JAN BURSSENS (Malines 1925 – Merendree 2002)
Jan Burssens was born in Malines in 1925. At the Academy of Fine Arts of Ghent one of his teachers was the painter Hubert Malfait. Later, in 1961, he became himself a teacher at this Academy and finally he became head of the painter’s studio for life study. At the age of 21 he went to the Netherlands where he came into contact with the writer Bertus Aafjes and the painters Karel Appel and Pierre Corneille. In 1948 – the year of the death of his mother – he stayed a year at the seaside where he painted mainly marines, dune and seaside landscapes experimenting with enamel paint, sand, pebbles, shells and all sorts of other materials. For a certain time he only made geometric, constructional, non-figurative works, but he soon switched over to lyrical, abstract works. In 1952 he became one of the founders of the group ‘Art abstrait’, but after one year he already handed in his resign. Thanks to a study grant of the Unesco he could stay a few months in New York in 1959 where he got acquainted with the work of Jackson Pollock. After a period of purely abstract painting there gradually appeared faces and figures out of the jumble of colours and granular paint structure. The forms are organic and fanciful and the surrounding in which they appear are swampy. From the sixties onwards those forms became recognizable characters: persons who were very dear to him, portraits of the great men on earth and a lot of self-portraits. However, those were not clichéd portraits, but defigurated portraits which allowed him to show the inner side of the characters. Burssens’ paintings fit well close to the existential painting as promoted by Sartre: beauty needs not to be necessarily angelical but it can also be detected in ugly violence. In the works of Burssens the new man has been represented, abandoned by God and his retinue, vulnerable and tender with a strong individual pride.
Jan Burssens participated in many prestigious exhibitions such as the Biennale of Sâo Paulo (1953), the 29th Biennale of Venice and the international Guggenheim-prize at New York (1958), the Biennale of Tokyo and Documenta II at Kassel (1959), the exhibition ‘Figuration and Defiguration’ in the Museum of Fine Arts at Ghent (1964) etc. Paintings of Burssens are to be found from home and abroad, among other things in the Guggenheim Museum at New York.
Jan Burssens deceased at Merendree in 2002.