Bram VAN VELDE |
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Netherlands 1895 - 1981
Bram (Abraham Gerardus) van Velde (19 October 1895 in Zoeterwoude, near Leiden, Netherlands – 28 December 1981 in Grimaud, near Arles, France)
Van Velde was born in Zoeterwoude, and left the Netherlands in 1922 never to return. He went to stay for a few years in Worpswede, the artists' community in Germany, a period that was to be of crucial importance for his artistic development. He subsequently left for Paris in 1924, he spent most of his artistic life in Paris, to which he moved in 1925 and which he left in 1965, when he settled in Switzerland for the remainder of his life. where he met the Irish writer Samuel Beckett at the end of the 1930s: ‘a Great Encounter, in capitals’, as Van Velde described it.
In Beckett he found a kindred spirit, sharing his conviction that an artist cannot possibly express his innermost self in a work of art; all he can do is aspire to achieve a perfect result. And this is what Van Velde tried to do, despite poverty and misunderstanding. It was only at the end of the 1940s that exhibitions of his work were organised, together with that of renowned painters like Braque, Picasso and Miró.
Van Velde served as a conduit, bringing expressionist abstraction to Paris, mixing it with existentialism, and passing it on to the COBRA group in turn. When the Pompidou put on a group retrospective of the 1950s in Europe and America, one entered the exhibit by passing through a room of paintings by Bram van Velde.
In his History of Modern Art, H. H. Arnason called Van Velde "one of the most isolated and powerful of Art Informel painters" and suggests that he also serves to link American Abstract painting (and particularly his countryman Willem de Kooning) to the COBRA painters. Van Velde has been the subject of studies by painters such as Pierre Alechinsky, but the most well known commentary upon him is by his friend, Samuel Beckett, who wrote in 1949 that Bram van Velde is "the first to submit wholly to the incoercible absence of relation, in the absence of terms or, if you like, in the presence of unavailable terms, the first to admit that to be an artist is to fail, as no other dare fail, that failure is his world and to shrink from it desertion, art and craft, good housekeeping, living. I know that all that is required now, in order to bring this horrible matter to an acceptable conclusion, is to make of this submission, this admission, this fidelity to failure, a new occasion, a new term of relation, and of the act which unable to act, obliged to act, he makes, an expressive act, even if only of itself, of its impossibility, of its obligation."
For Beckett, Bram van Velde embodies the spirit expressed at the end of Beckett's play, Waiting for Godot, when tired of waiting, one of Beckett's tramps asserts, "I can't go on," but, having no alternatives, concludes immediately, "I'll go on."
This ‘je ne sais quoi’ - to quote Beckett - as the stimulating power underlying his work made Van Velde naturally unsuitable as an illustrator of books. It is therefore curious to find that his lithographs have often been used for that purpose. Actually they are not illustrations as such: the lithographs do not support the text in the sense of explaining it to the reader, but create a new work of art by their own, individual images combined with the text.
Van Velde, who embodied for the artists of the 1950s this heroic stance towards life, became for the new artistic generation, the model of what it would take for art to survive in the post-War world.
André de Bouchet, Bram van Velde (St. Paul-de-Vence: Fondation Maeght, 1973), Centre Georges Pompidou, Bram van Velde (Paris SPADEM/Eds Ctr Pompidou, 1989); Charles Juliet, Rencontres avec Bram van Velde (Paris: Fata Morgana, 1980); Jean-Hubert Martin, ed. Bram van Velde (Paris: Éditions du Centre Pompidou, 1989); Franz Meyer, Bram van Velde (Zurich: Maeght Zurich, 1976); Musée National d'Art Moderne, Bram van Velde (Paris: Musée National d'Art Moderne, 1971); Yves Peyré, Bram van Velde (Paris: Daniel Lelong Editeur, 1984: Repères 15); Bram Van Velde, Bram van Velde: Archives de l'art contemporain (Paris: Museé d'art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, 1970); Bram Van Velde, Bram van Velde: Catologue Raisonné of the Paintings (NY: Abrams, 1961); Bram Van Velde et al. Bram van Velde (Paris: Beaux Arts, 1989).
Charles Juliet & Georges Duthuit, Bram van Velde Lithographies (Paris: Maeght Editeur, 1993); Bram Van Velde, Les lithographies, 1923-1973 (Paris: Yves Riviere editeur, 1973)Bram Van Velde, Les lithographies II, 1974-1978 (Genève: Musée d'art et d'histoire, 1979); Bram Van Velde, Les lithographies III, 1979-1981 (Genève: Musée d'art et d'histoire, 1984) ...
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