Introduction by Hans Op De Beeck
Visual artist Koen Fillet paints his images. With his paintings he translates the world and the pictures surrounding us. Out of the torrent of image information engulfing us every day, Fillet picks elements, isolates details, interprets forms, colours, excerpts and proportions. Paint as a medium fits the image maker like a glove: the time and focus needed for processing and abstracting the found images, the being ‘en route’ of painting enable the birth of Fillet’s voice and message.
And his message is everything but singular. As of yet Fillet does not work in grand thematic movements. He gathers his body of images with the most divers content. Never singular or shallow, his young oeuvre gives the viewer the freedom to interpret and associate, and weigh the message of the work personally.
Fillet conveys but never moralizes. When titling a painting of a lifeless man on the ground ‘Winter’ (2015) and that of a dead woman ‘Summer’ (2014), he merely refers to the quality of the colours and the light capturing the bodies, not to the news item behind the scene or a possible death cause, such as murder. The scenes exempt of commotion, the titles lacking dramatic interpretation and the intimate format of both canvasses … the diptych portrays death in the quietest way. Free of pathos the paintings gain a subcutaneous intensity. We like to keep violence and horror at arm’s length, preferably in the extreme context of an overseas war territory. But when horror is portrayed in a small and everyday setting, it comes disconcertingly close. It hits slower but cuts deeper.
In Fillet’s exposition, paintings depicting death blend with lighter themed paintings, such as a rack of lab coats (‘Thirteen’, 2014), a bath tub drain (‘Hole’, 2014) or the almost calligraphic picture of an air grate (‘Frans Spaestraat 35’, 2013). With this exhibition approach the artist’s invites his audience to make their own moral weighing. The hierarchy of how to ethically read his body of work Fillet gladly leaves to the viewer.
The seemingly ordinary pictures of anonymous persons, surroundings, objects and props – where content is suggested – alternate paintings where Fillet starts from a more specific context. ‘A hell of a job’ (2015) is such a work: thirty schematic variations of a praying arch bishop Léonard are based on a statement of this clergyman, claiming he also prays for those we deem not human or worthy of salvation like murderers and rapists. By repeating the image Fillet refers to every prayer said for yet another criminal. Aside from this, the formal repetition of the bishop’s portrait – an almost decorative leitmotiv – entices a strong alienation and pries the image away from its original significance.
Thus, Fillet’s paintings referring to current or historic events are not mere illustrations or anecdotes, but offer the same broader and open perspective of the other paintings in his oeuvre, alternating critical content and formal playfulness.
Most striking in Fillet’s paintings is the use of colour. One could imagine his oeuvre in muted, pallid, de-saturated colours. Yet the fact that the artist fully opts to use colour is bold and refreshing. White coats on a peg (“Thirteen“, 2014) teem in Fillet’s palette of colour. For the portrait of the historic figure Frau Kopper (2014) Fillet crowns the blue hues of her face with bright red dots. For the close-up of a shipping container (‘Container‘, 2014) he chooses a warm and deep yellow.
Also formally the artist likes to trick our observation. In several paintings he places three dimensional image fragments in an explicitly flat decor of colour surfaces. With these decisions he clearly conveys construction and deconstruction, and he creates and breaks the illusion of the painted image in one single movement. In some works this leads to slightly absurd results, such as in the full scale portrait ‘Vanishing Lady’ (2014) where a leg is missing and the head is set outside the frame of the painting. Just as with ‘Frau Kopper’ (2014), a touching woman’s portrait in vivid green and red shades, you clearly sense the investigating process of painting, and feel the joy of playing of an artist who decides to let the painting take over as the storyteller.
The bright colours and often sketchy brush strokes keep Fillet’s oeuvre fresh and digestible without it ever becoming superficial – quite on the contrary. We need to read the deeper meaning of his work in between the lines of the paintings, though their titles might give us a hint. Whoever bothers to google the names or references used in some of the titles, probably will perceive certain works differently, yet Fillet does not use these additional elements to legitimize the content.
For the artist it is the image that has to speak, nothing more, nothing less. It’s the image that invites the viewer to experience the work and reflect upon it – in a silent and intimate or a generous and lively way.
Hans Op de Beeck