Jef Geys (born 1934, Leopoldsburg – lives and work in Balen, Belgium) is one of the leading conceptual artists in Belgium, whose practice is dedicated to the question of art’s social role and usefulness. Geys has summed up his entire oeuvre as an ongoing project that combines conceptual attitudes, educational activities and formal experiments. By doing so he expands the range of what constitutes an artistic experience: from the 1960’s to 1989, Jef Geys was appointed Teacher of Positive Aesthetics at a school in Balen and started to map out the possibilities of the learning process. Both on an educational as artistic level, the school was a kind of laboratory of different activities, which linked social, political and aesthetical concerns.
From the start his work was also set against the art market and institutional authority. He critiques and calls into question the authority of certain accepted practices (his own and those of others)
including art criticism. In his practice, Geys affirms a radical independent position and develops an unprecedented approach to collective creativity, frequently generated by the participation of his immediate community. Indeed, much of his work has to do with the term ‘terroir’ in the sense of biotope, using typical representations of everyday life. One of his most well known works is the series of ‘seed paintings’: each year since 1963, he paints 2 copies of the beautiful flowers or vegetables that are pictured on seed packages with their common and scientific name.
The activities of Martin Douven (1898-1973), a self-taught artist from Limburg, provide the starting point of the Jef Geys interest for production-line painting, for authenticity in art and for the creative process a work of art goes through. The man began selling his own paintings in 1928 in furniture shops. As soon has his nine children were old enough, he got them painting also. In analogy to the method of the “industrial production chain” each child/family member took care of a part of the canvas (blue sky, cloud, tree…), and the father would take care of the finishing touch . In the 1950s the family Douven went to live in Leopoldsburg, where Jef Geys lived in those years. He became friend with François, one of the Douven children, and often visited the factory in full productivity nearby.
In the rich years of the 60s Jef Geys started several ongoing series such as the Seed Paintings, the Model Paintings, the Coloring Books for Adults, the Cow Passports. Since, these series were continued,
developed or reformulated throughout the 70s and 80s, including the Fruit reliefs, the Gavra Paintings and the !questions de femmes?, all works that will be introduced at Artissima.
Jef Geys remains relatively unknown for the larger public, even though he participated in international exhibitions in major institutions, among others Chambre d’Amis, Ghent (1986), the Biennial of São Paulo (1991), Skulptur Projekte, Münster (1997), Documenta 11, Kassel (2002), Venice Biennial– representing Belgium with the exhibition Quadra Medicinale (2009) – Solo exhibitions : Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels (1992), Middelheim, Antwerp (1999), Kunstverein, München (2001), van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven (2004), IAC, Villeurbanne (2007), Woodward Avenue, Detroit (2010), M hKA, Antwerp (2011), Wiels, Brussels (2013) and de Warande, Turnhout (2014).
Thanks to Dirk Snauwaert for his precious help.
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Hall Grey / Booth 8
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