Let’s get physical, physical
I wanna get physical
Let’s get into physical
Let me hear your body talk, your body talk
Let me hear your body talk
Olivia Newton-John


We’re delighted to be opening the new year with a very special exhibition by two exceptional painters. The exhibition marks Koen Delaere’s fourth show with the gallery, showing all new paintings and Elisabeth Vary’s debut at VAN HORN, with an extensive overview of her work from the late 1980’s to very recent work. 

What do a Tilburg painter, a child of punk and a woman artist born in the midst of World War II have in common? What they certainly have in common is that they live in their physical bodies, which enables them to create their art from these bodies. Of course, you could say that this is a commonplace, after all we all live in our bodies – but only a few people truly realise this on a deeper, essential level. Few people are moved by the power and uniqueness of their bodies to create something new – music, dance and also painting. Elisabeth Vary and Koen Delaere each move in a unique, playful, free way with, around and in their abstract paintings in space. They perform their dance, which is finalised in a painted body object, with an almost childlike openness and joy.

Daniela Steinfeld, January 2024


The Kids are Alright.
My generation..Who song sung by Patti Smith
Pete Townsend

Patti Smith’s memoir of her life as “traveling companion” and “confidant” of Robert Mapplethorpe appears to float seamlessly and appropriately between fact and fiction. Between dream and reality. Though grounded in a gritty material reality of 70s NYC, their existence was elevated by ambition and creativity and perhaps most significantly by a resolute belief in the transformative possibilities that making art would deliver for them both.

Last year I met Patti Smith at a book signing in Paris. As she signed my newly pressed copy of Just Kids she seemed justifiably tired by the event, but also there was an undeniable energy that simmered around her. Punk itself exploded and fizzled swiftly between 1976 and 1980 only to be replaced by the mostly vacuous seductions of the New Romantics. In fact there are few figures to have survived that moment and certainly fewer still who have been willing or able to extend the abrasive legacy of punk. Patti Smith is unquestionably one of those figures. Smith herself in the prescient 1975 album Horses recorded a grand version of The Who’s My Generation, and certainly their “The Kids are Alright” energy and physical temerity, expressed in that wild swirling action of Pete Townsend had opened the way for what would follow. 

I have written before about Koen Delaere’s physical paintings and made reference to one of punks other iconic figures, one who didn’t survive but whose music persists loudly… Jo Strummer. Delaere’s tectonic action bulldozes paint along a north-south axis much as Strummer attacked the strings of his guitar. Strummer’s playing was a triumph of force over finesse, but with Delaere both wild action and subtlety are evident. Pigments of all stripes are pressed into action, some blending, others resisting each other. But it is his direct, tectonic action that opens the surface, revealing the sedimentary strata of the painting. As Delaere coerces the layers, viscous shards of colour are unearthed as if they were mineral deposits, the rewards of patience and endeavour.

When I first met Elizabeth Vary in the mid- 1990s, punk had evaporated, but Elisabeth felt like a beautiful version of Siouxie Sioux. Her flaming red hair and contrasting electric blue or green mascara and eyeliner was pure Banshee. She has continued to fascinate me ever since – her energy and intelligence, her candour and resolute unwillingness to accept stupidity. But what is so wildly evident in Lizzie and her work is its consideration and joyfulness. The forms she builds resist the plane of the wall, at times appearing as if they have pushed through that plane, spiky and crystalline, whilst others have a subtler folded origami to them that refuses to be subject to the orthodoxies of the rectangle. In this sense alone they are deliciously punk.

When I survey contemporary painting, it becomes crystal clear how much Delaere and Vary are both resisting the compliance that has overtaken so much “production”. Each make work in utterly idiosyncratic ways, privately and without the safety net of convenient narrative. Their paintings are made with optimism and spirit – it’s almost as if they approached this unreasonable task with the freedoms and spontaneity one commonly associates with youth. It’s almost as if they were just kids.

Text by Andrew Jensen / Fox Jensen, Sydney | Fox Jensen McCrory, Auckland written for VAN HORN in January 2024

Koen Delaere, *1970 in Brugges, lives and works in Tilburg, Netherlands | studied painting and philosophy at the Academy of Fine Arts in Tilburg | -professor at the Tilburg Art Academy

Elisabeth Vary, married Umberg-Vary, *1940 Cologne, lives and works in Cologne and Coberon, France She was a professor at the Academy of Media Arts KHM in Cologne until 2001.