Isabelle De Baets

Mieke Teirlinck continues to put her faith in the art of painting in order to mimic reality. Painting along with her ability to mimic or imitate reality remains until today the most essential element in her practice of painting. Throughout the search for their own visual language, painters are never merely preoccupied with the faithful representation of the sensory reality, but rather focus on expressing an essence hidden behind reality. The philosopher Plato used the allegory of the cave to show the difference between these two already in Classical Antiquity. The chained prisoners living in this cave saw shadows on the wall at the entrance and took them to be reality, though they were but mere reflections of the existent reality outside the cave. According to Plato, the actual reality was what he called the realm of ideas, a world we cannot directly see, but that is present in everything we see. This realm contains perfect forms or images, which can be studied to discover universals. The typical or individual characteristics of objects here on earth are but a mere shadow of this realm of ideas. M.T.’s works reflect this notion. Each painting can therefore be seen as an attempt to show something more essential behind reality.

Mieke Teirlinck’s paintings depict fragility, lost innocence and imperfection. She wants to bring matters to light that are all too often forgotten, even though we are confronted with them every day. Teirlinck has a way of shaping these themes in ever more subtle and surprising ways throughout her work. She gained fame with two portrait series, Koppen 2002, a series of 21 portraits depicting employees of Bruges 2002 (Europe's cultural capital), and Corpus 2005, a series of back view paintings of naked men and women. The latter contains a painting called Corpus (Evelyn), which was painted especially for the big summer event Corpus 2005 in Bruges. In both portrait series she tried to represent each person as they are, unvarnished, with all their imperfections. In a more recent work, Paradis Perdu (2011), a series of images of damaged porcelain figures and dolls, she represents human vulnerability in a more multifaceted way. The Fantasy (2010) shows a hippopotamus that seems to watch over an abandoned child. Farewell - II (2011) is a reference to the fragility of childhood. Les Blessés (2011), a figurine of a married couple wrapped in bandages, evokes the very early stages of happiness of newlyweds. Teirlinck's works often deal with sustained injuries that are nearly or completely beyond healing. That type of fragility is also delicately conveyed in the still-lives of porcelain birds sitting on a mirror. Nothing is what it seems. The black swan in The Desire (2011) used to be white, as we can make out from its reflection in the water. With inversions like these she breaks through the romantic atmosphere of the image and gives it an unpleasant character.

Mieke Teirlinck's works deal with important events or experiences that interest her and that touched her in her youth. For a period during puberty she had to wear an iron corset for rehabilitation. Surprisingly, this emerges in one of her paintings. L’imperfection I & II (2011), which shows a porcelain doll without clothing on its upper body.

During her creative process Teirlinck wants to experience firsthand the physical presence of what she is painting. This approach - starting from the subject’s immediate proximity - is best exemplified in her portraits and landscapes. She portrays people with very diverse backgrounds, ordinary people, who usually have a story of their own. In order to do that, she often focuses on people on the margins of society, marked by illness or disabilities. The people she has portrayed have all posed in her studio. A well-known series of portraits by Teirlinck is the one from 2007 that portrays people with a mental disability living in the home Ter Dreve in Bruges. She has represented them with great respect, just as they are, frail and strong at the same time.

When painting a landscape, Teirlinck lets herself be surrounded by it. She works 'en plein air'. Teirlinck still employs the wet-on-wet painting technique, which allows her thick paint strokes to be decidedly tangible. Her brilliant, vivid colour palette creates exquisite colour gradients and subtle light and shadow effects. Teirlinck’s lifelike flesh tones, as in Corpus (Evelyn) (2012) evoke references to Lucian Freud's naked portraits and Cindy Wright's still-life paintings of chunks of meat.

Teirlinck usually places her subject front and centre. There is no background setting, staging on a second level or distracting framework. The subject retains all of the focus. This leads for instance to very dynamic representations of animals that seem to jump out of the canvas, such as her Our Dog (2013), a dog lost in a snowy landscape.

Excerpt from a text for Tea for Two, an exposition at Villa de Olmen with Xavier Tricot