For more than twenty-five years, Jan Fabre (b. Antwerp, 1958) has occupied a leading international position as a groundbreaking visual artist, theatre maker and author. In the late seventies he took courses at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts and the Municipal Institute of Decorative Arts and Crafts, both in Antwerp. He has become well known to a wide audience with The Hour Blue (1977-1992), a series of deep-blue Bic ballpoint drawings, the Tivoli castle (1990), Heaven of Delight (2002), in which he covered the ceiling of the Mirror Room at the Royal Palace in Brussels with jewel beetle wing-shields, his open-air sculptures, including The man who measures the clouds (1998), Searching for Utopia (2003) and Totem (2000-2004), and such recent installations as Chapters I-XVIII (2010) and Pietas (2011).
Drawings, sculptures, objects, installations, films, performances, thinking models and others: all the works by Jan Fabre the visual artist make reference to a belief in the vulnerable body and its defence, plus an observation of man and asking the question of how he can survive in the future. This fascination with the body and science originated in his youth, when, influenced by the research carried out by the entomologist Jean-Henri Fabre (1823-1915), there was nothing he liked more than to study the world of insects and other creatures, even dissecting their tiny bodies and transforming them into new creatures.
Metamorphosis is a key concept in any approach to Jan Fabre’s artistic course, in which human and animal existence are constantly interacting. This led him to the portrayal of the sensual and the spiritual body; the creation of a variety of deathless bodies resistant to the natural cycles of growth and decay. His work as an artist is a poetic act of resistance under the flag of beauty, an exercise in disappearance or a celebration of life as a preparation for death. Over the years he has shaped his own world with its laws and rules, and recurring characters, symbols and motifs.
Jan Fabre was present at major art events, and worked internationally on numerous solo and group exhibitions. The first exhibition to chart his broad range of artistic activities was Homo Faber. The various aspects of his visual art were shown at several locations in Antwerp, including the museums of early and contemporary art. Afterwards he received an exceptional invitation from the Louvre: a free hand in the rooms containing the Ecoles du Nord (the painting from the Low Countries). With Jan Fabre au Louvre: L’ange de la metamorphose (2008) he was the first contemporary artist to be given a free hand in the museum, and amongst such masters as Van Eyck, Van der Weyden, Bosch, Metsys and Rubens. The exhibition was conceived as a ‘mental dramaturgy’ that staged the most important figures in his own work and that of the old masters. The many works shown included a number of drawings from The Hour Blue, which was after many years partially brought back together again in the Gemäldegaleries (amongst the Tintorettos, Caravaggios and Breughels) at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna (2011) and at the Saint-Etienne Métropole Musée d’Art Moderne (2012). Another sizeable exhibition was Hortus/Corpus at the Kröller-Müller Museum (Otterlo, 2011). New, recent and early work provided an overview of Jan Fabre’s extremely ‘physical oeuvre’.
Among other much-discussed exhibitions we should mention Pietas, an ensemble of five white marble sculptures of brains. It was first shown at the Nuove Scuola Grande di Santa Maria della Misericordia for the 2011 Venice Biennale and in the summer of 2012 in the ‘Parkloods’, the renovated exhibition space at Park Spoor Noord in Antwerp. The brain is given a leading role in this installation. The importance that Jan Fabre attaches to what he calls ‘the sexiest part of the body’ had previously been signalled in Anthropology of a planet (Palazzo Benzon, Venice, 2007) and From the Cellar to the Attic. From the Feet to the Brain (Kunsthaus Bregenz, 2008. Arsenale Novissimo, Venice, 2009).