DIANA GOODWIN – 2011 - Uit: Flanders Today, 21 september 2011.
Poetry for the eye - Renaat Ramon
A visual artist who is also a poet usually has little chance to combine the disciplines, but not so for Bruges-based Renaat Ramon. The title of his new exhibition is Hasselt is Oogrijm, or Eye Rhyme.
“Oogrijm” is also the title of one of the pieces in the show - a grid of geometric figures, straight lines and coloured circles. “Eye rhyme means words that have endings spelled identically, so they appear to be similar, but are not pronounced the same,” the artist explains. Meaning, say the words “blood” and “wood”. This verbal correspondence is expressed in purely visual terms, one of the hallmarks of Ramon’s work.
His unique approach blends word and image, letters and symbols, numbers and text, creating graphic works that delight the viewer with unexpected associations. “I was and I am still a visual artist and a poet” he tells me at the opening of the show in Hasselt’s cultural centre “At a certain point, there was a spontaneous but logical interaction between the two genres.”
Ramon is fascinated by all kinds of symbolic systems, not just alphabets (and the words they form) but also musical notation, visual codes, pictograms and other forms of graphical representation. Another of his pieces makes use of Ogham, an ancient Irish alphabet made by scratching lines in stone. In his work, even familiar symbols find new meanings and become the elements of poetry.
Not surprisingly, Ramon was trained as an architectural draughtsman at a time when precise rendering was still done by hand. This attention to detail and commitment to clarity of expression is evident. Stylistically, he is influenced by neoplasticism, the Dutch minimalist movement that emphasised simple geometric shapes and primary colours.
As an accomplished sculptor whose monumental steel designs can be seen in locations around his native West Flanders, he works with geometric forms like squares and circles. This formalism is also expressed in his poetry. Ramon explains his aesthetic by quoting the 20th-century Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein: “Ultimately, mathematics is poetry.”
Ramon’s work also pays homage to great thinkers and writers such as Mallarmé, Apollinaire, and Jean-Paul Sartre. “Voient-elles Rimbaud?” refers to a poem by Rimbaud that assigns colours to vowels. In Ramon’s piece, this conceit is not merely given visual expression but inspires a composition that balances colour and form, in which the vowels are transformed from letters into iconic shapes.
The exhibition includes both graphic works and sculpture. The latter comprise two three-dimensional alphabets. “ ‘Metabet’ is recent work - a new geometrical alphabet of stone,” he explains. “The other alphabet is Utopia, invented by the Antwerp humanist Pieter Gillis for the island of Utopia” from the writings of Thomas More. Above all, Ramon’s visual poetry entices the eye and the mind, daring the viewer to see, read and think in new ways. He challenges our definitions of poetry, of art, and of the difference between the visual and the verbal.
One of the pleasures of viewing each piece is the “Aha!” moment when its internal code reveals itself . There is a great, humanistic wit behind these works. As with all good poetry, ‘Oogrijm’ offers a fresh way of looking at the world - thereby seeing it more clearly.