Press Review

Guillaume Leunens’ name appears in the following works:  » E. Benezit: Dictionnaire des peintres, sculpteurs, dessinateurs et graveurs « ,  » Dictionnaire biographique des artistes belges »,  » Nouveau dictionnaire biographique européen (Who is Who) « and others. The books on Guillaume Leunens by Mr. van Jole, « Leunens peintre de vie » by Xavier Franc, the review Flits and various critiques have been used to finalize this porte-folio.

Altagor, Paris, April 3 1961

After three years of absences in Spain and the south of France, his Nordic temperament confronting the colors of the south, a flemish painter-worker, a painter-poet, came back to Paris, « to see, he said, what is there, not to do what we see », bringing us together a personal ensemble of a beautiful unity.

Did he express entirely his voluble temperament, intensively passionate, a crossing of anguish and nostalgia? Did he project his memories of Flemish plains under the sleepy seasons, its deadened climates suddenly agitated by storms, its fertile lands of dark colors, the ambiguous faces in the picturesque towns, the hard working coal miners , the massive factories surrounded by old walls in the style of a Van Gogh or a Verhaeren, or the unsure atmosphere where still hangs the shadowy dream of a Rodenbach, the exuberance of popular festivities, the truculence of folkloric dances, and its long solitudes of a loveless child, the lost young person, always pushed by his ideal and his rich nature? All this universe is finally transported, not described, in his painting.

Either he entrusted himself in his poems, of spontaneous writing, or he projected himself on his burned surfaces, glued superimposed, and grated, however always with sobriety in all his shades, without excess in his reliefs cut at right angles, in his glowing embers, his calcinated minerals, his obscure fireplace, his polished masses, hot as baking ovens, he does not provide us with all the secrets that inspire him. A wide unconscious power remains in the bottom of his desire. But his work is there, rich in existence: It suffices to contemplate them to love them.

André Marc. Brussels, the 6-7 May 1961 Lantern

Between « action painting » where the spontaneous gesture and the subconscious impulses, theoretically, are the only guide, and the calculated  »geometrism » where the forms, the lines and the colors respond to an intentional and controlled organization of the surface of the panel, the non-figurative art covers a wide universe, whose center remains with evidence and even with insistance, the man. Not an absolute being, a kind of archetype, nor even the reassuring image of the « alma Sana in corpore Sano », but a man made of concern and hope, convinced that the immediate appearances are not limits entrenched and that beyond the objectivity of the reason, the logic opens another universe, which is also his own.

A part of the non-figurative art wanted to explore these areas still unclear and create a language that can become as representative as that of the forms borrowed to reality. The works of Guillaume Leunens offer, in this subject, a beautiful example of the balance between what the poet feels and what the painter knows, between what the artist designs as an artist and what he expresses of indefinable and mysterious in his paintings.

These works make you think of a form of neo-expressionism, whose lyricism, instead of developing into tumultuous waves, has been channelled in a fairly strict architecture. The construction is based on an ensemble of quadrangular surfaces, elongated in the sense of the verticality and which generates a rate of lines and forms. By his own painting, Guillaume Leunens envelopes this construction and takes away the excess geometrical rigor by integrating it into modulations of colors, in degraded light to dark, in changing certain forms of precision lines into imprecision. Some edges of this architecture have a slight relief, previously obtained, at the time of gluing on rigid panels. The finished paintings have the effect of catching the light and to highlight certain lines by a natural sparkle, according to their exposition to the light.

The light moreover, plays an essential role in the works of Leunens, a light which has little relationship with that of the impressionists, which takes rather the appearance of a « Rembranesque » clarity, however we cannot, strictly speaking, qualify it as clair-obscur. Rather, it is a shadowy envelope, pierced here and there by sharp light. In fact, this light, which is also color, creates a climate, sometimes of violence, as in “ »Nero », or of mystery, as in the « Isis ». It gives, through its modulations and by its dominant tone, an atmosphere that is more psychological than physical, to those strange architectures, temples and cathedrals, outside time and space.

L.L. Sosset, Bruxelles, Beaux-Arts 1964

How not to be interested in the exhibition hung to the high walls of the gallery « The Zodiac »? It is to aluminum that Leunens entrusts the expression of his pictorial sensitivity. The panels he presents constitute the culmination of a long internal evolution assisted by a patient tuning of the processes of implementation. His taste for subtly worked materials very certainly inspired him, but even more his mysterious fascination for the modulations of the color gray. With him, the vision of space breathes, lives, and is charged with the resonance of perceptive emotion.

