The outsider: artist and curator Matías Sánchez
“Smart Idiots”: exhibition overview
Paradoxes: a closer look
Real / surreal: Paco Pomet (b. 1970, Spanish)
The Spanish artist’s austere hyperreal oil paintings, inspired by his collection of vintage photos from the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, are disrupted by surreal motifs and startling chromatic eruptions. Humour in Pomet’s work is tempered by realism, in particular an attitude of cynical resignation regarding politics and current affairs: “I happen to like realism precisely because I tend to be very observant, even though I’m more critical with reality. [...] A slight misanthropic drift has imbued many of my themes lately, however, a bright and clean humorous streak can appear dressed up in oil paint at any moment!” The result is a contemporary take on Surrealism reminiscent of the irrational, black humour of his compatriot Salvador Dalí. Pomet’s intrepid soldier vaults over a stretched canvas with one hand in Infantry, illuminated by a neon orange-tipped paintbrush that he brandishes like a rifle over his other shoulder. Infantry thus offers a pithy and provocative contemplation about the “soft power” of art versus traditional coercive or violent means, that can alternately be read as a mock-valorisation of the contemporary artist’s struggles.
High / low: Klaas Rommelaere (b. 1986, Belgian)
The Antwerp-based artist’s surreal embroidered scenes use traditional cross-stitch, crochet and knitting techniques and are executed by his team of ‘madames’ scattered across various Belgian towns. Originally from the fashion world, Rommelaere’s unorthodox works subvert the notion of textile art as a “lowly” decorative craft form; instead, Rommelaere approaches the medium with a reverence and originality customarily devoted to high art. Brightest Star and Smart Idiots showcase the phenomenal breadth of Rommelaere’s fantastical inner world: surreal computer glitches, warped anatomical diagrams, excerpts from movies and graphic fragments of the artist’s personal memories are literally woven into each work. “I document and transcribe my existence consciously through my work. Comparing this to social media, for example, I am not posting my personal life on there. I deal with it through my work. It is a kind of therapeutic medium for me,” muses the artist. Rommelaere also celebrates rather than obscures the contribution of his community, frequently acknowledging his female collaborators and how their different visions of beauty bring richness and depth to each of his works.
Rational / irrational: Gregory Forstner (b. 1975, French-Austrian)
Inspired by American illustrators Arthur Sarnoff and Cassius Marcellus Coolidge, Gregory Forstner has incorporated dogs into his satirical scenes since 2006. Forstner theorises that dogs, with their history of caricatures in print, benefit from immediate recognition by the viewer’s subconscious, and he uses these avatars to provoke eye-opening sensations and reactions from his audience using shared cultural and historical contexts. Sometimes they gather around a billiards table; at other times they appear dressed in SS and Wehrmacht uniforms in reference to Forstner’s own dark family history. Forstner’s array of anonymous canine protagonists elicit a mixture of amusement and trepidation: whimsical, colourful forms rendered with loose, painterly brushwork clash with recollections of cruel and violent periods in history. Untitled and Untitled (1) (2019) draw on Forstner’s love of the Dutch Golden Age painters Frans Hals, Jan Steen, Adrian Brouwer, whose portraits and genre works depicting human behaviour in everyday environments were known for their psychological insight, humour and vivid use of colour. Forstner’s paintings tap into “a common history from which a certain relation to the world asserts and questions itself, especially through memories and history told by ‘fathers’. It is, amongst other things, a principle of transmission and interpretation, it is questioning the way a subject creates itself from this memory”.
Sacred / abject: Dan Schein (b. 1985, American)
Death / rebirth: Cristina Lama Ruiz (b. 1977, Spanish)
 Jean Dubuffet, “Anticultural Positions” (1951), reprinted in J. Dubuffet (New York, 1960), p. 192
 Jean Dubuffet, "Empreintes", in Herschel B. Chipp, ed., Theories of Modern Art: A Source Book by Artists and Critics (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1968), p. 611
 Samuel Goldwyn was a US film producer renowned for his comical and supposedly unintentional misuse of idioms.