Born to a bourgeois family in Flanders, Wemaere began painting in 1933 in a figurative mode. Beginning in 1936, under the tutelage of Léger and working in his studio, Wemaere adopted his teacher’s tendency toward simplified, geometricized forms. In 1937 he collaborated with fellow pupil Asger Jorn, who would become his close friend, to realize a commission for the International Exhibition in Paris. Not only did they work together on numerous projects under their teacher, but they also extended their collaboration to later include monumental works of their own, including both paintings and tapestries. The two exhibited together for the first time in Copenhagen in 1938, and their friendship would last until Jorn’s death in 1973.
Wemaere’s style bears the distict marks of Nordic inspiration combined with French temperament. Finding Léger’s linearity and mechanical style unsuited to his own work, Wemaere turned instead to the surrealist work of Miró and the abstractions of Paul Klee for inspiration. Floating elements, winding lines, and composite abstract and figurative forms are revealed through Wemaere’s mastery of color. Stylistically similar to the Abstract Expressionists, Wemaere utilized impasto and a bold palette to transpose forms that were simultaneously impetuous and restrained. He was inscribed into the canon of the avant-gardes after exhibiting at the 1939 show Réalités Nouvelles at the Galerie Charpentier. In the midst of World War II, Wemaere was invited to New York City by Solomon Guggenheim in 1940, but was forced to decline the invitation after being sent to the front; his experience in the war would monumentally alter the nature of his work. Afterwards, he exhibited regularly in prestigious spaces throughout Europe, alongside artists including Jorn, Dubuffet, and Fontana.
Avant la Fête—French for “Before the Party”—is a composition replete with as much energy and expectation as its title suggests. A renowned Lyrical Abstractionist and close friend of Asger Jorn, Wemaere enjoyed a highly successful career, and by the 1990s was exhibiting regularly at prestigious venues throughout France and Denmark. Here, against a gentle ground of natural taupe and ochre hues, Wemaere lays thick splashes of red and black alongside vibrant stains in green and purple. A jagged yellow form, suspended in motion, dominates the majority of the canvas. In its entirety, Avant la Fête suggests an atmosphere of active, and almost aggressive, anticipation. Christian Dotremont, the Belgian poet who compiled the catalog for Wemaere’s 1957 exhibition at Galerie Paul Facchetti, wrote of the urgency of the artist’s style:
“It is the development of a French mind, measured, formed, which seeks to recognize the excess, the shapelessness of life. But there is another thing: the movement of someone who seeks (as Jorn says) to brutalize refinement.”
–Christian Dotremont, 1957
Kouros Gallery, CT