The material he works reveals above all the originality and refinement of his technical talent. This Flemish Parisian has succeeded in giving his smooth surfaces a whole range of warm harmonious gradations, ranging from dull to shiny, from understated modulations to radiant reliefs on black ground.

Upon nocturnal backgrounds, we find traits of color and receding lines whose light touch brings to life the inspiration, the depth and the magic of the monochrome surfaces. These remarkable metallic monochromes by Leunens show even more the many successes of this artist, springing from the means and poetic of a graphical heritage.

André Marc.Brussels, November 7,1964 La lantern

Like many artists nowadays, Guillaume Leunens is preoccupied with the issues of space and movement. However, he gave a new interpretation to the plastic expression of these two factors. The notion of space has been sensitized and spiritualized through a play of modulations, ranging from black over a diversity of metallic gray shades to silver.

This tonality covers the surface of the painting and wraps, at times, the areas containing slight relief, which appear like materials integrated in the depth of this space. Combined with the modulations of color, they have the effect of revealing the three-dimensional appearance of the subject and giving, in a certain way, depth and volume to the space. In this environment bodies are moving, such as meteors falling into pieces under the effect of speed and underlining their trajectory with a luminous slipstream; bodies that are indefinable but at the same time materialized by a greatly accentuated relief.

Here we have a method of painting whose deprivation and apparent simplicity emphasize the evocative power. At a time that is characterized by the cosmos and crazy speeds in space, this method suggests through the very absence of relations with anything terrestrial (be it only the color) a supra terrestrial universe. One could almost say that Guillaume Leunens’ art gives such an impression of truth and objectivity that it represents no longer abstraction but rather anticipatory realism.

L.L. Sosset, Bruxelles, Beaux-Arts 1968

Painting with metal is, on the other hand, Guillaume Leunens’ art. Born in Belgium but living in Paris, he has, in the last few years, created his own discpline, for which he has meanwhile largely softened and developed the means. He uses the projection of molten aluminum and its artisanal treatment in order to develop, within this support itself, generally spiral or circular rythms from which emerges something like the mystery of an elementary cosmic presence. Giving a cold industrial material the poetics of suggestion, a visual warmth and a whole range of luminous vibrations is the profound, and so fascinating, characteristic of his originality. The modulation he imposes on the plays of light, of darkness, of shades of color, and of reliefs identify themselves with a vital authentic impulse, thus proving that there is no gap in his works between the imagination and the creation, between the subjectivity of the design and the means of creation.

Reggui, Orléans, La République du Centre, March 15 1968

Guillaume Leunens occupies a unique position in the world of painting. In the first place, the parents of this Belgian painter were workers and he himself was a worker in a foundry. He kept of his origins and of his time as a factory worker the fundamental qualities of a conscientious and skilled worker respecting the material he is working with: either colors or metal. His attitude towards reality is that of a person knowing the inestimable price of everything. His intention is to express it in its complexity, however not without a certain creative inspiration that establishes it firmly and enlarges it until it becomes a unique universe of capturing beauty.

In the second place, the autodidact Guillaume Leunens has developed, through his own experiments, an outstanding technique: more thanks to the expertise of the artisan than to that of the artist who is full of the teachings of whatever art school. His oil paintings, which we will not see at the exhibition, and his metals, are the results of influences – Breughel, van Gogh and Permeke – under which he came during his visits to museums and during his technological apprenticeship as an adolescent.

This blend of the experienced and the acquired has created a synthesis of techniques, which results in the use of aluminum in form of large sheets stretched on a frame. They will not fail to immediately surprise the visitor. However, the eyes finally enter the harmonious play of modulations ranging from black over a diversity of metallic gray shades to silver. This voluntary deprivation, which does not lack an analogy with that of contemporary music, is of a certain pathetic greatness in spite of the material used: aluminum.

In this choice lies yet another reason for Guillaume Leunens originality: having expressed, in an admirable way, through « metal »…, the two fundamental notions of the art of painting: space and movement. This he achieves through a series of bumps and hollows with stripes in all directions across them, which captivate the light and reproduce it in different shades, whose obscure shimmer creates all kinds of variations emphasizing the relief and making it palpable and mobile. The dominant impression is that of a meteoric universe which already reflects a world that is felt by anticipation.

