To get into the painting of Bob De Groof, is before everything else to know it by detail. Our gaze collides with pieces of old posters, granny’s lace, cans, painting tubes, music-scores, women’s lingerie and even, as we get nearer, sand and pieces of shells. Are we face to face with collages, marouflages, assemblages or integrations? How do we call these skillful compositions which mix historical, sociological and publicity images? It’s difficult to find a name, except by going back and look at the entire picture.


It then becomes obvious that the used materials, found by De Groof on his diverse walks, are not only pieces of an assemblage, pieces of a collage, but that these elements are ‘integrated materials’. Indeed, to assemble means bringing together all kinds of strange objects, which generally produces a bizarre whole, whereas integration is the action of making complete, entire, bringing an integral part into an ensemble. And it is precisely this integration which is at the base of the feeling of a harmonious whole created by his canvases. Those who look at them can always distinguish the outline of external elements, while being persuaded to find themselves facing an organic whole.


And those integrated objects give the canvases their temporality: an old glove, a piece of wood the sea carried in, used garter belts. Paintings change themselves with all these lives to be reborn in the same space-time, that of creation. So we do not contemplate a petrified instant, but more a vertical time, which displays itself in successive sheets, superposed between themselves: they are what could be called in an ensemble ‘integrated temporalities’. In the central point of De Groof most recent works, black blue colours have so much been intensified that it seems as if something is burnt. It is as if it’s been sedimented: drippings subjected to gravitation have stilled and dried in a magma of sand and wood splinters. However, all those outwardly elements, bearers of a different impermanence, are contributing to the artist’s inner world.


De Groof’s work has often been qualified as figurative expressionism. His demons and his visions are often tied to anxiety and are also a clear form of revolt against surrounding society. As a logical parallel to this, there exists a movement from exterior to interior. Those outer objects which integrate and express his inner world.


And this interior world is intimately linked to the actual universe in which we evolve: Bob’s paintings speak to us about our present. Like Georges Bataille, the painter gathers shock-images, clichés of Chinese crucifixions, of torture, which he re-actualises in his canvases.

The war pictures he integrates , certainly express his mangled world, but more than that, they summon the violence of our societies. Because soldiers face publicity symbols, because Baader’s gang faces Mickey Mouse, there has been a play with the reflection of our contemporary values. De Groof shows us, in an explosive form, how much we infantilize suffering.The painter holds up a mirror for us to see the violence that exists in our modern world.


De Groof doesn’t fail to bring in humor despite the seriousness of the issue. He plays with his integrations, on the discrepancies of outwardly elements. These incorporations enjoy and amuse the painter: so there is nothing astonishing about a Christ juxtaposed with tortured naked women mixes with graffiti style or that yellowed children’s photo cohabit with shamanistic totems. There are continuities in this humoristic universe, like the Tex Avery characters which he distorts from canvas to canvas. So, in consequence, when the painter parodies ‘Naked women in bath’ by Bonnard he exchanges her for a accumulation of ducks and takes good care to glue a shower curtain on the linen. The arrangement in space of his fearful demons is made comical.


Clearly the painter associates himself with the COBRA tradition. His vital gestures, the illusions to tribal art, to totems which he puts in all his canvases, but also this famous and childish tone precedently evoked, all those elements are characteristics of De Groof, not breaking or splitting from, but in a continuity towards those painters who preceded him. The legacy of Fred Bervoets, painter whom De Groof discovered when he visited his uncle, situationist art critic Walter Korun, and in whose universe the painter immersed himself, is also quite perceptible. And it are those pictorial investigations which he continues while adding his own sensibility in them.


The originality of De Groof’s style is also connected to his personal history, which is very much
present in his work. The painter has, so to say, realised a true katabasis by falling in the world of addiction: he has known suffering, destruction and almost not come back from the kingdom of shadows. Nevertheless De Groof has reintegrated the world, with a yet stranger desire to paint and a greater freshness still towards the rediscovery of the perceivable world. As violent as it is, his painting offers what we may call a celebration of life. Thus we could push the concept of integration a bit further and look, in the paintings by Bob De Groof, for the traces from an esthetic of re-integration.

Elodie Lélu – Art historian, writer and film director.
Director of the documentary “Tweede Kans” (Second Chance), 2009 on Bob De Groof.
Director and writer of the short movie “Leçon de conduite”, 2012 and the documentary “Lettre à Théo”, 2018 on Théo Angelopoulos.
Writer of the book “Journal de bord d’un tournage inachevé”, 2017, on Angelopoulos’ last movie.