Bob de Groof’s life in art

Bob de Groof’s diverse artistic output is intrinsically related to his personal history as a drug-addict.

Twenty take-no-prisoner years as a junky in which heroin, amphetamines, alcohol and whatnot were coupled with a violent, almost-suicidal drive that could have easily resulted in an early death, as expected by many during the peak of his drug-fuelled tribulations.

After decades of substance abuse, Bob’s self-perception as an artist led to a crucial existential paradox: a contraposition between a harmful denial mechanism justifying his excesses and a powerful motivation to fight addiction. Fortunately, the latter impulse prevailed. Bob’s understanding of recovery as the sum of “abstinence and change” and his strong determination to become sober and productive allowed him to abandon his destructive tendencies and eventually put his recuperated life at the service of a greater creative pursuit.

Bob’s history is ultimately one of unexpected redemption and in consequence most of his creations depict the very last dramatic moments of a final struggle with addiction, delirious agony and death. This fundamental battle is often represented in a chaotic maelstrom engulfing Bob’s preferred secondary themes: war, blasphemy, pornography, bondage, rape, anarchy, revolution and marginality, all set in spaces conductive of hallucinatory madness: a trench, an open battlefield, a back alley, a swamp or hell itself.

Despite having experienced first-hand some of the deepest obscurities of existence, his dark choice of subjects and the murky violence of his compositions, there is a strange, primordial hope in Bob de Groof’s art. The viewer is often surprised by a constant and tangible undercurrent of humour, quite indistinguishable from pure childlike joy which does help confronting the unconditional angst in his pieces. One wonders if that joy is not the offspring of Bob’s temporary (as it has to be constantly renewed) victory over addiction.

The emissaries of this joy take the form of well-known twenty century popular characters such as Betty Boop, Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, Popeye, Olivia, Bugs Bunny, Tintin, Bibendum etc., often aided or tormented by armies of animated hypodermic needles and booze bottles. A special pre-eminence amongst Bob’s preferred subjects is reserved to William Burroughs, writer, hardcore heroin addict and major hellraiser, and revolutionary anarchist Nestor Makhno. Both are heralds of wicked passions, uncompromised freedom, and the same sort of destructive truth which transfixes Bob’s creations.

Bob’s art is lately set in re-enactments of classic paintings by Bosch, Brueghel, Rops with art- brut overtones and reminiscences from Jorn, Dix or Bervoets. These open homages initiate an enduring dialogue between established figures and Bob’s raw and playful interpretations.

Evolving from primitive self-described “druggie pictures” created in bars while being high on a cocktail of substances, Bob’s art has taken many forms over his thirty-five years of nearly continuous activity: ink drawings, oil painting, pastel, collages, totems and, especially, linocuts, which have progressively become the core of his artistic creation. The plasticity and chromatic simplicity of this medium allows Bob to unleash his creativity and present a series of distinct, identifiable variations of his lysergic universes, a recreation of his artificial paradises from bygone days.

Angel Alvarez Alberdi, Brussels, January 2019