Marthe Wéry

1930 - 2005

Born in Etterbeek (BE), died in Brussels (BE).

Marthe Wéry is undoubtedly one of the major Belgian artists of the second half of the 20th century. In 2001, following a retrospective at Bozar, on the occasion of the Belgian Presidency of the European Union, she took part, together with photographer Dirk Braeckman and visual artist Jan Fabre, in a project to integrate several works in the Royal Palace, Brussels. She is also featured, through important collections, in most of the Belgian museum collections (MRBA, SMAK, M HKA, MuZée) and abroad, notably at the Center Pompidou and the Musée d'Art Moderne in Paris. It is however the BPS22 Museum of Art of the Province of Hainaut that features the largest number of her works.

Born in Brussels in 1930, Marthe Wéry studied painting at the Grande Chaumière in Paris and studied engraving at Atelier 17 with Stanley William Hayter, while leaning to draw by herself. After several studies, mainly in the field of drawing (landscapes, nudes, battle scenes), she made a name for herself in the Belgian art world with her geometric engravings inspired by constructivism (first solo exhibition at the Galerie Saint Laurent in Brussels). These works are characterised by the accuracy of their composition and the dynamics of the surface textures from which she exploits all their possibilities. A series of geometric paintings followed, inspired directly by her studies in engraving and which capture the essence of engraving: materiality of the medium, variations in texture and reflection of light, among others through the use of spray paints that produce finely speckled surfaces.

In the early 1970s, she turned to a more minimalist form, marked by her grey compositions made of dense lines traced with a ruler; first on canvas, then on paper of various formats and textures. Their indistinct formats, with their uncertain contours, accentuate the dynamic dialectic between structure and format; their knotty textures capture light. It also ensures that each component stands alone: the medium is visible, the ink is perceptible, and the format of the medium is clearly marked. Marthe Wéry got noticed on the international scene and participated in the Fundamental Painting exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam in 1974; then at Documenta 6 in Kassel, Germany.

In 1982, her intervention at the Belgian Pavilion, on the occasion of the Venice Biennale, marked the great return of colour in her work. During this decade, she multiplied the radical experiments that break down the essential components of painting: medium, form, frame, colour. The result of these experiments was the Montreal, Sao Paulo and a/d Drecht series. The canvases of different sizes are like ‘dashes’ of colour, arranged on a white wall. The tension between the shape and the format takes place within the scale of the wall. The architecture of the exhibition site takes an increasingly prominent place in the final installation.

While the beginning of the 80s is marked by the return of colour, the end of this decade and the beginning of the next saw new research leading to radical series: a/d Drecht are series of panels or canvases lined with bevel-cut MDF. The format of the panel is closed by a frame, some sides are left open. The depth of the blue is contradicted by the brutality of the panel. The tension between the blue coloured patch and the raw medium is further amplified a few years later in another series, shown for the first time at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville in Paris, during the exhibition L’Art en Belgique. Un point de vue. A panel in a neutral grey resting on one of the seven panels of raw wood. With this historical series, Marthe Wéry reaches a rare point in her questioning on the support of painting and its limits.

At the beginning of the 80s, Marthe Wéry produced a series of minimalist gray paintings, crossed by flat, horizontal or vertical lines, establishing the passage of different planes. These ‘relief’ paintings emerge from flatness to structure space according to a precise rhythm that modifies the perception of surfaces coloured uniformly. A real plastic rhythm seems to modulate the planes of the painting and, by extension, the architecture that hosts it. A piece, made of two painted wooden panels, superimposed one above the other, with a slight shift, and leaning against the wall, shows the new limit that the artist attains in the decomposition of the components of the painting.

In the mid 90s, Marthe Wéry developed ‘new ways’ of painting, in order to use the potentialities of the surface of the painting; a radical period is followed by a more colourful but always rigorous period, in which some older preoccupations (architecture, luminosity, etc.) were expressed differently. This is the case of the open series Calais, begun in 1995 and prematurely ended at the death of the artist, made of a vast installation of MDF panels, covered with a sky blue, ranging from a dark blue grey to a very refreshing blue-white, which can be reconfigured according to the space of exposure. The ensemble is what we call today a ‘variable media’, that is to say a sort of plastic score (in the musical sense of the term) that must be reinterpreted at each presentation. Like any musical interpretation, presentation is the subject of a distinct appreciation of the work.

Marthe Wéry died in 2005, shortly after her last exhibition, Les Couleurs du Monochrome, organised by the BPS22, at the Museum of Fine Arts in Tournai, as part of Lille 2004, European Capital of Culture.

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