The present work is also a testament to Borremans’ confident mastery of oil paint. The palette is reminiscent of the muted tones of a grisaille-palette, often used in Dutch and Flemish seventeenth-century painting; however the subject is not so easily legible. The opposition between the painting's title and its subject of a garment collar challenges the viewer to scrutinise visual appearance versus cognitive perception. Similar to René Magritte, who famously disavowed the relevance of the subject in his seminal work La trahison des images ('The Treachery of Images'), 1928-29, Borremans translates translates this sentiment into a contemporary context. By pulling figures and objects from their conventional order, the artist creates a new whimsical narrative. Painted from close-up view, the work almost appears cropped, a stylistic flourish characteristic of Borremans’ enigmatic style. The white, porcelain-coloured flesh of the figure could be that of a human-being, a mannequin, or indeed a swan, and stands in opposition to the lustrous, gleaming black of the collar, which in turn transforms the hackneyed image of a white shirt into a mysterious and haunting object. There is an uncanny mystery to The Swan which brings to mind questions of what we see when we look at a painting, and the degree to which we implicitly trust the artist.
Borremans’ idiosyncratic post-Surrealist paintings present complex, equivocal and highly staged still lifes. With his peculiar compositions and inquisitive narratives, the artist does not attempt to show actual situations, yet there is an evident identifiable dialogue displayed with previous art historical epochs. Borremans’ figures live in isolated captivity, far removed from the viewer. Their meaning is not to be found in their aesthetic forms, but rather in our own subjective reading. Borremans’ work shows the infinite possibilities in twenty-first century painting. According to the artist “painting is old medium. It has so much gravity: it makes subjects sacred” (Michaël Borremans in conversation with Katya Tylevich, ‘Michaël Borremans – The Painters Song’. Elephant – The Art & Visual Culture Magazine, Issue II, Summer 2012, pp. 110-121).
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