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Walter Swennen

Walter Swennen is known for his radical, experiential and associative approach to painting, which is perhaps best summarised as a belief in the total autonomy of the artwork. For Swennen, a painting does not need to be ‘emotive’ or ‘understood’: the primary goal of painting is, quite simply, painting. Everything—form, colour, subject—comes from the outside. A poet before he became a painter, it is no coincidence that language plays a vital role in his practice. Although his œuvre varies greatly in scale, style and materials, it can be construed as an on-going exploration into the nature and problems of painting (its potential and limitations), the fundamental question of what to paint (subject matter), and how (technique). The way that he handles motifs—he takes them as he finds them, high or low, and manipulates them at will—is akin to a kind of visual poetry that harks back to his early career as a writer. Freely associative, and above all humorous, Swennen’s paintings explore the relationship between symbols, legibility, meaning and pictorial treatment.

Walter Swennen (b. 1946, Brussels, Belgium) lives and works in Brussels. A major retrospective opened at Kunstmuseum Bonn (2021), traveling to Gemeentemuseum Den Haag (2021) and Kunst Museum Winterthur (2022). Solo exhibitions include La pittura farà da sé, La Triennale di Milano, Milan (2018); Ein perfektes Alibi, Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen, Düsseldorf (2015); So Far So Good, WIELS, Brussels (2013-14); Continuer, Culturgest Lisbon (2013); Garibaldi Slept Here, Kunstverein Freiburg (2012) and How To Paint A Horse, Cultuurcentrum Strombeek and De Garage, Mechelen (2008).

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Selected Images

Selected media

  • Studio visit with Walter Swennen

    On the occasion of What the body can do (2023)

  • In conversation with Isabelle Wéry

    On the occasion of Parti chercher du white spirit (2021)

  • In conversation with Miguel Wandschneider

    On the occasion of Un Cœur Pur (2019)

  • In conversation with Damien De Lepeleire

    On the occasion of HIC HAEC HOC (2016)