Interview with Nanda Vigo and Axel Vervoordt Interview conducted by Dirk Pörschmann and Tijs Visser, 30 May 2010, ’s-Gravenwezel / Belgium
Where did you first meet Jef Verheyen? N.V.: It was in Lucio Fontana’s studio. But Jef was also a good friend of Piero Manzoni, and we always spent a lot of time together when he was in Milan, going to exhibitions and things like that. When you met him there, did you also talk about his work as a painter? N.V.: He didn’t really like talking about his paintings. He liked to talk about philosophy, life, all kinds of things, but he hardly ever spoke about his own paintings.
God) series, even if I still find it difficult to understand the concept exactly. N.V.: What Fontana meant was the end of time and space. He wasn’t thinking of the Christian God. The word God meant for Fontana cosmos and time. It had nothing to do with the Catholic faith for him. AV: For me, it is not just an end, but also the idea of a beginning. It’s both, and that’s the reason why Fontana chose the shape of an egg. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Fontana put three dimensionality into painting. In a figurative sense, he opened the egg, so the chicken was born and with it new energy. In Fontana’s work, what I see is not so much an act of aggression as the labour of the midwife. It always takes this brief moment of forceful action, a thoroughly painful prising open — which shouldn’t be confused with violence — for life to be able to find its way out.
What was the relationship between Verheyen and Fontana? N.V.: A very close relationship. Fontana told me several Why couldn’t or wouldn’t he talk openly about his work? times that Jef was like a father to him. I didn’t understand that at first, since Fontana was 33 years older than Jef. I’ve N.V.: In my view, it had to do with the way he was. found an explanation since then. Lucio was not an intelBas-ically, he had two personalities. At work alone in the studio, i.e. when he was painting, he was a completely dif- lectual type. He hardly ever read, and wasn’t interested in ferent person. I think that those were the moments in which great philosophy. He was not a thinker but a doer. He had a well-developed instinct for people and art. He underhe was completely relaxed — happy at being alone, with his art and his philosophy. When he was drunk, arguments stood quite intuitively what artists were getting at in their and differences of opinion would blow up out of the blue, work: why they used particular materials, why they might have made the decisions they made, etc. Lucio didn’t know and he raved and became violent. With friends — with Fontana, Manzoni, or me — he was very friendly, attentive very much about the history of art or about philosophy. He had his own philosophy without knowing anything about and confiding, because that’s how he was with friends. It philosophy. Jef was completely different: he was very inwas different with people he didn’t know. He could get terested in philosophy and in mathematics. In Jef, Fontana impatient and quarrelsome at the drop of a hat. With his had found a friend who helped him formulate his instincts friends, he felt and indeed knew that he was accepted and understand connections better. So when Fontana said for what he thought and what he believed in his art. We Jef was like a father to him, that was certainly because Jef didn’t have to argue, because we felt our solidarity. AV: That’s the reason why Gerhard Lenz called Verheyen was a contemplative thinker who could express what Lucio sensed intuitively. Moreover, Fontana had a difficult relaa Mozart among painters. He had this wild, belligerent tionship with his sculptor father, Luigi, in whose studio in and argumentative side. He was very intelligent. Everything he said was intelligent, but you had to go along with Santa Fé, Argentina, he had worked at the beginning of his career. Their understanding of modern art was totally difhim. When he was painting, he was at one with the cosmos, he felt a link with a higher realm. I think Fontana felt ferent, Lucio received neither approval nor sympathy from his father. Jef offered him both. the same. I can see that in his La Fine di Dio (The End of 209
monography of the works of Jef Verheyen