Guillaume Leunens has displayed his works many times in Brussels, as of last month, as well as in Paris, in Tunis and in Spain. The inauguration of his exhibition in Orléans will take place this Friday, at 4 o’clock pm, salle Péguy, in the presence of the artist who will readily converse with the visitors this afternoon and Saturday.

E.L. « La nouvelle République », March 23-24 1968

Association Populaire Art et Culture (Popular Art and Culture Association), Friday, March 15.

A vernissage unlike others. An exhibition unlike others: no crowds, a certain meditation and silence, and Leunens, the painter, who is presenting his work. Leunens, the painter? Or the sculptor? On the spot, you don’t dare giving your opinion: you are surrounded by large metal sheets with a suppressed, patinated and downy shine… No, although the three dimensional temptation had to be subtle, Leunens remains a painter, however one of shy greatness, frankness and courage. Of course, Leunens does not appeal to those who like anecdotal and easy art. However, nowadays the general public never confuses different styles. Although the sheet metal is suspected because of its shine, but tenderly tamed, Leunens gives it the quality of noble materials, original but disturbing. Leunens respects this surface and keeps himself from the easy use of the burin.

On the contrary, he incorporates into it, until complete uniqueness of the ruptures is reached, molten metal without ever betraying the chosen vertical. An ambiguous profile of harmony, however caught in the trap of the metal sheet, powerful orbs and celestial systems seduce us without concession and impose themselves by screaming out their silence. Of such immobility that one cannot even be sure to understand it, just like the slow clockwork of the cycle of days and nights. And nights. And solitude. Leunens or the painter of the night. The silence, the anxiety – accepting them but not submitting to them – in a transmutation into bald metal. No one is unfamiliar to the field chosen by Leunens.

However, what this painter is presently displaying at the Centre Charles Péguy cannot be put into words; it has to be contemplated, like his own solitude, it has to be looked at, seen, experienced.

A.Durieux, Bruxelles, autumn 1971

Are true artists intended to work in the indifference, simply because they are ahead or just outside of their time? It is common place to repeat that no one is a prophet in his own country. How original and intelligent would it be to confound the proverbs.

L.L. Sosset, « Poésie graphique », Flits, Printemps 1973, p.36

Leunens uses aluminum in order to manifest his sensitivity as a painter. The panels he presents to us are the final step in a long-time personal evolution and improvement of his working processes.

The particularity of the subtly worked material, and even more the mysterious charm of modulations of the color gray, have certainly inspired him. A whole range of accumulated emotions live and breathe in his work.

The material he works with reveals above all the originality and refinement of his technical talent.

Thanks to his personal experiences, this Flemish Parisian has succeeded in giving his smooth surfaces a whole range of warm harmonious gradations, ranging from dull to brilliant, from understated modulations to radiant reliefs on black ground. We find trails of color and receding lines whose light touch brings to life the inspiration, the depth and the magic of the monochrome surfaces.

These remarkable metallic monochromes by Leunens show even more the mature talent of this artist as for the use of his resources.

The result is graphical poetry.

L.L. Sosset, « Poésie graphique », Flits, Printemps 1973, p.36

Leunens uses aluminum in order to manifest his sensitivity as a painter. The panels he presents to us are the final step in a long-time personal evolution and improvement of his working processes.

The particularity of the subtly worked material, and even more the mysterious charm of modulations of the color gray, have certainly inspired him. A whole range of accumulated emotions live and breathe in his work.

The material he works with reveals above all the originality and refinement of his technical talent.

Thanks to his personal experiences, this Flemish Parisian has succeeded in giving his smooth surfaces a whole range of warm harmonious gradations, ranging from dull to brilliant, from understated modulations to radiant reliefs on black ground. We find trails of color and receding lines whose light touch brings to life the inspiration, the depth and the magic of the monochrome surfaces.

These remarkable metallic monochromes by Leunens show even more the mature talent of this artist as for the use of his resources.

The result is graphical poetry.

Phil Mertens, « Feu et métal », Flits, no 19, Printemps 1973, p.36-38

Translated from Flemish by Marcella Vanden-Abeele

There is relentlessness in his way of life, in the way he defends conceptions and feelings, in his fight with his material. In Leunens’ case, such obstinacy becomes a quality: it refers to the nocturnal depths of his Brabantians years when, as a night factory worker in Halle, he conversed with the darkness of the night where he led his physical and mental combat.

