, a panic, an adoration, a riot, a quarrel, a carriage. And presto, this painting, already tactile, became audible. It takes a lot of intensity and rigour to pass from one sense to another in this way. Suermondt has proven that he dares to face the chaos while composing a mural within that chaos. The angle in the wall was a bevel, a double-cut at one with the chaotic flux of information. A successful attempt to slice into the hurly-burly of mass communication. A way of saying that the painter is only concerned about its undoing, the total immersion into noise, at the risk of losing himself.

There are painters whose approach to chance and disorder – the shapeless – drowns in appalling confusion. Their smudges are merely echolalias of an obsolete conception of chaos, something akin to the muddy matter before the intervention of God. There are others – including Robert Suermondt – for whom the din of the formless draws access to clarity. One can speak of the ‘crystal’ of painting in regard to Vermeer, de La Tour, Cézanne, Mondrian, Klee... Hence it is to link the eye and the mind to the visible, as a great unfolding of thought-sensation. The word I have been looking for since the beginning of this essay is ‘crystal’, with its various inflections: cuts, angles, bevels, water, opalescence, primary knowledge of geometry. That is what today seems to be neither beautiful nor ugly, neither major nor minor, but simply important. It is in fact important that all art of this time is no longer confronted with its own finitude (what pretension!) but with that of the Planet.

Good painting summons text within, because it is texture, the textuality of the visible. Robert Suermondt’s paintings are like the phrase penned by Marguerite Duras: « Sur les planchers du pont, sur les parvis du bateau, sur la mer, avec le parcours du soleil dans le ciel et celui du bateau, se dessine, se dessine et se détruit à la même lenteur, une écriture, illisible et déchirante d’ombres, d’arêtes, de traits de lumière reprise dans les angles, les triangles d’une géométrie fugitive qui s’écoule au gré de l’ombre des vagues de la mer »6.

P. Sterckx

1 In Search of Lost Time, Volume 2; À la recherche du temps perdu: À l’ombre de jeunes filles en fleurs, Gallimard, Folio classique, Paris, 1988. [“[…] A ship […] half-hidden by the arsenal buildings in the foreground, seemed to be drifting in the middle of the city.”]
2 All the quotes are extracts from a conversation between Robert Suermondt and the author at a Néos party on 11 September 2008.
3 J.-F.Lyotard, Discours, Figure, Klincksleck, « Esthétique », 1971.
4 For further reading on the fold and the Baroque, see Gilles Deleuze, The Fold. Leibniz and the Baroque, translated by Tom Conley, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1992.
5 Through Galerie Catherine Bastide, Brussels.
6 L’Amant de la Chine du Nord, Gallimard, Folio, Paris, 1993. [“On the planks of the deck, on the foredeck of the boat, on the sea, with the path of the sun in the sky and that of the boat, emerging, taking shape and being destroyed at the same slow rate, a handwriting, illegible and heartrending shadows, edges, streaks of light recaptured in the angles, triangles of an elusive geometry that flows at the will of the shade of the waves of the sea.”]

Né en 1961 à Genève
Nationalités suisse, slovène et néerlandaise
Vit et travaille à Den Haag et Bruxelles

1983-1988 Ecole Supérieure d'Arts Visuels (ESAV), Genève
1990-1992 Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten, Amsterdam

À venir :
Septembre 2013 : Solo Show, Centre de la Photographie, Genève
Octobre 2013 : Solo Show, Galerie TM Project, Genève

Expositions personnelles

- Face Off, Middlemarch, Bruxelles
- Leuven 2012, Invited by Rotor, Stuk, Leuven

- A la coupe, Galerie Briobox, Paris

- Parrot in the Belly, Transit, Mechelen
- Preview II, Rotor, Bruxelles

- Redistribution des pièces, Galerie Briobox, Paris
- Galerie Fabian & Claude Walter, Zurich, Suisse

-Peinture, La lettre volée, Bruxelles

- After Morel, Annet Gellink Gallery, Amsterdam
- La nuit du bal, Galerie Fabian & Claude Walter , Zürich

- écho1, Galerie Paolo Boselli, Bruxelles
- écho2, Etablissement d'en face projects, Bruxelles

- Architecture 03, galerie LAB, Strasbourg

- Musée Arthur Rimbaud, Charleville-Mézières (with Xavier Noiret Thomé)
- Fabian & Claude Walter Galerie, Zürich

- Galerie Rodolphe Janssen, Bruxelles

-Fabian & Claude Walter Galerie, Basel

- Galerie Rodolphe Janssen, Bruxelles

- Galerie Kornfeld, Zürich
- Salle Crosnier, Palais de l`Athénée, Genf (cat.)

- Galerie du forum St.Eustache, Paris
- Galerie Rachel Lehmann, Lausanne

- Galerie Transit, Leuven

- Galerie Bruges la Morte, Bruges

- Galerie Tanya Rumpff, Haarlem

- Galerie M/2, Vevey (cat.)

