Alechinsky and the End of Days
It takes a moment before you notice them. The ducks and the snakes. The owls and the fish. Artfully ‘hidden away’ here and there in a strange world of twists, planes and colours. The painter and printmaker Pierre Alechinsky combines abstract elements in The Last Day with recognizable figures. The title leaves little to the imagination. The Last Day refers to death, to the end of time. And it is a grandiose ending. The canvas measures more than three metres by five.
In the spirit of Cobra
The style of this painting is fully in line with Cobra – the artistic movement founded in 1948 in Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam, whose initial letters spell its name. Alechinsky and fellow members like Karel Appel and Corneille believed that abstract and figurative art could blend perfectly within the same work. A vision that Alechinsky would pursue throughout his career.
Calligraphy in Japan
In 1955, Alechinsky travelled to Japan with Christian Dotremont, another important Cobra member. During his time there, he studied Eastern calligraphy, enabling him to develop an ‘inner handwriting’ and encouraging bolder brushwork. The experience also improved Alechinsky’s concentration. From that moment on, his works assumed a more personal character.
Alechinsky and Ensor
Alechinsky was a great admirer of Ensor’s work. The Last Day is widely seen as a tribute to the Ostend master. Both artists filled their canvases from edge to edge. Ensor with people and masks, Alechinsky with creatures and twisting lines. Some experts think it is no coincidence that the work is so colossal. Alechinsky might have wanted it to outdo Ensor’s work Christ’s Entry into Brussels. That painting too hung in the Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp in the 1960s and measured ‘just’ 2.5 x 4.5 metres. Christ’s Entry in Brussels can be found nowadays at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
Alechinsky let his imagination run wild as his career progressed. His use of colour also became increasingly rich. And he began to work highly intuitively. Beginning without a plan in mind. He started The Last Day by laying out patches of green on the canvas. He then applied pink and white on top. Next he added lines and accents in blue, yellow and red, allowing recognizable creatures to emerge.
The Last Day was the final work Alechinsky did in oil paint. In 1965, he discovered acrylics in New York, which allowed him to work even more supplely and rapidly. He also began to fill up the edges of the canvas artistically, adding comments and explanations. These notes around the edges expanded on the central image, a little like speech balloons in cartoon strips. Alechinsky also collaborated regularly with writers like Hugo Claus.