Travelling along uncontaminated paths in a natural background, through hot dry desert landscapes, coming across narrow, impervious, hidden and secret paths, traced by the perpetual flow of men and animals: this is the origin of the essence of Down the trail, by Stan Van Steendam (1985), the Belgian artist’s second solo exhibition in the gallery.

According to this perceptual experience, which is characterised by a powerful meditative dimension, we often find ourselves in the condition of having to select the stimuli at which we pay attention. This process can only take place if we use the different sensory inputs available to us (such as the auditory, visual, etc.), in relation to the different sensory features typical of the stimulus, namely: position, colour, shape, transparency, shade, segment and so forth.

Stan Van Steendam’s enigmatic, iconic and visceral work challenges all our ideas, all the established notions of both tradition and modernity. The results are delicate sculptural virtuosity and gentle monochromatic investigations. His work, of an intuitive nature, aims to deconstruct the materiality of painting that he explores through an extensive process of layering raw pigments, plaster and epoxy resin on wood in addition to other materials such as ash, dirt and dust. It creates a new idea of the pictorial tradition, which definitely enables new perceptual experiences. All these materials lend a liberating approach to his practice as they themselves arbitrarily choose a self-moulding direction of both form and colour variation. Down the trail emphasises a broader concept of the sculptural work, moving towards an idea of total experience.

Van Steendam currently lives between Brussels and Lisbon. Lisbon has particularly influenced his work over the last two years, especially because of the dystopian and desert-like atmosphere of the industrial area where he lives, called Barreiro.

His minimalist compositions are highly intuitive, material and tactile, reflecting a propensity for meditation that certainly requires a state of absolute calm. Enormous monochromatic, iridescent, luminous and vibrant paintings, extending into space, question, as already mentioned, the definitions of all traditional categories. Since Van Steendam’s research is based on the material construction of the surface, it has to be understood as a process that is both physical and meditative, in which the only creative instrument used by the artist himself is his bare hands. Moreover, the resulting tumultuous perception, in perfect balance between mystery and ambiguity, continues to change according to the reflection of both light and cerulean skies on the same material surface.

In this latest cycle of works, through thorough recuperation activities, the materials unquestionably constitute that primary path which constantly insinuates itself into the creative process, passing with agility from one painting to another, establishing its trueessence. Through our senses and the perceptive experiences that the senses trigger in us, we can hopefully become aware of the world that surrounds us to the extent that we are able to understand its fundamental aspects. The perceptual experience in which Van Steendam invites us to participate is intended as a primary source of knowledge of the world, which is interpreted as an environment. It is a phenomenon that is as familiar from the point of view of our immediate consciousness as it is enigmatic from the point of view of reflection on the transcendental.

DOMENICO DE CHIRICO, 2022

Arid is an exhibition by Stan Van Steendam (Belgium, 1985) that features three works that occupy the gallery walls and establish a dialogue around a place of transition. Overlapping density and rarefaction, vibration and contain- ment, the open and the hidden, Van Steendam inquires about the constitution of painting in an operation that takes place between the body of an object and its pictorial surface.

Exploring a logic of deposition in which the materials’ nature, context, and work produce their inherent im­tages and shapes, the pieces are made horizontally, on a worktable, close to the artist’s body. On a wooden base that stands as a starting point, Van Steendam applies pigment, plaster and dust collected from his studio’s surroundings. In this process, time and gravity create a logic of strata, which expresses both chance and choice, that marks a path that is made between composition and happening.

The larger work, Cane (2022), is a painting / object of an environmental and contemplative nature that demarcates a centre and a surrounding halo. Asking for the viewer’s attention, the work expresses a hot, dry and pale existence, subtly revealing the fingers and gestures that gave it form. Breathing colour, the shapes within shift and change as they follow its underlying geometry. The closeness it asks for and its intrinsic workmanship emanate a slow time that summons a connection that pleads for a growing availability. Affirming its presence in the gravity well of the viewer’s gaze, the work inhabits an intermediate space between what is hidden and what is revealed, what calls for us and what goes away.

The other two works in the exhibition, Saunter (2022) and Peer (2022), take on a rectangular shape that we quickly associate with the world of painting. In them, the main surface is coated with a layer of epoxy resin that seals it with a homogeneous texture. Contrary to the previous example, the expression on the sides takes on greater intensity here, revealing the work process and its specificities. Saunter and Peer can be read as a sequence of steps, with dialogic tops; a crease and a groove. In both cases, when the resin closes the composition, the gloss seals the base, reflects our gaze and allows for a faster, but more distant, appropriation.

In these three works, whether in the lateral thickness of their layers, in the stains and lines on their surfaces, in the glossiness that redirects our gaze back to us, or in the quietness that invites deeper examination, the articulation of the forms produces an unstable and elusive apprehension. Each part reorganizes (itself in) the constitution of the whole, between what is hidden and what is suggested, between the mask and the explanation. In this way, Van Steendam investigates an emphatic intermediate state, difficult to circumscribe, somewhere between purpose and effect, dwelling on an entity set between will and consequence, between its body and its surface.

The management of this delicate balance is the result of a state in which the nature of the elements and the artist’s presence coincide in the wholeness of the work. In this sense, these pieces are the consequence of their intrinsic physical dimension, but also of the artist’s intuition, and his meditative process. A kind of mutual ambience: interior and exterior, intense and arid, like the inebriant light of the morning.

SÉRGIO FAZENDA RODRIGUES, 2022