For years his enthusiastic passion and exertion have influenced his solitude and became the weapons to combat the duplicity of his own life, when confronted with that of other people. And yet, this lonely fight never turned into a condemnation of others. It conformed to his inner need to keep his distance, to take all the risks, with only his work and his craftsmanship as certainties. In the hectic Parisian atmosphere Leunens drew a magical circle, protecting his artistic instinct and craftsmanship and permitting him, in the limited space of an apartment in Paris, to realize the wonder of fire and liquid metal.

The hermetic language of Fire and Metal intrigue him; this language manifest itself gradually to the attentive eye of the visitor. The existence of pale and dark relates to an intimacy with the night: these two elements fascinate his sight, which, as the night approaches, has grasped the variation of black and gray subtleties. Leunens experienced the materiality of the night.

His first paintings convey the silence of a moon scenery and the impossibility of « cats in the night ». Later, flames and soot came to be with the paper, while now the inner shifting play of light in the metal with its reflections brings to life a monotype, a relief or a sculpture.

Leunens’ hand became familiar with the instinct of fire and metal. These medias give concrete form to space with an inner light, just as he did before with the oil paintings, the transmutation happens before our eyes. If we touch the metallic sheet, our hand is amazed to find it smoother than a fine cloth and of an untold depth. Traces of the artist’s effort have disappeared; after the physical exertion of planning down, the hammer blows and the rapt attention of the bold adventure, now there is only peace and the stillness of the completed work, like a musical pause. To this silence clings the mark, discreetly, so that the eye can reach further and penetrate into the inner space moving slowly, harmoniously between light and dark. The simple balance does not tell its secrets nor the mystery of the ultimate touch; for the hand guides the liquid metal, just as it guided the oil paint remembering previous exertions. It has stopped the gesture on that outer limit where words can no longer convey a message. The picture evoked by the mark, is dissolved by the material. The risk of intentional figuration has been avoided for the sake of a certain hermetism.

Sensibility controls the technique which on its turn corrects the instinct. An uninterrupted fire unites the man with his work, a bond that becomes even stronger because of the joy of creating and the enthusiasm that are the basis of Guy Leunens’ art: this becomes his characteristic.


A Belgian painter that as early as 1956, Xavier Franc, faithful friend of our A. P. A. M. , presented to amateurs, by revealing to us « Leunens, painter of life » (1). And, already, he showed us Guillaume Leunens « creating, leading, whatever happens, the struggle for the art ».

A year later, in 1957, he moves to Paris, leaving with his brother in Belgium, all works created until then. First Figurative, with a trend toward the Neo-Expressionism, he orients himself toward the abstract as soon as he comes in our city. And, very quickly, he will invent very personal techniques to create such works which have led to these  »metal compositions » that we have been able to see, in 1963 at the Cybernetics Art Center (2) and that R. -V. Gindertael presented to us. Leunens’ aluminum sheets strongly retained our attention, intriguing as they differed from everything we have been used to see.
How has he come to those strange works of metal?

As soon as he is in Paris, he uses a series of techniques that he invented: « Grattage » on paper for his drawings with Chinese ink, or Monotypes achieved with smoke on isorel panels and which he then scratches,…use of paper soaked with sugared water…, etc… And, already, he works directly on canvas with fire, after having coated this canvas of a layer of oil color, white, yellow, etc… The fire is produced by a cloth soaked in turpentine: in the paint layer, he creates reliefs: The canvas had, first, been prepared with white of Meudon and rabbit skin glue (as did the Primitive…). This canvas, as thus treated, is then applied to another, well tensed canvas and, thus, creates reliefs: then, he painted in white, yellow, green…to recreate a uniform background…and it is with this background that he works with Fire… It is very difficult, with words, to account for this extraordinary technique which results in these luminous works…

To understand the need for technique that haunts him, one must know that he was formerly a molder worker in a bronze and copper foundry, in Belgium: from there came his use of metal and fire for the creation of his current works. Up until 1945, he was a foundry worker, while devoting his leisure time to his painting… It is that way that he conquered this sense for the matter and also the vast experience acquired by the hands of a laborer! Love of the matter? Perhaps, but with a single end: to impose his view of what he, the artist, must tell us. In fact, he studied extensively the techniques of the Ancients in interrogating their works. In fact, that is what has encouraged him in all his daring experiments. Thus, in 1960-61 he made water colors with Nescafé! Then, to this product he mixed the colors from the water color tubes: he gets a kind of matter of paste that kept the transparency. And, sometimes, to this matter, he joined the « Grattage » technique.

