Walter Leblanc (1932-1986) subscribed to the Academy of Fine Art in Antwerp without the knowledge of his father who was against his son’s artistic career. It was a conscious choice for the arts, however under pressure of his father, Walter Leblanc also obtained a degree in marketing.
His artistic career took off at the end of the fifties. He was founding member of the artist collective G58, known for the controversial exhibitions in the Hessenhuis in Antwerp, such as ‘Vision in Motion, Motion in Vision’ in 1959 and ‘Anti-Peinture’ in 1962. Walter Leblanc organized this last exhibition mostly by himself and artists from the Netherlands, Spain, France, Italy and Germany participated. It showed the important role he played in the European avant-garde.
His oeuvre can be associated with several important art movements of its time such as ZERO and Nouvelle Tendance. Leblanc created his first abstract works in 1956 and evolved to full monochrome paintings two years later. The characteristics of the traditional painting disappear progressively from his work and it loses its outspoken two-dimensional character. Non-pictorial elements such as sand and cotton strings appear in his works.
In 1959, the ‘torsion’ manifests itself as central element in Leblanc’s oeuvre. Walter Leblanc himself speaks about the torsion as a ‘modular component’i in his work. Through the twisting of the material, a rhythm appears in the surfaces. There is an optical effect and a dialogue with the air and light. In 1965 Walter Leblanc is the only Belgian artist that is showing work at ‘The Responsive Eye’, a large retrospective of kinetic and op art at the MoMA in New York.
Proof of his dynamism is the building of his own ‘torsion machine’. After two tries, Walter Leblanc succeeds to make a third and final torsions machine together with his brother in 1960ii.
Leblanc increasingly works according to set out schemes. In his ‘Archetypes’ the analytic approach is discernible. Starting from geometric basic forms – square, triangle, circle – Leblanc explores different intermediate forms and color accentuations. He is very enthusiastic about their simplicity and says ‘these schemes exists from primary forms that originate from long-gone times. Man has been using them since thousands of years as the basic of every construction, mentally as well as physically’iii.
Walter Leblanc was an enthusiast of modern jazz. When visiting him in his studio, as for example in his first studio in the Vlaaikensgang in Antwerp, one was immersed in the sound of bebop or West Coast jazz. This music that ignites a sense of freedom with established structures fitted perfectly with his personality and his workiv.
This exhibition is the first solo exhibition of Walter Leblanc in Belgium since the important ZERO retrospective ‘ZERO: Countdown to Tomorrow’ in the Guggenheim museum in New York in 2014 where works of Walter Leblanc were on view. In 2016 there was a duo-show together with his contemporary Jef Verheyen in the museum of Elsene, and in 2018 the TATE Londen acquired four works of the artist. Works of Walter Leblanc can also be found amongst others in the collections of the Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Antwerp (Antwerp), SMAK (Ghent), ZERO Foundation (Düsseldorf), Stedelijk Museum (Amsterdam) and the Centre Pompidou (Paris). In 2006 the Foundation Walter Leblanc was established in Brussels to promote the work of the artistv.
i ‘Sculpturaal Oppervlak’, Brussel, Atelier 340, 1984
ii This machine existed until it was destroyed after the death of Walter Leblanc by demand of his widow, Nicole Leblanc
iII ‘Walter Leblanc 1932-1986’, exhibition catalogue KMSKB, 2011, p. 83
iv Nicole Leblanc in ‘Walter Leblanc 1932-1986’, exhibition catalogue KMSKB, 2011, p. 9