Anna and Gerhard Lenz with Ulrike Bleicker-Honisch, Epoche Zero. Sammlung Lenz Schönberg. Leben in Kunst, Vol. I, Ostfildern 2009, p. 237, no. VER-25, illustrated in colour
A sublime symphony of chromatic resonance, Jef Verheyen's Milano 1369 is a paragon of this artist's landmark investigations into the potentiality of colour and light. Having been a vital contributor to the development of Zero ideas in the 1960s, Verheyen advanced his inimitable colour theory with the celebrated "Laser Paintings" of the 1970s. Acquired directly from the artist just two years after its execution, Milano 1369 is an outstanding example of this new mode of painting. Verheyen's beautiful pale ground emanates the subtlest adjustments of hue, saturation and lightness, while the diagonal flashes focus the viewer's attention on the fundamental constituents of colour. Like the refracted dispersal of light shined through an optical prism, primary (yellow, red, blue) and secondary (purple, green, orange) hues are disseminated precisely into their spectral components. The angled directions of these zones of brilliant colour point to their convergence at the edge the canvas, while the fractional gradations of the expanse behind effuse a tranquil luminosity. Thus Verheyen's serene, and essentially Zero, painting implicates both the scientific analysis and the purely subjective emotional effect of colour and light. Evocative of the affecting power of Mark Rothko and Barnet Newman's monuments of Abstract Expressionism, as well as the geometric precision and optical effects of Victor Vasarely and Bridget Riley, Milano 1369 affords a transcendent visual experience.
Verheyen graduated from the Académie Royale et l'Insitut national supérieur des Beaux Arts in Antwerp in 1952 and, having initially worked with ceramics, started exhibiting black monochromes in 1956. Towards the end of the 1950s he became acquainted with Yves Klein and Lucio Fontana, with whom he forged a close friendship and who organised a solo exhibition for Verheyen at the Galleria Pater in Milan, where the Belgian also met Piero Manzoni. Shortly following this Verheyen developed white monochrome paintings and also experimented with using smoke, gold, silver and brown in his works. In early 1959 he discussed with Fontana, Klein, and Manzoni the possibility of an exhibition for the spring in Verheyen's Antwerp studio to focus on the theme of the monochrome, inevitably inspired by the Seventh Evening Exhibition Das Rote Bild that Otto Piene and Heinz Mack had organised the previous April in Düsseldorf. Eventually this exhibition focused on the dynamics of light and movement and became the seminal Vision in Motion – Motion in Vision held at the Hessenhuis in Antwerp, featuring artists from Belgium, Italy, France and Germany. There Verheyen met Heinz Mack, Otto Piene, and Pol Bury and in this same year he became a founding member of the "Nieuwe Vlaamse School".
However, it was in 1960 at the Schloss Morsbroich in Leverkusen that he joined Mack, Piene, Günter Uecker, Klein, Fontana, Manzoni, Enrico Castellani, Piero Dorazio, Yves Klein, and others including Rothko in the sensational exhibition Monochrome Malerei. Subsequently he enlisted a wide range of media to generate optical and colour effects, including silver and golden powder. Through exquisite execution his paintings revealed no trace of the artist's hand, becoming meditative expanses of subtly shifting tonal and colour values. Despite a reduced, subtle and harmonious palette, Verheyen's works possess tremendous wall power and a magnetic attraction. The result of all of these influences and the artist's very considerable investigation of what colour could achieve, the present work is an inspirational essay in light.
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