Bram Bogart Obituary:
Belgian abstract artist whose paintings were distinguished by brilliant hues of thickly applied paint which made them extremely heavy
5 June 2012
The Belgian abstract painter Bram Bogart was famous for the brilliance of his colour, and notorious for the sheer physical weight of his paintings. As early as 1961 he began to lay on pigment so thickly that the jute canvases he was using could no longer support the weight and he was forced to change to panels with reinforced supports. From then on, his paintings grew in size and weight, until by 1991 they had spread well beyond their frames and weighed so much (sometimes up to 300kg or 660lb) that Bogart had to make the reinforced supports himself, ultimately of heavy metal. The resultant paintings were generally shown standing on the floor, and when in 1997 a Barcelona dealer decided they would look better returned to the gallery walls, he found that all the interior walls had to be rebuilt to accommodate them.
Bogart's paintings did not develop their weight for the sake of oddity, but because he felt his style demanded it. His great love almost throughout his life was brilliancy of colour. Early on, when his art retained its evident connection with landscape, the colour was for a while restricted, even at times to black and white. Then there was a brief phase when, living and working in Le Cannet on the Cote d'Azur, he was inspired by the buildings around him to make the surface of his work look dry and chalky and virtually monotone. But very rapidly his self-denial gave way to an increasingly wide repertoire of colours, generally applied in abundance straight from the tube. This gave his mature works a sensuous lushness seldom achieved by the rigorously abstract. They were a feast for the eye that looked as though they could almost be food for the mouth.
Bogart was born Abraham van den Boorgaart in Delft in 1921, the son of a blacksmith - a background which was to prove useful when, later, he dabbled intermittently in sculpture. By the age of 10 he was drawing obsessively images he found in newspapers and magazines, and two years later, he painted his first picture, a vase of violets. In 1933 he entered a four-year course as a painter and decorator at the Delft Technical School of Arts and Professions, an experience he later praised for giving him unusual command over the materials of his eventual profession. During these courses he also took a two-year correspondence course in drawing, financed by his father, and, once graduated, he worked for a while as a painter and decorator, and then in a manufacturer of calicoes for cinemas. By 1939 he was confident enough to devote himself completely to painting, and almost immediately was taken up by The Hague dealer Bennewicz, thanks to whom he began to earn a living entirely through painting.
During the war he avoided forced labour in Germany by enrolling in the Art School at The Hague, and once the war was over he hitchhiked to Paris, where he painted scenes of the city heavily influenced by Van Gogh and studied at the free art school La Grande Chaumiere. During the next few years he moved restlessly between Paris and The Hague, with long interludes in the south, especially Antibes. There his landscapes were progressively simplified until they became two-colour abstractions divided by a horizontal line across the middle. In 1950 he moved to Le Cannet, where his studio was a cellar used also to store African tribal artworks. Through these he took up a new repertoire of signs and symbols such as crosses, squares and circles. He also began to incorporate writing in his painting, and all of these elements recurred in his work to the end of his life. In 1952 he began to sign his paintings "Bram Bogart."
In the early 1950s he moved back to Paris after an unfortunate encounter with a poisonous jellyfish, and set up a studio in the Halle-aux-Cuirs in the Rue Santeuil with the American sculptor Rocco. He tried unsuccessfully to interest a Paris dealer, and finally achieved his first Paris exhibition in 1953. For a while he returned to black and white, and his art was dominated by large-scale calligraphy. In 1955-56 he had a huge show with Creuze, his Paris dealer, and began a long-term relationship with Gimpel Fils in London. From that point his career was a steady rise to modern classic status. In 1959 he had the first of many museum showings at the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam and the Musee des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, and developed a new technique involving regular strokes extending across the whole surface of the canvas. Alternatively, he applied paint in mountainous patches of unmixed colour.
In 1960 he contemplated moving to New York, but was instead persuaded to move to Brussels, where in 1962 he married his partner Leni (Abelina Sjoukje Vos), and in 1969 took Belgian nationality. In 1984 he bought an old paper factory in central Brussels and began to transform it into a studio, but in 1987, when it was on the brink of completion, it was completely destroyed by fire, and a number of his works badly damaged by smoke. In 1984 he also began making distinctive relief prints with Claude Manesse, and colour etchings for Benjamin Hamburski. After the fire it was more than a year before he could resume his creative work.
Though it took some time for the more conservative elements of the art world to get comfortable with Bogart, his decorative qualities and the sheer verve with which he applied paint to his enormous canvases won over doubters. Though the works were physically weighty, he always remained a light-weight, more akin to charmers like Dufy than to the gloomy masters of Flemish Expressionism among whom he began.
He is survived by his wife, two daughters and a son.
Bram Bogart, painter, was born on July 12, 1921. He died on May 2, 2012, aged 90.