On an adventure with Joris Ghekiere in Mu.ZEE

The Belgian artist Joris Ghekiere was a virtuoso painter who almost secretly also worked on an oeuvre on paper. Mu.ZEE in Ostend shows the drawings he made during a one-year trip through Asia.

‘I have a good orientation, I am a chess player and I want to maintain my overview and control, but as an avid traveler I think it is much more interesting to be unoriented. The curious entry of foreign and unknown territories. ‘ A quote by Joris Ghekiere (1955-2016) in the middle of the exhibition ‘Travels on Paper, 1990-1991’ perfectly sums up what his art was about: exploring unknown territory.

The essence

  • ‘Travels on Paper, 1990-1991’ is an exhibition by Joris Ghekiere (1955-2016).
  • During that period, the artist and his wife, art historian Inge Henneman, made a journey through Asia.
  • Along the way, he processed the impressions into about 200 drawings, sketches and paintings on paper.
  • They are now on display in a museum for the first time.

The quote also applies to visitors to Mu.ZEE. Ghekiere is not a household name among the general public. His work is also foreign and unknown territory to many. The exhibition is therefore a fascinating journey of discovery, even for those who know his oeuvre.

He almost never showed his works on paper during his life. The exhibition in Mu.ZEE came about completely by chance. Curator Liesje Vandenbroeck and her husband Philip Aguirre y Otegui maintain the gallery Édition Populaire in Borgerhout. ‘We showed some of his drawings there in 2015. When I visited his studio, it turned out that he had made dozens of drawings and paintings on paper. They were in a dresser. That’s how the ball started to roll ‘, says Vandenbroeck.

The exhibition was created in close consultation and collaboration with Inge Henneman, Ghekiere’s widow. ‘I should have thought about it for a while, but I agreed to the exhibition.’

Twelve months through Asia

The largest part of the exhibition contains drawings made by Ghekiere between 1 August 1990 and 1 August 1991. They are supplemented by work on paper such as sketchbooks and pre-studies from Ghekiere’s home studio.

‘In 1990, we embarked on a twelve-month journey through Asia. Joris constantly made drawings, sketches and paintings on paper. Clothing was not available. He sent the result by boat to Belgium. His work was not a pictorial travelogue in the narrow sense of the word. His drawings were the result of the impressions he got along the way. He was very attracted to the signs, the pictures, the symbols, the architecture in Asia ‘, says Henneman.

‘We chose the one year because Joris was very creative at the time. His paintings from the 80s were darker. The color blooms in his drawings. They are also much more accessible than his paintings. Which is not to say that they are easy to decipher. They read like a puzzle, but as a spectator you should not look for a solution. I do not think it exists. It’s about the created image ‘, Vandenbroeck explains.

Edited Mao poster.
© © Estate Joris Ghekiere

The exhibition divides the couple’s journey into three countries: China, India and Japan. In the China section, the adaptations of a poster by Mao stand out. Ghekiere painted over the face of the great leader with figures that recur regularly in his work: a diver, a circle, a cone, a telescope, lines of perspective. Texts are incorporated in the drawings. Henneman wants to make sense of the diver. He thus meant surrender to life. You dare to throw. A diver is also drawn on his urn. ‘

Joris Ghekiere was a virtuoso. But later in his career, he tried to hide that virtuosity.

Lisje Vandenbroeck


The drawings from India – they make up the main part – stand out due to a huge explosion of colors. Japan, on the other hand, is mainly drawn in black ink. It’s hard to describe. You see a lot of figuration with abstract keys and geometric additions. A very unique world of landscapes, still lifes, people. Intimate, but also evasive.

Of the wrist

Ghekiere’s drawings all seem to fall off the cuff as if it were no effort at all. ‘He was a virtuoso. But later in his career, he tried to hide that virtuosity. He started working more mechanically with spray cans and turntables. He did not want to charm the public with his technical skills. He was constantly experimenting with new techniques and materials, ‘explains Vandenbroeck.

Maybe that’s why he never really became famous. ‘Joris Ghekiere, who was also a passionate teacher, was what one calls an’ artist ‘. He was highly respected by his colleagues. Luc Tuymans was a fan ‘, says the curator.

We stop at one of the most beautiful drawings from the exhibition, under the India sign. “I think it was actually made in Pakistan at the outbreak of the first Gulf War,” Henneman says. The painting is a self-portrait. But then separately. A man with antlers pushing against a mirror. In the background are some tanks. Nice head that solves this puzzle.

Joris Ghekiere, ‘Travels on Paper 1990-1991’ runs until 27 November in Mu.ZEE, Ostend

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