Frank Van den Broeck

Eindhoven NL 1950, lives/works in Amsterdam

In Proust Samuel Beckett says that ‘involuntary memory is an unruly magician and will not be importuned. It chooses its own time and place for the performance of its miracle.’ This excerpt could serve as a motto for the work of Frank Van den Broeck. Anything which is part of his memory, anything which his mind happened to register and retain, can surface at a particular moment and present itself as a theme for one of his drawings or paintings. Van den Broeck’s artistic memory is an active reservoir of potential motifs, one that attests to his interest in literature, music and visual art, but also in everyday life.


‘The subjects comply with the work; they allow themselves to be shaped, and I consider that fundamental,’ says Van den Broeck. Chains of association are formed by recurrent and partially overlapping motifs. Butterflies, faces, skulls, masks, palettes, lenses, binoculars, keyholes. Nothing prevents the viewer or the maker himself from seeing one thing after another in a motif. Neither the meaning, nor even the shape it assumes in a drawing or painting is fixed. Van den Broeck does not design a puzzle or riddle with a single solution, but creates an open, expressive image.

Van den Broeck’s origins, artistically speaking, lie with drawing. Until 1983 he worked in pencil, charcoal or Siberian chalk. During that year, color began to appear in his work in the form of pastels. Later in the eighties there came oil paintings and watercolors, but the motifs remained basically the same. The paintings are more worked and much more hermetic than the drawings, which are literally more open. The more or less figurative elements take shape in beautifully undulating and fluid patterns of lines. All of the lines, all of the hand’s actions remain visible; the source remains evident.

In Sorel, Julien an airy, ghost-like head appears, in profile, against a background of partly heavier and more rigid lines. The title of this drawing refers to the main character in Stendhal’s Le Rouge et le Noir. Titles such as these are not meant to be illustrative or explanatory; they arise from the intuitive process of association, which is the origin of the work as a whole. They do shed light on Van den Broeck’s sources of inspiration, however. His use of literary quotations and ideas from the realm of music indicates a certain like-mindedness. In their dialogue with the work, they constitute a continuation of the imaginative/associative process. In that sense, one can speak of an imaginary portrait of Julien Sorel, based on Van den Broeck’s aesthetic and emotional experience of the novel by Stendhal. But the profile can easily make other connections. At other times, it can be Maria Callas to Van den Broeck, perhaps when he plays a recording of her voice in his studio.

The work of Frank Van den Broeck does not lend itself to rigid divisions. His chameleonic motifs are all part of a single continuum of imagination. Each work zooms in on a detail of this continuum, on a specific moment of recollection.