It is only in 1949- at 35 years of age- that he was able to fully devote himself to Art… after a long period of difficulties ever since his childhood where he was raised in an orphanage, before working in the foundry plant. Ever since that distant time, he had felt very isolated… and, only Painting had been his release. At 35 years of age, he followed the courses of the Academy…in fact, since childhood, he is attracted by Art and, since 1930, he had followed carefully all the artistic avant-garde events. Since 1960, he transposes his paintings unto metal.

Autodidact, master of his technique, he wants to put it at his « inspirational » service. Thus, we approach the works, to question it.

From 1964, here is « Isis », carried out with metal on paper: that is a project for a series of works of metal that he prepares and which he calls « Arr-Koss »; the very names that identify his works are sometimes abstract!

In fact, he uses all the materials! The fragments of glass, in 1963 « Iris », « Christ »… and even wood fibres. His last works are metal: each is fixed on a frame as would be a canvas, and its surface is covered with reliefs which shine under the light and seem animated. What metal? Aluminum, steel sheet…but it is as a Painter that he works on the metal, not as a Sculptor.

He feels an intense need to force the material to express what he apprehends- without his knowledge- in this Era of the Atom where he believes, Paintings will not find its place anymore: It is Metal which is the matter of our time…

When is it finished? He has the feeling that « it is good »..; otherwise he tears the metallised paper or, he waits in the uncertainty: he retouches, he corrects… How, then, does he feel that « it is OK»? Without hesitation, he told us: « It is my instinct that decides ».
We are therefore in the presence of a completely new technique : this Art of Metal. To the new forms which express our time, are added now this new technology: the Metal replaces the Painting in this century of the Atom…Like van Gogh did , with the same ardour, Leunens puts in place a new language PLASTIC LANGUAGE: after that of WAVES, that of the ATOM? All these points of metal, which inspire, with their relief, the surface of the work, appear to reveal a secret technique that intrigues: the metal on paper, then the relief on metal; wouldn’t intervene known techniques suche as the « emboss »… the reverse of the work shines as a mirror! Aluminum, steel sheet … is stretched on the frame as would a canvas…

This artist, who uses this mysterious technique to reveal what our Present world communicates to him, has much travelled across Europe for twenty years. And since 1956, a dozen of personal exhibitions have made his work known as has also his participation to about fifteen group exhibitions: one can see a permanent exhibit of his works at the gallery of Verneuil (2). They seem to open a new path to the Plastic Language of the present, offering new ways of expression.

1-Xavier Franc Leunens, peintre de vie (Ed. »La Sève » Bruxelles, 1956).
2-Galerie de Verneuil, 20, rue de Verneuil, Paris (7e).
3-La peinture Abstraite en Flandres. Préface de Emile Langui. Texte de Michel Seuphor (1963).

R.V.Gindertael Paris

Metal and fire, the material and element he got to know during his first practical job experiences, characterize the originality of Leunens’ work. It would have been a logical consequence that the choice of that material and formative element make him participate in the new efforts made by the iron sculptors. However, Leunens did not take this direction, because when he started his experiments, he was already a painter. And when he had come to the point of wishing to abandon the traditional means of painting, which he found outdated for himself, he nevertheless always respected the pictorial means of expression and developed new techniques which, in his view, had to correspond better to the style of the modern world and allowed him to adapt more precisely the dimensional suggestions of this works to the extraordinary expansion of the spatial field at a time when the conquest of the cosmos was taking place.

So we see, in his recent works, how those small relief elements, … emphasizing his metal sheets, which are animated and almost dematerialized by trails of shadow and light, act in a purely visual manner in order to establish space relations and provide strong anchorage points to the fervour of the mind seeking supra terrestrial evasion.

His conviction and inspiration have certainly not changed since he created his first works of art. However, one can easily see that, thanks to new working methods, he has succeeded in sensitizing these relief structures to a greater extent and, above all, in materializing in a certain way the very mobility and rapidity of the trajectory of these projections, thus emphasizing the active spatiality of his surfaces.

We can only hope that Leunens will soon be given the occasion of creating large murals in which his highly personal art style could demonstrate its real value.

Reggui, Orleans

The painter Guillaume Leunens is a person of feverish sensibility, who embraced his time with unconditional enthusiasm. His exhibitions in the Péguy showroom are a hymn and tribute to a material that is fundamentally characteristic of our time: metal, used more in our modern civilization than ever before.

