A colourful flat surface at first sight, yet on closer inspection: a labyrinth of layers and a multitude of materials. Denie Put’s experimental paintings carry the viewer to a dimension somewhere between the abstract and the surreal. 

Put is constantly driven by experiments and coincidence. Yes, he does make sketches, but no, those are not literally translated into the larger-scale paintings. The sketches, which are equally colourful and dynamic, usually are a starting point. On the canvas, however, Denie is guided by what his materials offer him. Little ‘mistakes’ and coincidences inspire him to new shapes or ideas. Precisely because he allows such small accidents, a spontaneous, intuitive drive takes over and the painting becomes its own free character. In the process, he experiments with a variety of materials, ranging from oil paint and acrylic to ballpoint pen, pencils, and paint rollers of different sizes. More recently, he explores the qualities of ink, which brings a new aspect of fluidity to some of the works. 

Even with his materials making up their own mind, Denie’s artistic process involves a great deal of trial and error. Most of his paintings show an underlying relief or texture, created by many layers of previous attempts and experiments on the canvas. As he embraces what others might define as mistakes, he might repaint a ‘failed’ work and spare some small areas or details as starting points for something new. Some paintings carry myriad layers underneath their visible surface. This adds depth to the resulting work, both in terms of texture and colour. 

Denie describes his own paintings as ‘labyrinths of layers’. This is not exaggerated. Shapes in the foreground might actually have been painted first. Often parts of what seems to be the background are rather ‘fills’, in the sense that they are painted not in an early, but in a later stage. This results in an almost ‘trompe-l’oeil’ kind of effect. Whoever keeps on looking, will most likely notice that the background and foreground of his work, at some point, seem to merge or switch places. Depending on each painting specifically, shapes might almost start to float before your eyes. 

Recurring elements resembling stone, wooden or metal structures bring a sculptural – sometimes even architectural – character to the paintings. These stable constructions are a focal point in an otherwise open landscape. This quality is not accidental. The artist admits being very inspired by surrealists such as Salvador Dalí and Max Ernst. The latter is more clearly reflected in his own methods: for example, he has recently been working with frottage. His play of shadows and illusionistic perspective of fore- and background seem reminiscent of typically surrealistic out-of-place, assembled figures in a dramatically lighted and mysterious landscape. Ernst in particular was a master of layering and combining techniques. He, too, was guided by his materials towards exploration and experiment.

There is no doubt that he knows his art history. He is inspired by several artists, techniques, and movements. Aside from this surrealist look, one might also be reminded of French modern artist Fernand Léger’s colourful paintings, inspired by industrial aesthetics and urban life. Throughout a plethora of influences, Denie creates a unique and contemporary visual language. His works have a general familiar feel to them; they might vaguely remind you of images you have seen before. However, they are open to a very personal experience: depending on your own associations and interpretations, they will carry a new meaning. 

A seemingly artificial light source reinforces a unique play of shadows and highlights in the paintings. It lends a cinematographic – dramatic, yet not less abstract – atmosphere to the sculptural shapes. Some of those fluid characters could resemble tubes and cogs of metallic industrial machinery, shining in the beams of factory lights. Or of science-fiction lights – think of the scenery in the 1927 film classic ‘Metropolis’. Its theatrical imagery has been crucial for the development of some tropes in the SF-genre. Imagine what this film would look like in colour: the limbs of the ‘machine-man’ glistening in the city lights, the shading of artificial colours forming an almost psychedelic experience. This might not be all that different from a surrealist or a futuristic painting.

Showing a sculptural quality in his paintings is one thing. Recently, Denie also started exploring three-dimensionality in the form of painted bell jars. Colourful shapes, similar to the ones in his canvases, are painted in acrylic on the inside of the bell jar. This is a physically trying task: the paint must be applied on the inside of the jar, limiting the movements of the artist’s hand. The possibilities of dialogue between these sculptures (or, sculpted paintings, one might say), and his canvasses is also worth experimenting with. He is always looking to discover what paint can mean beyond the canvas: for example, by adding a mural in the exhibition space; thereby creating a dialogue with the shown works, but also enhancing certain aspects of them.

Although they are never strictly a series, paintings created in the same period of time might show similar patterns, colours or structures. What Denie learns through experimenting with one work, can become an incentive for the next one. Whether it be canvasses, sculptures, or wall paintings, his entire oeuvre is a continued exploration of the paint – where will it guide him next? 

Tamara Beheydt