Excerpts of a feature article "Op Wandel met een Canadese Kunstenares in België" in the Belgian magazine Leven in Stijl, 2000 (translated from the Flemish by Christian Roy)

Art and Culture Agenda Antwerp On a Walk with a Canadian Artist in Belgium Runhild Roeder:
"If Picasso can make it, why can't I?"

Please allow me to introduce Runhild Roeder, a painter of the "beautiful" at a time in which "das Schöne an sich" has all but disappeared as a category to judge contemporary art. Are we ready for Runhild Roeder's brand of avant-garde, for her apology of Beauty and Truth in the artwork? In her own words: "How do we save the world from ugliness? I am like the mother and father of society." Is her idealism just outmoded utopianism? What are her arguments to go on painting? Is she leading a lonely battle?

Katlijne Van der Stighelen, art history professor at the Catholic University of Leuven, has already written a positive evaluation of Roeder's paintings: "She is concerned with BEING… Roeder's attempt to capture the complexity of everyday life in the year 2000 is authentic, passionate and lyrical." Runhild Roeder … had her first exhibition in 1983 … in Montreal. Her paintings have also been admired in Toronto, Vienna, Delhi, Princeton, Leuven and Antwerp. After a successful career as a therapist, artist and gallerist in Montreal, she chose Europe over Canada and settled down in Belgium, where she still lives. Runhild Roeder states: "Belgium needs its own revolution to which I can give shape." She means to be heard.

Runhild opened her own gallery ÊTRE in Antwerp in February. Before that, she had been studying at the Higher Institute of Philosophy at the Catholic University of Leuven, where she followed the courses of the SLAC Fine Arts Academy and her work was shown at Two-Ten Gallery and Galerie Verve.

It actually began far from here … One day she showed her work at the academy in Vancouver. The teachers observed that her painting displayed the same power and the same playfulness as the works of Paul Klee. She decided to resign her position as a therapist and to devote her life to painting. Her private collection as a gallerist included works from artists of the CoBrA movement (Appel, Alechinsky, Corneille, etc.) and affordable works by Picasso. One of her idols is also the American painter R. B. Kitaj, who kept exploring pictorial problems in his work, for which David Hockney had high regard. Another artist admired of the latter was Francis Bacon (1909-1992). In Belgium's Royal Museum of Fine Arts that we visited together in Brussels, Roeder was moved by the use of the colour purple in Bacon's "The Pope with Owls" (1958). She is also captivated by a haunting 1908 self-portrait by Léon Spilliaert (1881-1946) as well as by his landscapes (e.g. "The Sea-Wall", 1909), that hover between reality and abstraction. Runhild Roeder enjoys the play between colours, lines and shapes, making her own the words of Paul Klee: "I take colours for ride, lines for a walk, shapes and forms for a swim."

This brings us to a discussion of the "genius principle". Does she think of herself as a genius or as a gifted artist? Her answer is "yes", but she quickly qualifies it by stating that it is all a matter of play, where all —creators and viewers— are involved as participants in the broader play that rules everything: "You have to know that you are directed."

In short: Runhild Roeder is an artist who distances herself from ugliness in art and life. Her art is an ode to painting, in which she does not deny tradition. Yet in her play with lines, colours and shapes, she attains authenticity anew at every moment.

Gallery-Studio Être is located at Kloosterstraat 85 in Antwerp.

Sofie Van Loo
Photography: Luc Peeters


Runhild Roeder in Antwerp
(A prominent art historian's statement from the booklet for Roeder's 2000 Belgian show, translated in part from the Flemish by Christian Roy)

Good afternoon from Antwerp, Kloosterstraat 52. Is there any relation between Runhild Roeder and Antwerp? Yes, there is. Is there any relation between Runhild Roeder and Bredabaan? Yes, there is. Is there any relation between Runhild Roeder and Manhattan? Yes, there is. Is there any relation between Runhild Roeder and the philosophical insights of Hans-Georg GADAMER? Yes, there is.

If you want to know more about this remarkable cocktail, you have to look at the paintings by Roeder exhibited here at this particular moment. Every aspect of her art has to do with 'Aankomst'. That is, the 'Arrival of Apertures'.

Roeder recently wrote a thesis entitled What is understanding if not an encounter with truth?, a text profoundly inspired by Gadamer's views on the ontological explanation of the work of art. A painting or sculpture cannot be seen as 'un objet gratuit', but has to be interpreted as a bridge, as a play that offers the clue to ontological explanation. To paint becomes to play on an existential level. The true or the beautiful is raised in the work of art. Art is a play of perception and imagination.

The beautiful is relevant because it has to do with intuition as well as with the spiritual. For Gadamer, the artist has society in view. The work is what endures and therefore the work will act upon the viewer. It has a structure of play and challenge. Looking at pictures is becoming someone else.

In this way, the artist has the opportunity to change or transform the viewer. The process of looking at — has to do with the relevance of the beautiful. Therefore, it can be connected to the ontological function of art.

Today it has become extremely difficult to discuss 'the beautiful' as a category in contemporary art. The beautiful as such has disappeared, as painting as such has disappeared. Every reference to the traditional tools of painting or sculpture has been cancelled.

Runhild Roeder does not fit in this tradition of 'homines novi'. She never denies tradition but recovers as much of it as she can. She likes to paint, to use brushes and oil on canvas.

And besides this, shes likes colours. She only applies colours as signals, as symbols of her own symbolic system. She prefers 'non-colours' like black and white with a touch of yellow, red or blue. Is it mere coincidence that her palette consists of primary colours? Or does it illustrate her fundamental approach? Her art is never vain, as it offers a rich existential message. In her philosophical dissertation, Roeder cites the poet Paul Celan : 'who will give witness to the witness'(Wer zeugt für den Zeugen?) In this exhibition, every viewer is invited in a peculiar way 'to give witness as a witness'.

What are the themes to be discovered in Roeder? The title always shows the way. A title has a function and is not to be emphasized for the sake of hermeticisim. Some paintings are part of a series. Thus Bredabaan I and Bredabaan II or Being in New York and Manhattan, Sunlight in the Studio, an exceptional diptych. Roeder's paintings are always symbolic windows: through the artist's particular life-world, they offer a glimpse of another world that she has something to do with but that is not unproblematically her own. Her canvases question the world as a cosmopolitan given. Antwerp or New York do not fundamentally differ from each other, as the same pair of eyes discovers another city that ever remains other. Roeder is telling her tale of different cities. She is not a primitive (anymore) but owes her inspiration to the bustling, always effervescent urban environment. On the street, she allows herself to be moved by the stark, dark outline of desolate skyscrapers in Manhattan or by the poetic blues in which Venice soaks.

Her message is clear. She is concerned with BEING; it is no accident that Being as such is the title of one of her paintings. And life or 'being' always has something to do with pain. Desolate but resolute is the title of another work. In spite of everything, there are signs of hope in her painting, even of existential hope.

Roeder's attempt to come to grips with the complexity of everyday life in the year 2000 is authentic, passionate, and lyrical. Her quest only occasionally leads to Unshakeable Joy; just then, fireworks of colours erupt and project yellow and red hues like flames beyond the canvas. At that moment, Runhild Roeder disappears in the painting to rise again from it as a phoenix. The woman and the artist revive. The 'Arrival' is assured. In this way, she is the author of her own avant- garde.

Pr. Katlijne Van der Stighelen
(Coordinator of the Research Unit Archaeology, Art History and Musicology at the Catholic University of Leuven)
December 1999