Jef Verheyen worked during the years 1956 - 1978 as one of the last ‘modernist’ painters of the 20th century. In his works nature and colour are in dialogue with each other. In his quest towards visualising purity, his work evolves towards an absolute total experience of light and colour. Verheyen investigates this theme, founded in philosophy, not only plastic, but also literary. He writes lyrical, often poetic visions. The ‘ecstasy’ and the ‘essentialism’ are the important cornerstones around which Verheyen constructs his plastic and literary oeuvre. In 1959, he publishes his manifesto Essentialisme in Het Kahier. His outspoken, stubborn character places him outside the Antwerp art scene, and his works of art are not well-received in Flanders. He finds kindred spirits outside of Belgium, in the Zero-movement: Lucio Fontana (1899 - 1968), Piero Manzoni (1933 - 1963), Yves Klein (1928 - 1962), Günter Uecker (1930), for example. He participates in various (inter)national (group) exhibitions, such as Monochrome Malerei in Leverkusen (1960).
Verheyen is educated at the Antwerp Academie and the NHISKA (1947 - 52). In 1953, he moves to Vallauris (France) and applies himself to ceramics. From 1957 he makes abstract paintings with which he positions himself against the materialisation of painting. In 1958, Verheyn becomes a member of G58, but in 1960 in a reaction against the Belgian lyrical abstract, along with Englebert Van Anderlecht, Paul De Vree and others, he establishes De Nieuwe Vlaamse School (The New Flemish School), which is dissolved not long afterwards. He feels himself aligned with the Zero-movement (1961-1965) and their communal belief in the connectedness with the four elements and a fascination for the mystical proportionality of the Golden Ratio, by which a divine, universal principle shall reveal itself via a formula.
Verheyen feels compelled by Paul Klee’s (1879 - 1940) vision of the expression of black in his first ‘labyrinth-geometrical’ period, characterised by experiments with gold, silver and black planes. In the crucial year of 1958, Verheyen comes up with the concept of his manifesto Essentialisme, which is published in 1959 in Het Kahier. It marks the transition to monochromatic colour, by which he suggests space in his first experiments with dark blue, grey and brown planes. The meeting with Lucio Fontana in 1957 is crucial for Verheyen. In addition to being a fellow-painter (they collaborate on De Droom van Möbius/The Dream of Möbius (1962), inter alia), he is also an important brother-in-arms and supporter of his essentialism vision. Fontana also helps him build up a network in Milan.
In 1962, Verheyen investigates the effect of colour that issues forth from the confluence of raindrops and rays of light, (‘irisation’ is what he calls it), in his series called Zonnebogen/Sunbows. In his series Lichtkathedralen/Cathedrals of Light (1967), he combines this colour experiment with the principle of the Golden Ratio and the cathedral of the Dom in Milan. It is a concrete expression of his life-long fascination for geometrical structures. This series is a triumph of the harmony of colour and structure. It is the result of the quest for the ‘irisation’-technique that he has undertaken since the withdrawal from his first gold, silver and black canvases. In the beginning of the 1970’s, Verheyen investigates light in an intense manner in his series Eon (the term stands for timelessness).
Verheyen’s monochrome works of art are considered part of the canon of the Belgian abstract art today, yet he encountered great resistance within the Belgian art scene. That is not only to attribute to his obstinate, uncompromising character, but also to his rigid adherence to the classic painting techniques and the creation of his ‘art that yearns for the abstract, the immaterial and the absolute’. In this sense Verheyen demands a truly separate place within the last phase of Modernism.
Jef Veheyen is born in Itegem on 6 July 1932. His father is a house painter. His mother works in a paint store. Verheyen is born with an eye infection.
He learns to draw and mould after models, sketches, and glass-widow paintings. He follows the ceramics course with Olivier Strebelle (1927) and meets Dani Franque, his future spouse.
1946 - 1954
Verheyen learns painting with Jan Frans Ross (1883 – 1968) in Lier, specialised in the painting of the church interior of the church of Lier.
Afterwards until 1954, he studies at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp and the NHISKA.
Beginning in 1950, along with Jan Christiaens (1929 – 2009), Fernand Auwera (1929 – 2015), Hugo Raes (1929 – 2013) en Frans Buyens (1924 – 2004), among others, he is a member of the group De nevelvlek. Their activities are centred around speeches and theatre performances.
1953 - 54
In 1953, he departs with Dani Franque to Vallauris (France), where they engage themselves in the creation and restoration of ceramics. Verheyen earns his living by picking grapes. They travel across Spain back to Antwerp, where they, without much financial means, open a ceramics studio in the Rubensstraat 14.