Rather than submitting in a positive way to the reign of metal, Leunens has tried to penetrate its system in order to reveal its hidden threats. Craftsman and technician, but also endowed with a generous character, Leunens has in a certain way tried to exorcise the metal – in this case the aluminum – of a more poetic treatment and of being considered simpler and more noble than other metals, and to make it more favourable to man by revealing its beauty.

With this purpose in mind, he developed, after numerous experiments, a new language enabling the human spirit to penetrate the material. This was the completely natural development of an artist who, after having followed – not without a certain originality – the paths of traditional painting, chose still unexplored paths which lead him to the discovery of a new world. The world of night and stars, for which the aluminum with its texture and characteristics was just the perfect material. The effects he has created take the visitors’ breath away.

His large creations, with a whole variety of gray shades ranging from silver to dark and opposing each other, irresistibly evoke worlds in evolution or in opposition. The lines are shooting out with great passion; the sheets of granular gray cover shapes, either immense or cut to shreds, that make you, think of universes in permanent evolution. The lyricism of the stroke or line, the mathematical play of the curves and the profound graining give the aluminum a meaning that goes beyond it: an almost mystic fusion with the cosmos brought down to earth.

Besides his large works, we find above all metallic « monotypes ». Their style is the same, but they have been produced on paper sheets. They have been created according to a technique developed by Leunens, who is presently the only painter knowing that « secret ». The results are amazing. Each monotype possesses a power of emotion and beauty due to the mastery with which Leunens has engraved the metal. Roughness, unevenness, light: everything converges in order to restore the poetic virtue of the aluminum. Gray shades less hard or profound, blend in a subtle play in order to lend unexpected charm and attraction to the small work of art.

What is striking is the profound unity of the inspiration which, without repeating itself and because it is based on a continuing observation of reality, leads to creations of a unique style. It does not appear undue to conclude that Leunens is one of the few painters who are precursors in an art that is meant to express the world in evolution around us. He senses, with trembling sensitivity and sharp intelligence, the large trends of this world and expresses them by means of the material best qualified to enclose the maximum of human warmth.

Atelier d’art Leliegracht 38, Amsterdam, Holland

…The present exhibition discloses only one facet of his creative capacities to our public namely the so-called « monotypes métalliques » (metallic monotypes). In the near future we shall enable you to get acquainted with his sculptures and murals as well.

These monotypes are the amazing and fascinating result of quite a new and peculiar technique: Leunens has forced the metal (aluminum) to deport itself under his painter’s hand like oil paint. The denomination ‘monotype » was given to these works by Mrs. Mauquoy, the curator of the Gallery of Prints at Brussels. Improperly, in our opinion, since it suggests a connection with graphic art which does not exist at all. They are abstract paintings, for which we should prefer the use of a new class name.
His inspiration is still fed by the experiences of the labourer-artist in Belgian Brabant. It was there that the fire and metal in the factory fascinated him by day; there, that these images haunted him at night during his creative search; there, that the human mastery of matter inspired him finally to an artistic triumph.

When talent is defined as the sum of technical skill and personality, then Guillaume Leunens rises amidst his colleagues: a dominating character full of will-power and self-assurance, which with his tenacity succeeded in making his palette out of the crucible. He has laid his inner force into these monotypes, which with a subtle variety call for intense attention. They are hyper contemporary expressions of an original talent…

Marcel Van Jole member of the administrative council of the I.A.A.C. (International Association of Art Critics

I had known his work for almost fifteen years then, but had never met the artist. As luck would have it, I got to know Guillaume Leunens while I visited Paris in order to bring together the works of Belgian artists working in the French capital; works that were to be sold at a benefit auction for the village Reine Fabiola. He lives in a small old fashioned apartment, where the pileup canvasses hardly emerge from the half light. Penetrating vivid eyes, giving me a piercing look; short thick crew-cut hair and a geometrical, well kept pepper-and-salt mustache; tortured features with high, moving cheekbones; an emaciated body.

While nervously chewing a cigarillo, he ironically purses his lips, all happy that he may express himself in Flemish.

This is how Guillaume Leunens appeared to me. His lack of practice and the contamination of his French give his speech an exquisite accent, and his kind French wife pleases her husband by accepting that he talks to me in his mother tongue. The ice was immediately broken and I already knew then that I would do everything possible to make the artist known in his mother country, which he has always remained loyal to.

Guillaume Leunens is born in a working class environment in Halle (Brabant) in 1914. After a disagreement between his parents, he is brought up at an orphanage in Herenthals.

