Johan Tahon (b. Menen, Belgium, 1965) did not become a sculptor. He has always been a sculptor and always will be. For him, sculpture is like breathing. From a young age, he had already discovered that objects lent a lightness to the darkness of existence. Pain was his driving force, and yet each of the sculptures created by his hands afforded him a glimpse of the beauty of rebirth. Tahon was immediately hooked, went on to study sculpture at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts (KASK) in Ghent, and was a player in the international art arena before the age of thirty. Since then, he has been journeying constantly in order never to arrive. He lives and works in Belgium and Switzerland.
Restless and filled with longing for the inexpressible, Johan Tahon explores the boundaries of the great unknown. Trusting in his material, technique and skill, he goes in search of the nothing that is at once everything in a manner that is as fearless as it is stubborn. Of a present that is also past and future. And of the silence that speaks volumes. Over the past few decades, Tahon has breathed life into an impressive sequence of mysterious bronze, plaster and ceramic sculptures: injured giants and unapproachable angels, tormented creatures and modest monks, sensual nudes and amorphous hybrids. All of these – whether they fit into the palm of a hand or reach up to a monumental height – float between the earth and the heavens.
For Johan Tahon, ‘searching’ also means breaking out of the cocoon of one’s own discipline over and over again. He is a passionate music and literature lover, and conversely, many writers and musicians have been inspired by his work. These include the Belgian poet Peter Verhelst, the all-round American artist Lee Ranaldo (Sonic Youth) and the German singer Till Lindemann (Rammstein). In the solo exhibition Wir überleben das Licht at the Bonnenfantenmuseum in Maastricht in 2018, Tahon’s great loves came together: his sculptures claimed their place in amongst the medieval wooden sculptures and were simultaneously enriched by poems from Lindemann.
There was also a recent solo exhibition of Tahon’s work at the Princessehof Museum in Leeuwarden. His work is currently on display at Musée Ariana in Geneva, amongst others, and there are two exceptional solo exhibitions in the pipeline at the MOU in Oudenaarde (Belgium) and the SZU Fine Arts Museum in Shenzhen (China). Tahon’s sculptures have been travelling permanently since 1994. They have gone to Lustwarande04 in Tilburg, Ceramix in Paris and Sèvres, Human Condition in Los Angeles and the Istanbul Biennale. They have also made stops at the Gerhard Marcks Haus in Bremen, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington and the Topkapi Paleis in Istanbul, amongst others. They have stayed behind in public and private collections including those of the S.M.A.K., the M HKA, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the Gemeentemuseum in Den Haag, the FMAC in Paris, the Museo Internazionale delle Ceramiche in Faenza, Museum Kunstpalast in Düsseldorf and the residence of the Dutch Royal Family in The Hague.
A number of monumental works by Tahon have also found homes for themselves in public spaces, including in the atrium of the Ministry of Finance in The Hague, the CBS in Heerlen, and the Marktkirche in Hannover. One of Tahon’s most important sculptures now stands in the spot where Hitler ordered a synagogue to be burned down in 1938: Twins – Zwillinge, a monument of apology and atonement. Another important sculpture, Eros - Eroos, was recently given a permanent place at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel.
Michaël de Kok (b. 1958) made his name primarily with schematically constructed and broadly rendered figurative landscapes - vast, quiet, shadowless - occasionally traversed by a highway or a bridge. Gradually the desolation gained ground. Here and there the painter still sprinkled mysterious, angular, abandoned structures into his landscapes - as obstacles to catch our eye and as symbols of the human, careless treatment of that landscape.
But make no mistake: although Michaël de Kok based his paintings on real landscapes, he was not concerned with topographical or climatological accuracy. He painted from memory. His landscapes have always been memories and dreams: 'after-images', explorations in paint, an ode to the freedom of the mind and of painting.
In his most recent paintings, Michaël de Kok seems to have let go of figuration altogether. His landscapes have become dynamic fields of color. It is as if he has turned his landscape a quarter turn, so that the horizon has become vertical. He usually works with two color fields that meet at a boundary - a 'vertical horizon' - which is invariably under tension.
In one of his works, that vertical boundary is painted on a presumably yellow ground layer, on which the dirty pink and pale blue color planes meet, creating a frayed, different-colored edge: call it - with a figurative eye - 'a glowing horizon'. In the other paintings, too, the boundary between the color planes is an emphatic, briskly brushed line. Subtle, fanning traces of paint seem to defy gravity in the process. None of these color planes is truly painted in monochrome. The paint may have been smoothed out with barely visible brushstrokes, but the color clouds all kinds of hues that seem to suggest remnants of hills and valleys. Michaël de Kok adds even more dynamism by applying diagonal, differently shaded sections of color to the edges of some paintings. On one occasion the painter radically separated the two areas of color by working on two separate canvases that he hung side by side with a space of at most two centimeters between them.
Although the oeuvre of Barnett Newman comes to mind, Michaël de Kok is clearly on a personal quest. It seems as if the painter wants to conquer more freedom and has let go of the figurative image as much as possible in order to indulge himself completely in the paint, which he illuminates masterfully and in all its subtle shades.
Michaël de Kok studied at the Academy of Breda and at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam. Works by him can be found in the Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden (NL), in the Museum Schunk, Heerlen (NL), The New Art Gallery, Wallsall (UK) collection.