Makes his first canvas at the age of 24.
Marries Dani Franque.
In this crucial year he comes up with the first formulations of his concept concerning ‘Essentialism’.
In August, he exhibits with Paul Bervoets (1931 – 2002), Vic Estercam (1920 – 1994) en Walter Van Ermen (1932 – 2002). He displays a monochrome white painting, with which the work not only draws on colour, but also on the relief of the paint. Shortly hereafter he abandons this relief-related aspect.
After a meeting with Lucio Fontana in Antwerp, Verheyen creates his first series of white paintings on wood, fibreboard and jute or canvas. The following year he departs with his first essentialistic (planes) canvases with the train to Milan. There he meets Fontana in the Galleria Pater.
In November 1958, he writes his first manifesto with the fundamentals of his oeuvre included within. The influence of Piero Manzoni is seen, who with his ‘achrome’ canvases, just as Verheyen, is enamoured with the idea of infinity.
Publication of the text Essentialisme in Het Kahier.
The artist receives the prize of Switzerland for abstract painting.
Verheyen breaks with the group G58 and establishes his own art movement: De Nieuwe Vlaamse School/The New Flemish School. In October, the vernissage takes place.
In 1960 Verheyen makes a portrait of the Parisian gallery owner Iris Clert upon commission.
Publishes Pour une peinture non plastique in which he collects his own texts and citations of philosophers.
The group De Nieuwe Vlaamse School takes part in the exhibition Forum 61 in Ghent.
The group participates in the Forum 62 in Ghent.
The first Zonnebogen/Sunbows appear.
Writes VAN A=A TOT PANTA RHEI, which finds a connection with Fontana’s Manifesto Blanco.
Participates in the exhibitions Monochrome Malerei in Leverkusen and Zero in Amsterdam.
Fontana and Verheyen make De Droom van Möbius together in the villa Lucien Bogaerts (Knokke). The production is filmed by public broadcasting.
Verheyen collaborates with Fontana and Hermann Goepfert (1926-1982). The work of art is exhibited in Berlin by Rochus Kowallek.
De Nieuwe Vlaamse School is disbanded.
The collective installation of Fontana and Verheyen (Hommage à Fontana) is exhibited at the Documenta of Kassel.
A painting of Verheyen is acquired by Hans Mayer with Zero-Raum. Zero-Raum is purchased by the Koch family, which gifts it on loan to the Kunstmuseum of Düsseldorf. After a separate sale of the works, the museum makes a reconstruction in 1965 in a new Zero-Raum.
Writes Bij een kleurtest (With a colour test) in which he attributes the experience of colour with a number of values.
Exhibition Lichtkathedralen/Cathedrals of Light in the Carrefour gallery in Brussels.
Takes part in the Biennale of São Paolo.
Beginning of the 1970’s
Verheyen is financially wealthy thanks to his participation in exhibitions in Germany and Switzerland. There is interest from Baron Jacques von Hoerde (Antwerp Gallery) and the new gallery Multi Art.
Is honoured on his 40th birthday with a large book, published by an Antwerp gallery. The book contains a colour photo of a deserted, misty meadow in Itegem. Five years prior, Verheyen completed a number of interventions there with Günter Uecker. They install windows there in order to admire the light and the landscape more precisely.
Starts a solo exhibition with Iris Clert under the title Panchromies. The 1970 November issue of her publication iris.time is dedicated to him.
Participates in the Biennale in Venice with ten works in the Belgian pavilion.
Realisation of Hommage to Monet, later Hommage to Monet/Mondriaan. It deals with a series of canvases of 97 x 97 cm, each subdivided into quadrants.
Participates in the second edition of De individualisten van Iris Clert/The individualists of Iris Clert in the gallery De Zwarte Panter.
Verheyen launches the term ‘Eon’: a gnostic term for timelessness. The series Eon is also called Laser.
Ryszard Stanislawski invites Verheyen for a one-man exhibition in the Museum Sztuki in the Polish city Lodz.
The artist exhibits with Marcel Stal, in his gallery Carrefour in Brussels. The catalogue bears the title 9 tableaux. In the text the theme of the Flemish consciousness is brought up again.
Exhibition Lux est lex in the abbey of Frigolet.
Verheyen experiences a turning point. His presentations belong now to another zone of consciousness.
Jef Verheyen dies at the age of 52 from a heart attack during a Judo training in Apt (Vaucluse, France).
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