Of his childhood, the artist has only wretched memories. As soon as the Law allows him to leave school, he becomes a factory worker. He works in a bronze and iron foundry, without yet knowing that thirty years later, this period would be the deciding factor for the orientation of his career.

During leisure time, after having completed the daily tasks, on Sundays and holidays, he devotes himself to the art of painting, to personal experiences. Is this already the call?…

Like so many autodidacts, he does not feel bound by constraining norms and is open-minded towards all new trends, among which he retains, however, only one: the one he creates himself.

From the age of sixteen on, he follows assiduously all artistic avant-garde manifestations. He is especially attracted by the expressionists, such as Permeke, Frits van den Berghe, and Gust De Smet – the avant-garde of that time. Later, he goes over to the abstract painters. However, not without having compared his ideas with those of Victor Servranckx, this other pioneer, who, together with Joseph Lacasse, is responsible for the breakthrough of non-figurative art in our lands. Nevertheless, he immediately tries to develop his own style, a style that is exclusively his.

What we have retained of his figurative period – marked by the cubistic influence of Jean Brusselmans – is above all that Guillaume Leunens is a painter of the night. His heavy color constructions, in which dark blue stands in almost violent contrast with bright yellow and brick red, allow him above all to render the mysteries of the night more perceptible.

A number of his works dating from that period attract the attention of some of our perspicacious critics, such as Maurits Bilcke and the late Jan Walravens, prematurely deceased, who always encouraged Leunens and told him once: « I am looking for an occasion to write an important article on your work. People here have to finally start appreciating you. »

In 1961, he wrote: « Leunens is one of the most outstanding personalities I know. »

In 1958, Guillaume Leunens turns away from the vision of nature. From now on, he captures the essence itself of what could be called the absence of light. In numerous experiments carried out by means of painting, heated iron, aluminum, glass, copper and even such ingredients as ink, wax and ground coffee beans, he covers dark but nevertheless vibrant surfaces, whose somber aspect becomes even more enigmatic with a thin white line or a red spot.

Not all the works created by the artist during that period – his worrying personality makes us relive certain violent moments in the life of a van Gogh – have the same intensity. Nevertheless, in his best productions, Guillaume Leunens already succeeds in evoking the fascination of total night.

In the meantime – it is the year 1957 – Guillaume Leunens suddenly immigrates to Paris, probably attracted by the ever seducing radiance of that city…

Right from his first days in Paris on, Guillaume Leunens felt that impression of profusion, of artistic mastery. He experienced and noticed it at the galleries of the traditional neighbourhoods … as well as among the street artists of the « Rive Gauche »…

According to Guillaume Leunens, one does not have to go to famous museums in order to meditate in front of a Vlaminck, a Seurat or a Picasso… nor does one have to travel through the whole country in order to admire a Maillol, a Rodin, a Renoir, a Giacometti or a Calder… or try hard in order to see the latest works by Alechinsky, Poliakoff, Lacasse, Appel, Jorn, Warhol, Corneille, Rauschenberg, Oldenburg and many others. All this can be experienced in the multitude and diversity of almost 400 galleries in Paris. And then, one day, tired from wandering and contemplating, he looks, once again, at his own work. A new perspective, enlightened by all the works he could admire, will leave its mark in his paintings. Through a kind of artistic osmosis, a new vision will be born. A vision that will lead him to a certain state of mind. Everything is foreseeable. Everything is logical in the blossoming of Leunens. A blossoming which not even he had ever dreamed of. He sees his former production from a different point of view now, he has more freedom.

Guillaume Leunens experienced and felt of course, like so many others, that the arts market in Paris is a real jungle. However, he successfully persevered, which is one of his great merits. After each experience, he started working again, without losing his heart, in silence, above all in silence, convinced that it had to be like this and that it could not be otherwise.

He paints abstract pictures in different shades of gray. He is transformed into an abstract painter of the night, because the light of the night underlines the color and reveals all its mysteries. In 1960, he transposes his paintings on metal, a material he has been very familiar with since his early youth. He gives aluminum sheets his primitive geometrical shapes: circles, strained squares, inclined rectangles, diagonals, parallel lines, transverses, small squares, trapezoids in perspective, truncated and shortened cones. These shapes reveal a poetic essence. Despite the apparently dry geometry, they lent a considerable amount of human warmth to the prosaic aluminum.

