Peggy & Jacqueline Mesmaeker
RADAR

Who is Jacqueline Mesmaeker?

Five facts

After 9 weeks, the exhibition halls of the Centre for Fine Arts will open their doors again on 19 May. Until 21 July you have the opportunity to discover four exhibitions at BOZAR, including a brand new one: Ah, Quelle Aventure! Jacqueline Mesmaeker. Who is this 90-year-old quirky artist from Brussels? Get to know her in five facts.  


Jacqueline Mesmaeker © Jimmy Kets
Jacqueline Mesmaeker © Jimmy Kets

1. Her career began in fashion

In the early 1960s, Jacqueline Mesmaeker worked in a more applied field of art, as a fashion designer and stylist. It was her aunt who ignited her love for visual art and in 1974 she decided to study it further. Her textile designs gradually transformed into visual works of art. The practical made way for art with no practical use; art for art’s sake.

“I started to focus more on creating without an immediate purpose, but I’ve never set out to do that in a grandiose way. There are a lot of artists who want to make their mark on the world, to plant a flag, stake out their territory. I am not aiming for any form of immortality in my work.” – Jacqueline Mesmaeker in De Standaard


Jacqueline Mesmaeker, Papier Peint (detail), 2020, courtesy of the artist
Jacqueline Mesmaeker, Papier Peint (detail), 2020, courtesy of the artist

2. She’s sometimes referred to as the ‘Belgian Louise Bourgeois’.

Jacqueline Mesmaeker is often compared to the French artist Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010), one of the icons of late twentieth-century art. Like Bourgeois, Mesmaeker has followed her own artistic path with wit and individuality. Both women have regularly pitted themselves against the prevailing tastes of their era and taken inspiration from their personal stories, in which childhood has played an important role. Mesmaeker’s work is a constant search for poetry in the everyday: In Papier Peint (1974) she scrapes layer after layer of wallpaper from the walls of her apartment in Brussels. Playful designs from the wallpaper of her childhood bedroom appear here and there. You’ll have to come and decide for yourself whether the comparison is justified!


Jacqueline Mesmaeker, Les Régentes, 1990-2020, Courtesy Galerie Nadja Vilenne, Liège
Jacqueline Mesmaeker, Les Régentes, 1990-2020, Courtesy Galerie Nadja Vilenne, Liège

3. The history of western art is one of her greatest sources of inspiration

It’s obvious that motifs from art history - painting, figuration, nature, landscape, light etc. - are a major source of inspiration for Jacqueline Mesmaeker. Like her many predecessors, she strives for a certain tendency towards beauty, a kind of constant in visual art. With the irony in her work, she manages simultaneously to distance herself from this ‘classical art’, which is pierced by the everyday or the trivial. In Les Régentes from 1990, Mesmaeker offers her own interpretation of a painting by Frans Hals. Here, the seventeenth-century painting is reduced to nothing more than a printed image, next to a composition where flames correspond exactly to the position of the hands.


Jacqueline Mesmaeker, Portes Roses,1975, Courtesy Galerie Nadja Vilenne, Liège
Jacqueline Mesmaeker, Portes Roses,1975, Courtesy Galerie Nadja Vilenne, Liège

4. She has also been inspired by authors and poets

The artist is not exclusively inspired by her own domain, she is also fascinated by the world of literature. Browsing through her work you will find allusions to works by the likes of Lewis Carroll, Montesquieu, Thomas Hardy and the roman noir. Even in her earliest work, Portes Roses, her fascination with 19th-century literature prevails. A series of watercolours stretching several metres long quotes an excerpt from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  An artwork that’s also a great read.


Jacqueline Mesmaeker, L'Androgyne, 1. Avion en phase d’approche, 1986-2013, privéverzameling
Jacqueline Mesmaeker, L'Androgyne, 1. Avion en phase d’approche, 1986-2013, privéverzameling

5. She has been fascinated by ‘time’ since childhood

At the age of five, Mesmaeker was sent to a Swiss school that specialised in helping children with motor problems to walk more easily. It was in this mountain village of watchmakers that she discovered ‘time’, as it were. She found an image of a clock in her first schoolbook.

“At the age of five, I suddenly discovered an object that kept the time. It seemed a miracle to me. As if I was awakened to the understanding, very unconsciously, that there was such a thing as culture, a way to capture time and manipulate it by moving its hands. […] I had something I would cherish for the rest of my life.” – Jacqueline Mesmaeker in De Standaard


Discover Mesmaeker’s illusions with time in the exhibition Ah, Quelle Aventure! Jacqueline Mesmaeker, until 21 July at BOZAR.

See also