Click here to read Bram Bogart's obituary in The Guardian
Bram Bogart Obituary:
Artist who 'built' his abstract, expressionist paintings using pigment and cement.
by Michael McNay
24 May 2012
The Dutch-born Belgian artist Bram Bogart, who has died aged 90, had ambitions to be an artist from a young age. But his father wanted the boy to follow him in becoming a blacksmith, or at least go into a trade where he would work with his hands. As a compromise, his parents sent him at 12 to a technical school to learn to be a painter and decorator, and in the evening he did a correspondence course in drawing.
After a spell of house painting, Bogart joined a Rotterdam advertising agency in 1937 as a commercial artist, painting among other subjects portraits of the child star Shirley Temple, before quitting to launch his career in fine art in 1939. Despite the subterfuge needed to avoid forced labour for the German army during the second world war, he managed to produce a sequence of sombre and undeniably Dutch landscapes, solid, low-keyed and with low horizons.
Soon after liberation in 1945, he made a dull portrait of himself with a brush in one hand and the regulation-issue oval palette for wannabe artists in the other. He filled the leftover space behind him with a wall, and it is the wall that holds the attention, with its real wall-like feeling, rough-textured, solid; this and the hands, the hands of a Van Gogh potato eater, of a workman, just what his father had wanted for him.
This sense in his work of the tangible, a coming together of his first job painting houses and his implacably wall-like landscapes, lasted throughout Bogart's lifetime, through to the overwhelming presence of his celebrated late paintings, glowing blocks constructed, quite literally, out of great globs of pigment mixed with cement. Abstract, yes; expressionist, yes; but not abstract expressionist. He was not interested in gestural painting, brushed or poured from cans, not in his mature work anyway. His concern was building paintings.
Bogart was born in Delft, where he spent the last year of the war in hiding. His father bestowed his own name, Abraham van den Boogaart, on his son. It was a 1950s Parisian gallery owner who suggested the switch to Bram Bogart. Liberation for Bogart had meant Paris, and he was one of a number of hungry artists at the end of the way who saw arrival in France as a date with destiny. There, he began life anew by absorbing the discoveries of cubism in organising pictorial space to dispel the leftover space of his early work.
Between 1946 and 1950 he shuttled between Paris and Le Cannet on the Cote d'Azur, and then settled in paris for almost a decade, painting often in monochrome like Jean Dubuffet, some of the canvases worked edge to edge with figures suggestive of the then recently discovered drawings of the Lascaux cavemen.
In 1957 he showed for the first time in the UK, as part of an Arts Council touring exhibition, and held his own among a group that included Dubuffet, the Canadian abstract expressionist Jean-Paul Riopelle, the French tachiste Pierre Soulages, and Karel Appel, Bogart's compatriot and a member of the Cobra group (Copenhagen, Brussels, Amsterdam). In 1958 Bogart had his first solo show in London, at the Gimpel Fils gallery, of canvases that were, the Time critic remarked, both sensuous and with the quality of rock faces.
Bogart got on with Appel and his Cobra associates but fell out with the Dutch cultural establishment over what he perceived as its obsession with Cobra at the expense of any other style. It may not have been coincidence that in 1960 he moved to Belgium, first to Brussels, then for the rest of his life to Ohain, in the province of Walloon Brabant. He took Belgian citizenship in 1969.
During these years, he laid on pigment and cement mixture so thickly that he had to arrange for metal stretchers to bear the weight of his work. Bogart's art entered collections all over Europe and he had shows at galleries including the Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, the Guggenheim in New York and the Louvre and Pompidou Centre in Paris.
No public gallery in Britain picked up on him but there were several exhibitions in London over the years, culminating in two shows at Bernard Jacobson in Mayfair, in 2007 and 2009, showing late paintings of great beauty. The early drawing lessons paid off too. At the end of his life he was said to be still able, like Giotto, to draw a perfect circle, freehand.
Bogart is survived by his wife, Leni, whom he married in 1958, and their children, Cornelia, Inge and Bram.
Bram Bogart (Abraham van den Boogaart), artist, born 12 July 1921; died 2 May 2012