From 29 September 2020 to 28 February 2021, Museum Helmond will present the Netherlands’ first retrospective exhibition of the work of Belgian photographer Harry Gruyaert. Gruyaert was born in Antwerp in 1941 and is considered the foremost European pioneer of colour photography. He photographs both the hustle and bustle of the streets and the quietness of coastal landscapes.
The origin of all his work is the world around us. In his choice of images, Gruyaert seems to capture the ephemeral and transient nature of this world. His photographs contain wondrous combinations of both the presence and the absence of things and people. As a result, loneliness and melancholy are themes that pervade much of his work.
Gruyaert first discovered the richness of colour in the 1970s. Until that time, colour photography had been largely reserved for advertising. In Gruyaert’s photography we see saturated colours, often with bold accents in red, green or blue. “Colour is a means, a way of sculpting what I see. Colour does not illustrate a subject or a scene, but is a value in itself”, Gruyaert once said. In addition, light and contrasts such as chiaroscuro often determine the way we experience his photographs.
Coming from the country of surrealists like René Magritte (1898-1967), Marcel Broodthaers (1924-1976) and his contemporary Guillaume Bijl (1946), Gruyaert’s work often demonstrates his ability to look at the world through a surrealist lens. And just like the Belgian symbolist painter James Ensor (1860-1949), Gruyaert has a predilection for strong and somewhat unusual visual motifs. Ensor, for example, used masks, characters in fancy dress costumes, skeletons and grotesque parades; Gruyaert uses robes, headdresses, concealing clothing, parades (also), balloons, and people waiting.
‘Harry Gruyaert – Retrospective’ will feature more than 120 photographic works, and includes the various series he made in Las Vegas, Russia, Morocco, India and of course Belgium. The exhibition will also display a wide selection of ‘Rivages’, his acclaimed series dedicated to coastal landscapes.