A Belgian painter that as early as 1956, Xavier Franc, faithful friend of our A.
P. A. M. , presented to amateurs, by revealing to us "Leunens, painter of life"
(1). And, already, he showed "creating, leading "whatever happens, the struggle
for the art".
A year later, in 1957, he moves to Paris, leaving with his brother in Belgium, all works created until then. First Figurative, with a trend toward the Neo-Expressionism, it is oriented toward the abstract as soon as it was in our city.
And, very quickly, he will invent techniques very personal to create such works which have led to these ''compositions of metal '' that we have been able to see, in 1963 in the Art Center Cybernetics(2) and that R. -V. Gindertael presented . Sheets of Leunens retained strongly our attention, intriguing as they differ from everything we have been used to see.
How has he come to those strange works of metal?
As soon as he is in Paris, he uses a series of techniques that he invented: "Gratage" paper for his drawings with Chinese ink, or Monotypes achieved with smoke on isorel panels and that he scratch, then...use of paper with sweet water...,etc. .. And, already, he works directly on canvas with fire, after having coated this canvas of a color oil layer, white, yellow, etc. .. The fire is produced by a cloth soaked in turpentine: in the paint layer, he creates reliefs: The canvas had, first, been prepared with white of Meudon and rabbit skin glue( as did the Primitive...). This canvas, as thus treated, is then applied to another, well tense and, thus, create reliefs: then, he painted in white, yellow, green...to recreate a plain background...and it is with this backgroung that he works with Fire... It is very difficult, with words, to account for this extraordinary technic which gives those luminous works...
To understand this need of technic that haunts him, you must know that he was, formerly, worker molder in a bronze and copper foundry, in Belgium: from there came this use of metal and fire for the creation of his current works. Up until 1945, he was a worker, while devoting his leisure time to his painting... It is that way that he conquered this "meaning of the matter" and also the vast experience acquired by the hands of a laborer! Love of the matter? Perhaps, but on a single end: To impose his view of what he,the artist, must tell us. In fact, he studied extensively the technic of the Ancients in interrogating their works And that is what has encouraged all his daring. Thus, in 1960-61 he made watercolors with Nescafé! Then, to this product he mixted the colors of watercolor: he gets a kind of matter of "gouache" keeping the transparency. And, sometimes, to this matter, he joined the "grattage"
It is only in 1949_ at 35 years of age_ that he was able to fully devote himself to the Art...
after a long period of difficulties, since his childhood where he was raises in
an orphanage, before working in the founderie plant-- Since that distant time , he felt
very isolated... and, only, the Painting has been his release. At 35 years of age, he
followed the courses of the Academy...in fact, since childhood, he is attracted
by Art and, since 1930, it followed carefully all the artistic avant-garde events.
Since 1960, he transposes his paintings unto metal. Autodidact,
master of his technic, that he wants to put at his "inspirational" service . Then, we
approach the works, for questioning.
From 1964, here is "Isis", carried out with metal on paper: that is a project for a series of works of metal that he prepares and calls it "Arr-Koss"; the very names that identify its works are sometimes abstract!
In fact, it uses all the materials! The fragments of glass, from where, in 1963 "Iris", "Christ"... and even wood fibers. His last works are metal: each is fixed on a chassis as would be a canvas, and its surface is covered with reliefs which shine under the light which seems animate. What metal? Aluminum, steel sheet...but it is as a Painter he works metal, not as a Sculptor.
He feels an intense need to force the material to express what he apprehends-
without his knowledge- in this Ere of the Atom where he believes, the Paint will not
find its place anymore: It is the metal which is the matter of our time...
When is it finished? He has the feeling that "it is good"..; otherwise he tears the metallised paper.or, he waits in the uncertainty: he retouches, he corrects... How, then, does he feel that "it is OK" ? Without hesitation, he told us: "It is his instinct that decides".
We are therefore in the presence of a technic completely new: this Art of metal. To the new forms which express our time, are added now this new technology: the Metal replaces the Painting in this century of the Atome...Like van Gogh did , with the same ardour, Leunens puts in place a new language PLASTIC MATERIAL: after that of WAVES, that of the ATOM? All these points of metal, which inspire, with their relief, the surface of the work, appear to reveal a secret technique that intrigues: the metal on paper, then the relief on metal; intervene technique known of the "emboss"... the reverse of the work shines as a mirror! Aluminum, steel plate ... are stretched on the chassis as would a canvas...<>This artist, which uses this mysterious technique to reveal what our world communicates to him, has much travelled across Europe for twenty years. And since 1956, a dozen of personal exhibitions have made his work known that was also his participation to about fifteen group exhibitions: one can see permanently, his works to the gallery of Verneuil(2). They seem to open a new path to the Plastic Language of the present, offering new ways of expression.
1-Xavier Franc Leunens, peintre de vie(Ed."La Sève" Bruxelles, 1956).
2-Galerie de Verneuil, 20, rue de Verneuil, Paris (7e).
3-La peinture Abstraite en Flandres. Préface de Emile Langui. Texte de Michel Seuphor(1963).
Translated from French