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.
“It is my hand that paints. Guided by what? I do not know. I am not an intellectual, I can not analyze. All this happens without my asking questions.”
Hippo asserts a powerful scheme of juxtapositions in both color and form, pairing delicate yellows and washes of pastel purple with aggressive abstractions in red and black. The range of Wemaere’s palette belies the influence of Kandinsky, and his automatism evidences the close relationship he enjoyed with Asger Jorn; while Wemaere was not a founding member of the CoBrA movement, Jorn once referred to him as “the most CoBrA among us.” A renowned Lyrical Abstractionist, Wemaere enjoyed a highly successful career, and by the 1990s was exhibiting regularly at prestigious venues throughout France and Denmark. The same year Hippo was executed, Wemare intiated the series Les Mouks (1992-93), in which he concentrated on deliberately simplified forms in an effort to distance himself from earlier works he considered “excavations” and “clutter.” Peering into Hippo, one can discern only the silhouette of an animal and the impression of its movement; the elegance of Wemaere’s abstraction lies in the suggestive simplicity of his gesture.
Kouros Gallery, CT