March 27, 2008, by Paul Young, The LA Times
More recently, Blum & Poe served up a somber set of grayish black paintings by Victor Man of Romania. And now we have a suite of haunted canvases by Belgian Stef Driesen at L.A.'s Marc Foxx (ends April 12; marcfoxx.com).
Driesen creates large-scale, romantic paintings that combine the sacred aspirations of the Old Masters with troubled, often erotic subject matter. He does that by synthesizing figuration and abstraction to the point where human or spectral beings seem to blend seamlessly with dark rock formations, or possibly flesh. (Think Francis Bacon crossed with Ansel Adams).
It's a heady mix to be sure, but is it indicative of how Europeans feel about the state of the world? "I can't speak for others," says Driesen, 41. "But personally, I do feel this heaviness."
In a series of new paintings, Stef Driesen synthesizes body and landscape, merging human figures with elements of nature.
The works re-examine Old Master painting, in particular Northern European and Flemish artists such as Memling and Van Eyck. Stef Driesen draws inspiration from the compositions, colour palettes, and themes explored by these Old Masters, and is inspired by the way in which they used all of these elements to project a vision of life in their time, political, religious, romantic or otherwise.
Stef Driesen combines these art historical references with personal narratives in what could be seen as an investigation of his own sexual identity. A figure is always present in or under the painted image, often as a submerged erotic image, and the paintings are imbued with undercurrents of hidden desire.
Yet although sexuality and sexual identity play an important part in the work of Stef Driesen, the central theme of his work remains essentially emotional.
Stef Driesen's paintings elicit a sense of mythic romanticism from environments that are at once beautiful and strange. The sensual brushstrokes and fleshy palette obscure the distinction between figure and environment, projecting human characteristics upon natural scenery.
Watery mountain scapes and dramatic skies frame ambiguously figurative foreground elements. Soft pinks and flashes of azure punctuate dark canvases highlighting rivers through the picture plane and revealing landscapes beyond. Ultimately Stef Driesen's compositions expand space, opening up an imaginary dimension into a world full of the theatrical and fantastic.