Saturday, 24 December 2016

Influences 8: James Ensor

James Ensor, The Intrigue, 1890
I first came across the paintings of James Ensor (1860 - 1949) when I was seventeen. The Intrigue, above, absolutely captivated me. How wonderful, then, to be able to stand in front of the real thing over thirty years later! That was a couple of weeks ago and it's still very present in my head.

Intrigue: James Ensor by Luc Tuymans is an exhibition of work by Ensor curated by Tuymans currently showing at the Royal Academy. There are lots of works on paper as well as paintings; drawings and etchings. I'd only seen his paintings before so it was interesting to see his sketches and prints.

James Ensor, Skeletons Fighting over a Pickled Herring, 1891
What do I like about his work? I like the narrative element of course; the weird symbolism of the images keeps me guessing and wondering. I like the satirical works which remind me of the 'cartoons' of James Gillray and other similar artists. I like his macabre sense of humour (see his self-portraits as skeletons with titles such as My Portrait in 1960). I like the way he composed an image and the way he put the paint on the canvas. And in terms of the man himself, I like the way he started out by pinching stuff to paint from the weird collection of tourist tat his mother sold in her shop below his studio. I like the way he lived in Ostend all his life, a small seaside town on the Belgian coast. Above all, I like the way he just got on and did his own unique thing, and never really fitted into a neat category of style or subject matter. 

The exhibition is on until 29 January 2017.

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