“Why else this passion to immortalize the world in its changing faces, why the concern for the most deceptive rendering of every fleeting impression, than to keep the things that threatened to escape within reach of man?”
(Ton Lemaire, Filosofie van het landschap, 1970)*
Landscape is one of the most important art historical genres. From decor to symbolic representation of a feeling, over light-hearted and relaxed to violent and sublime; from panoramic views to flower still lifes: nature is omnipresent in art. Greet Van Autgaerden is not a landscape painter in a traditional interpretation of the word. The landscape is the basis for her works, which follow a long process from perception, over imagination, memory and paint, to the painted image. She mainly finds inspiration in the natural environment of her studio. Trees always play a leading role, with their species-related and individual qualities and branches.
Van Autgaerden's paintings are characterized by a dialogue between figurative – recognizable – landscape elements and abstract forms, often quasi-geometric surfaces in pure, bright colours. Both terms are relative in this case: her rendition of a tree can be figurative in the sense that the specific species is identifiable, but at the same time she works with expressive colors and brushstrokes, making it anything but a realistic representation. However, truthful in the sense that she paints what she sees herself. Through the more abstract elements and areas of colour of this new series, 'human-like' figures creep in for the first time, faceless and with their full energy directed towards the landscape. Here, too, there is no question of a degree of realism; rather, the artist relies on the human tendency to see anthropomorphic features and to be guided by a collective pareidolia.
“So I may cautiously conclude that indeed every landscape contains something of nature as well as something human.” (Ton Lemaire, Filosofie van het landschap, 1970)*
In essence, Van Autgaerden's oeuvre explores perception itself. We, as humans, look at the landscape: what do we see? As an artist she tries to transfer her own perception and insights to the canvas. And within the realization that a ‘real’ image, in principle, does not exist: everyone sees something different, both in the landscape and in the artwork. The highly personal brushstrokes and visual language, in an accessible perspective, enable the viewer to move into the ‘life-size’ painted landscape.
Van Autgaerden derives the title for her series Visions fugitivies from the twenty piano pieces by Sergei Prokofiev. On the one hand, the title is about a flight, away from reality. The natural landscape is a typical escape from our daily, busy existence, from obligations and worries; it is a place that offers time, perspective and space. In a sense, painting is also a necessary escape for the artist; diving into work involves certain difficulties, but may exclude others.
On the other hand, we can also associate the title with the transience of a thought and an image. The human figures that appear in the works enter into a relationship with the landscape to give their thoughts free rein. In nature, a space is created for reflection. That is the case for Van Autgaerden – after all, that's where she gets her unrelenting inspiration – and for most characters who, from Romanticism to the present, figure in the pastoral or sublime landscape. Those thoughts, heavy or light, however, are not the subject of the work. Rather, the landscape and its changeability bear within itself the ephemerality of human reflection. Moreover, there is also an artistic ephemerality: Van Autgaerden perceives an image, wants to preserve it and then reconstruct it in the canvas. Extracting a perceived image – ‘correct’, but rather: true to her personal perception – from the canvas is a constant struggle with paint and form. The image keeps escaping: only in fleeting moments does it show itself, allowing the artist to gradually reveal it further.