The title for the new Koen Vermeule exhibition at Borzo needs some explanation and interpretation. To do this we have to nip back into the history of art and in this case to an artist Koen Vermeule greatly admired. Oskar Schlemmer (1888-1943) is chiefly known for his significant contribution as an artist and teacher associated with the Bauhaus, the legendary German school for Modernist architecture, painting and theatre arts. Founded in Weimar in 1919, later moved to Dessau and finally Berlin until the Nazi regime forced it to close its doors in 1933. Along with many of his Bauhaus colleagues, in the nineteen-thirties Oskar Schlemmer suffered as the Nazis declared his modern painting style to be 'entartet' (degenerate) and his paintings were also hung in the notorious 'Ausstellung Entartete Kunst' in Munich in 1937. Schlemmer withdrew from the active art world. During the war he worked in a paint factory in Wuppertal. From his attic room he had a view of houses on the other side of the street, which provided his subject matter for what would become known as ‘Fensterbilder’.

Forced by the depressing times and circumstances, and yet still with conviction, he rediscovered painting reality. In his diary for July 10th 1941 he wrote: "Ohne Zweifel, hier bin ich sehr echt und male solches mit ganzer Seele, es liegt mir…….Immer bin ich fasziniert , wenn ich die Häusergeometrien um mich sehe und dies besonders, wenn auch die Natur grau ist (oder braun)….."

Oskar Schlemmer Room with a figure sitting in the purple shade 1942 Oil and pencil on cardboard 30.6 x 20.7 cm
Oskar Schlemmer, Room with a figure sitting in the purple shade, 1942, Oil and pencil on cardboard, 30.6 x 20.7 cm

Schlemmer’s Fensterbilder are coloured drawings on small format, where the motif is domestic scenes, as he saw these from his window, where the geometric glass divisions of the window uses horizontal and vertical mullions to frame the composition in a very natural manner. Instinctively their composition and subject matter nevertheless remind one of Schlemmer’s iconic painting 'Bauhaus Stairway' from 1932: man and architecture.

Talking to Koen Vermeule and with an array of his most recent gouaches spread out over the floor, the name of Oskar Schlemmer comes up and also that of Georges Seurat, an artist whose work he likewise admires and studies. At that split second I also see why. Schlemmer, Seurat and Koen Vermeule, too, are looking to produce an image taken from observation. 

The theme of Man and Architecture has been a very familiar one to him for many years, and he is above all a keen observer. The characters in his work regularly figure in an architecture with glazed façades, whereby he makes grateful use of architectural elements such as window pillars, beams, floors and walls, which Vermeule primarily sees as essential lines and planes in his composition. Besides being useful subjects, shadows and shaded areas are also painterly elements used to produce a good composition.

And so - literally bent over a 'carpet' of gouaches unrolled over the floor -  the title for the new Koen Vermeule exhibition at Borzo emerges quite naturally: Fensterbilder.