ing or intuition. I taught myself photography, and started doing pinhole camera photography in 1977. It was as a result of that that I came to understand a lot about the physics of light. Jef and I wanted to do more work on such questions as: what is a hole? what is refraction? what is Fraunhofer’s diffraction? Things like that. Unfortunately, he died so prematurely. Light does not consist only of waves; it is also composed of the radiance of material. We still don’t know what light is, exactly. Jef’s intuition was that of a painter. He regarded light as a material, and in so doing he approached our contemporary views about light quite a bit. Light, as invisible matter, is being, not non-being. How would you describe Jef Verheyen as a person? He was a child of World War II, and he had political views that were often very conservative. We were not close at this level, as I’m a militant anarchist. We respected each other, but in things like that I didn’t understand him. Fortunately, such political ideas had nothing to do with his aesthetic ideas. In one way, it was paradoxical when he said: ‘Moi d’abord, les autres après’ (‘Me first, then the others’), since I don’t know any other artist of his generation who did so much for his colleagues. He was actually a socialist. He promoted and supported. He was very generous and thought very collectively. His friends were precious to him, and he had friends of all ages. What do you see as the special quality of Jef Verheyen’s painting? There is something contradictory in Jef Verheyen. Jef, for example, often quoted Jean Dubuffet’s statement: “Peindre n’est pas teindre” (“Painting isn’t colouring”). That’s nice and alliterative, and suits Dubuffet. Dubuffet worked with a lot of materials, while Jef painted without you seeing that it’s painted. His painting is almost intangible, and yet he talked a lot about matter. With him, there’s this ambivalence between a rather conceptual approach and a technical approach. He said: “I’m a painter. I’m the son of a decorator. I paint like a Fleming. I paint beautifully, but you don’t need to see that it’s painted”. It has to be painted invisibly or transparently; or, better said, intangibly. And yet the material is there. It’s like in chip technology.
A circuit can’t be thinner than the size of a molecule. That’s the physical limit. His dream was to get his technique, his craft as a painter up to this physical limit. Of course, this doesn’t mean that material vanishes. It’s there, but barely. What ideas of perception did Verheyen have as a painter? Verheyen’s credo in perception was: “Voir, c’est sentir avec les yeux” (“Seeing is feeling with the eyes”). Like Monet, Max Bill, myself and many other artists, he had very poor eyesight. Seeing, the whole question of perception in fact, preoccupied him from the start. He read a lot Maurice Merleau-Ponty early on, since, as a Fleming, he naturally had a much stronger relationship with French philosophy. Incidentally, we’d already read MerleauPonty in school. I talked about it a lot with Jef. “Je ne peins pas ce que je vois, je peins pour voir” (“I don’t paint what I see; I paint in order to see”). He liked to say this, and he said it often, always in French, as if it were an echo of Bachelard’s dictum: “Voir avec des yeux neufs, ce serait encore accepter l’esclavage d’un spectacle. Il est une volonté plus grande: celle de voir avant la vision, celle d’animer toute l’âme par une volonté de voir” (“To see with new eyes can still be a slavery to spectacle. There is something still greater to be wished for: the will to see before actually seeing, to animate the whole soul through a will to see”).2 What got Verheyen interested in the idea of three-dimensionality in painting? The interchangeability of front and back. Painters are interested in such perception phenomena in perspective. The history of painting basically always has to do with trompe-l’œil. To conclude, tell me something about the work you want to do in memory of Jef Verheyen for the exhibition. We planned a lot of projects together. One of these projects was a subject he toyed with in many of his works — diagonals, like an N for example. We developed a small prototype, and exchanged ideas about it. But then he died, so suddenly, and we were unable to do it on a larger scale. What we were interested in at the time was
monography of the works of Jef Verheyen