Artist Paul Kenen’s figurative paintings convey deep emotions and the inner turmoil of his subjects. Visit his website to see more of his work.
Realism, hyperrealism and photorealism are concepts I return to regularly, sometimes leaning towards magic or surrealism. I paint with oil paint, passionately and patiently, layer after layer. My subjects are mostly human figures—sometimes myself—or children and sensual women, often looking away with closed eyes and painted against a fabric back wall.
The soft skin of the model is a recurring challenge that inspires me paint. I love creating serene portraits worked out in detail, including the feel of fabric with all its undulations, folds and reflections. These are updated versions of paintings by Old Masters of the Baroque period.
Born in Brussels as the eldest of six children into a family without a father, I became the breadwinner when I was sixteen. I first worked as an offset printer and specialized color mixer. Thirteen years later, I exchanged the printing business for a dual career. In an independent ceramics workshop I made replicas of old and new tiles and copied and reproduced Art Nouveaux tile panels for restoration projects.
At the same time, I played an overwhelming number of solo theater performances in different countries. This offset the loneliness of the studio by being in the public eye. However, I wanted to try my hand at other things as well.
Color was always an important part of my work in the printing house and the ceramics studio. It reawakened in me a desire to begin painting. This was a new challenge where I could push creative boundaries fanatically and greedily. When the world stood still for a while after 9/11, I took the opportunity to step into the world of oil painting and an education in the academics. Although I was a newcomer to this world, I found myself spending more time painting than there are hours in a day.
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The characters I paint sometimes seem to not be a part of what’s going on around them. Instead, they retreat into their inner world and their imagination. On their faces can be seen various emotions and expressions—resignation, confusion, reflection and even torment.
I generally use symbolism, such as a close-up of an oversized hand. In my self-portraits I work to express profound humanity, self-reflection and alienation.
In my process, I work with photographs and improvisation sessions with a model. I create a fine line between photorealism and the painted image by adding, leaving out and editing. My art is an attempt to increase the distance between the two and perhaps to paint beyond realism. I try to drive a wedge between truthful painting in an attempt to bend photorealism into painterly realism in order to justify the existence of the paintings.
The whole of my work is not sterile but emotional, and expresses what moves me. While working on a canvas, I look at the image more and more critically and approach it each time from a different state of mind or point of view, resulting in corrections. Ultimately, through the choices and decisions I make, I share a part of my inner self that the viewer is free to reinterpret. My titles sometimes raise questions that make the viewer think, that pose a new unanswered question.
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