Expositions collectives

- Group show, Nadine Féront, Bruxelles

- 13 peintres et moi, Galerie Valérie Bach, Bruxelles

- Acrobat Reading, Remap 3 Biennial, Athènes
- Found in translation, Casino Luxembourg
- Anonymously Yours, L'Observatoire Maison Grégoire, Bruxelles

- Groups show, Briobox, Paris

-The Beautiful Painting Show, Galerie Fabian & Claude Walter, Zürich

- Unlimited, ArtBasel39, Suisse
- Multiplier, Galerie DMA, Rennes, France.
- Honorons Honoré, De Garage, Cultureel Centrum Mechelen, Belgique
- Wallpaintings 1+9/9+1, BkSM, beeldende kunst Strombeek Mechelen, Belgique
- The sentence and the cell, Byzantine and Christian Museum of Athens, Athènes
- Found, stedelijk Museum van Lier, Lier, Belgique

- Dispersion, Ancienne Base Militaire de Kodra, Kalamaria (GR)
- Topoi,curateur Denys Zacharopoulos, Musée Benaki, École Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Le Zappeion, Athènes
- Noms de pays: le nom, curateur Denys Zacharopoulos, Forteresse prison de Yedi Kule, Thessalonique (GR)
- Who is there?, curateur Denys Zacharopoulos, M.M.C.A, Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art of Thessaloniki (GR)
- Multiples, La lettre volée, Bruxelles

- In/former #1, La vénerie, Bruxelles
- Maïs 2006, Ville de Bruxelles

- The Dutch Show, The Dutch Institut , Athens, curateur Denys Zacharopoulos
- Journal#8, Manon de Boer in Brussel, van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven
- Sentieri e avvistamenti, Giovane arte contemporanea in Svizzera, CAMeC, Centro per l'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, La Spezia
- Steal my Idea, De Balie, Amsterdam

- Zement-Geister, Fabian & Claude Walter Galerie, Zürich

- Smooth Painting in Motion, Fabian & Claude Walter Galerie, Basel
- Inauguration of our new gallery space, Fabian & Claude Walter Galerie, Zürich

- FAR FROM US, Annet Gelink Gallery, Amsterdam
- Schaulager, Fabian & Claude Walter Galerie, Basel

- Domicile, Centre d`Art de Tanlay (F), (cat.)
- Annet Gelink Gallery, Amsterdam
- Fabian & Claude Walter Galerie, Basel

- Anderswo 2, Kaskadenkondensator, Basel
- Tauwetter, Fabian & Claude Walter Galerie, Basel

- I Looked at the Ceiling and I saw the Sky, Memory/Cage Editions, Kleines Helmhaus, Zürich, curateur Daniel Kurjakovic
- Musée Jurassien des Arts, Moutier
- Paraplufabriek, Nijmegen (cat.)
- Makintosh Artschool Gallery, Glasgow (cat.)

- Groene Pasen, Musuem Dhondt-Dhaenens, Deurle (cat.) curateur Bart Cassiman
- Case Study House, Utrecht
- Trapped Reality,Santa Monica Art Center, Barcelona (cat.) curateur
- Another & another & another act of seeing (urban space), Part 3, de Singel, Antwerpen (cat.) curateur Moritz Küng

- La figure et le lieu, curateur Denys Zacharopoulos, Domaine de Kerguéhennec, Locminé (F)
- Océ-van der Grinten Collection, Young art 1990-1996, Bonnefanten-museum, Maastricht (cat.)

- Welcome Stranger, Stadhouerskade 112, Amsterdam (cat.)
- Vlaams Cultureel Centrum De Brakke Grond, Amsterdam (cat.)

- Peiling 1993, Centraal Museum, Utrecht (cat.)
- Reflecties, Centrum Beeldende Kunst Dordrecht (cat.)

- Galerie Bruges la Morte, Bruges
- Galerie Hussenot, Paris

- 6 Artistes Suisses, Birla Ac., Calcutta et National Gal., New Delhi (cat.)

- Quand voir c`est faire, Salle Crosnier, Genève
- Von Bildern, des Images, Centre d`Art Contemporain, Genève (cat.)

- Von Bildern, des Images, Kunsthalle Bern (cat.)


2006 Meret Oppenheim Prize, Switzerland
1993-96-98 Werkbeurs, Amsterdam
1993-94-95 Federal Art Grant
1993 Special nomination, "L'immagine leggera", Palermo Int. Videoart-Festival
1993 Prix Voss TV Ateliers Düsseldorf, Videonale, Bonn
1992 Uriott Price, Amsterdam
1991 Koninklijke Subsidie van de Koningin Beatrix, Amsterdam
1988 Starstipendiumt, Amsterdam
1987 Kiefer-Hablitzel grant, Bern