He who sees for the first time a recent oil or gouache by Bram van Velde, with its forms towering and instantly collapsed, its openings through which filters a mad hope at once obstructed, its blinding flares swallowed in night he will wonder how so nonrepresentational a work can seem so little “abstract.” Before the last war, the human figure, landscape and still-life drew from Bram van Velde the roughest, wildest accents in contemporary painting. Expressionism? He could more aptly be called an inexpressionist. He does not tum away from reality: it is reality that turns away from him. There is a presence in his figurative canvases, or rather an absence, at first barely perceptible, hut greater and more disturbing with each passing day, as when we are with someone whose mind is elsewhere. The liberation supposing, that is, that to come nearer to one's truth is a liberation occurs when the artist finally consents to the dictates of absence. But to reach this point, he must have acquired the certainty that man is irremediably alone and reality an inescapable prison.
Born in 1895 in Holland, Bram van Velde worked in Germany, Paris,Majorca, whence the civil war chased him. In 1938, he is locked up for four weeks in solitary confinement in the prison of Bayonne. When lie takes up painting again, after the Liberation, his work will he literally beyond recognition. It is these drawings, made in prison, that we present here, surrounded by one sample each of the work that preceeded and followed them.