Logically, the fact that Guillaume Leunens chose metal to work with, should have consecrated him as a sculptor of iron, just like the members of the « Dynasty »: the Gonzalez, the Swiss Robert Muller, César, the Flemish-Canadian Pierre Heyvaert, the Flemish Reinhoud and Roel d’Haese, Remy Cornelissen and many others. However, Guillaume Leunens is a painter, and when he wants to introduce new possibilities to express oneself, he does not reject pictorial art. However, he wishes to adapt it to the ideology of the time, which has turned into something vast thanks to the cosmic conquests. One can find tenacity in his way of living, in the way he defends his conceptions and esthetics, in his never-ending struggle with the material, with the metal.

Unintentionally, we think of the roughness of Bram Van Velde. The projection of liquid aluminum, in the mastery of craft, evokes rhythms that radiate spatial presence. The poetic suggestion, the visual warmth and a range of luminous vibrations are characteristic of his originality. Despite the fact that initially a soft relief, obtained by working the metal in advance, captured the light every time and gave priority to certain lines by means of natural scintillation or depending on the angle of incidence of the beams of light, later on – and it is still like this nowadays – the surface will be treated in a completely two-dimensional way.

Yet, light remains an essential element of Guillaume Leunens’ work. A work that owes nothing to the impressionists, but rather presents the aspect of a Caravage; however, without necessarily being qualified as light and shade. It is more an enclosing nimbus, which, here and there, allows the sources of light to appear between the different shadings of gray. It is a light which, at the same time, has a color, creates an environment, evokes a climate, suggests an atmosphere and radiates through its modulations, the lightened lines, the receding lines animating the depths and the magic aspect of the almost monochrome surfaces. Apart from his large, always vertical works, which create an atmosphere of psychological architecture, we must mention his smaller works, monotypes, created on paper according to a technique that is and remains Guillaume Leunens secret. The result is dazzling. Each monotype is radiant with light and emotion, shades, shadings of colors, granular material. These elements create a harmonious entirety, giving the metal qualities that were not thought possible up to now.

Is it possible to understand the artistic manifestations otherwise than as the equivalent of a science which escapes us? Genetics based on plastic components is developing. Having grown out of elementary geometry, it develops towards relativity: The unity of shape and color in plastic arts corresponds to the relation between particle and wave in nature. Against pictorial organisms, inspired by nature, Guillaume Leunens sets plastic structures, parallel to the action of man on nature. He presents us a construction of man within nature. His art seems to be a refuge for the mind, a place for clear thoughts. Here we have a contemporary artist, witness of his time, building strongholds against the terror that inspires our technical nature. He is an artist of the soul, whose creative force, or better: fever, equals his pitiless capacity to work and his enthusiasm. An honest man who becomes one with his work. The relation between man and work is a further characteristic of Guillaume Leunens production.

In 1969, he was invited by the group E.A.T. « Experiments in Art and Technology », founded in the United States by Billy Klüver and Rauschenberg. He exhibited his works at the Brooklyn museum and at the New York « Museum of Modern Art ».

He was host of the French Government at the Pavilion of the World Exhibition in Montreal (Canada). During the « French Fortnight », « France invited to Antwerp », the Provincial Government of Antwerp welcomed him at the Arenberg Provincial Cultural Center and then at the Cultural Center of Turnhout. At each of these occasions, one could notice the harmonious unity, tranquillity and serenity achieved by this man so feverishly possessed by the arts. I have the impression that, after a rise that lasted several years, Leunens has finally reached the state of perfection when contemplation takes hold of his whole being.

Ghislain Mollet-Vieville Agent d’art, Expert près la Cour d’Appel de Paris

The entirety of this artist’s work shows a strong personality having successfully tried out new materials (especially aluminum) as part of a reflection that questions the traditional nature of the arts of painting and sculpturing.

The real origin of this work lies more in constructivism. A work that is characterized by great vigour releasing a sense of strength and power which cannot help impressing the visitor. Sometimes, his work is somehow brutal, archaic, as if he had wanted to set free certain wild forces contained in the depths of life.

Particularly interesting – for his time – are the effects of volume and cut of his works, which gives them the status of mural sculptures.

His innovative spirit is associated, within a whole system of shape combinations, with a great mastery of the material, where the different cut, welded and hammered elements seem to be the work of a designer beyond compare. One can say that this artist has successfully conquered new spaces for the arts of painting and sculpturing by trying to deny the conventional limits of the pictorial surface.