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).

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