In de stilte van de dingen (In the Quiet of Things)

Jean De Groote (ed.)

2020. Soft cover col. illus. 90 pages
Available from: Copyright Bookshop
25 Euro ($30 USD)
ISBN: 9789464075311

Reviewed by Robert Maddox-Harle, Australia 

This book is a little treasure. It is with considerable difficulty that I have reviewed In de stilte de dingen, mainly because at present it is only published in Dutch. I managed to obtain a pdf file of the manuscript in Dutch via Edith Doove, one of the book’s essay contributors, and also a Leonardo Reviewer. I then translated this file using Google Translate which astonishingly did the whole book in one go, just well enough to read and understand. Why did I go to the trouble I hear you ask? Because De Groote’s work is worth any amount of effort.

In our  super-saturated global society of images, screens, sensationalised hype, noise and busyness De Groote’s paintings are like silent healing sentinels which take us to a quiet contemplative centre where we may experience the true essence of the “thing”. De Groote chooses commonplace, normally unremarkable objects as subject matter, such as an envelope, a banana, a light switch or a twig. The cover of the book features his “Envelop” painting, an austere image in grey, off-white textured oil-on-canvas, this painting stopped me in my tracks with a gasp of “that’s it”.

This is a revised edition of my original review which was published in Leonardo Reviews, December 2020. I have included here, some of De Groote’s paintings, you may also view other De Groote works on his website.

The book has thirteen essays discussing De Groote’s work, some are long theoretical texts, others short descriptions in poetic form, these are interspersed with well over seventy colour images of the paintings. Many of the works were recently shown at De Groote’s hometown gallery, with which he has been associated for many years - S&H De Buck, Zuidstationstraat in Ghent. Consequently the book is part catalogue, part art-book part theoretical discussion of De Groote’s work.

As Els Vermeersch aptly states on the back cover, “...the works must above all make themselves felt. The pictorial representation does not take precedence here, but the process of observation and construction does. Hence the central theme in Jean De Groote’s: “no observer, no object”.

I found the first essay by Elias rather disappointing as it seems to miss the point of De Groote’s work and is basically a theoretical “rave” concerning postmodernism and its glitterati - Derrida, Barthes, Focault, Kristeva et al. Perhaps we could think of De Groote as a Platonist, as I believe he does see himself, but if we step outside the Eurocentric philosophical traditions and look into the eastern approach to existence we find they are far more appropriate in describing De Groote’s work. Especially Zen.  Zen does not want to talk about the “thing” but experience the “thing” itself of itself, direct experience, no theoretical hot-air attached. The point of De Groote’s painting is for the viewer to directly experience the essence of the “thing”, to stand transfixed before the painting and feel the essence totally. Van Damme in his essay, Op zoek naar de essentie met Jean De Groote ( In Search of the Essence with Jean De Groote) (p. 75 – 81) really understands this as he states “The artist (subject) and the twig (object) falls together for a moment and forms one harmonic unity, at least on a mental level.”  This is the essence of Zen as described in Zen and the Art of Archery, where the archer, the arrow, and the target become one, ‘no correspondence entered into’!

Further along this line of appreciation, as Michiels so beautifully says, “...the work of Jean De Groote cannot be explained, it slowly penetrates within you, it is a silent argument, a soft anarchy. It is like pure poetry.” (p. 53) Van Haute in his essay is in a sense issuing a warning against over intellectualising and analysing De Groote’s work when he says, “By giving I would say too much text and explanation detracts from the spell of the work.” (p. 46) Exactly! As Zen says, be careful not to mistake the finger pointing at the moon, for the moon herself.

During breaks in work,

he reads philosophy/ Sartre,

Heidegger, JL-Nancy, Lyotar 

De Groote’s statement concerning his paintings and working approach, “no observer, no object” may be discussed and analysed ad infinitum, ad absurdum with different branches of Western philosophy, but using an Oriental approach nothing at all needs to be discussed, “direct experience” is all there is, both in the case of the painter De Groote when he is creating his masterpieces and again by the viewer when standing

speechless (hopefully) before the works, such as I feel before The boot van de Charon (The Boat from Charon) (p. 87), this image is indelibly etched into my mind.

The boat from Charon, 2020

oil on canvas I 40cm x 30cm

 I would very much like to see a second edition of this book published with English text alongside the Dutch, and with at least one additional essay along the lines of Zen understanding and elucidation of De Groote’s paintings. As I said in the beginning of this necessarily brief review, his paintings are not only brilliant in their own right but extremely important works to help bring some balance to our contemporary world full of too much of everything - especially noise.

Take time to listen to the silence!

Paperbag, 2018

oil on canvas 108cm x 95cm


Naples yellow banana, 2020

oil on canvas 50cm x 40cm


The Hole (Sartre), 2020

oil on canvas 165cm x 120cm


 The essence of things, 2016

oil on canvas 50cm x 40cm


Chair in time, 2015

oil on canvas 100cm x160cm


Glasses, 2017

oil on canvas 100cm x 80cm


Branch, 2017

oil on canvas 40cm x 30cm

Imperfect things, 2020

oil on canvas 120cm x 160cm

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