Artist Dieter de Greef, at the opening of his exhibition at the CAC. / PHOTOS: SALVADOR SALAS

The artist who gives nudes a new life and a new identity

Dieter de Greef. The Belgian painter is holding his first individual exhibition in Europe at the CAC Malaga, a collection of works in which he builds "a fantasy" around images of women taken from the Internet


A lot of nudes? I don't see any," says Fernando Francés as he gazes around the main room at CAC Malaga. He is surrounded by large pictures of women in different postures, produced with different techniques, and none of them wearing clothes, but there is much more to it than that. Dieter de Greef is holding his first individual exhibition in a European museum here in Malaga, a collection of works created specifically for this occasion where he builds "a fantasy" around images of women taken from the Internet.

"I want to give these women another life, another identity, so they tell a different story," explains this Belgian artist. They are all real women, in some cases inspired by photographs from books of models, "but they don't appear like that here, they are in a situation that recodifies the view of the image, the stereotype which is being sold," says Francés, the curator of the display which will be at the CAC until 20 February.

Dieter de Greef decontextualises these models to give them another story: he places them somewhere "friendly", gives them a naturalness and an expression of "happiness and serenity," he says.

This artist is unique because he combines numerous artistic trends in a single picture. From surrealism, expressionism, realism and abstraction to conceptual art with references to pop art and comics. This is very evident, for example, in the work 'Bob?', where a woman with a classic cartoon sandwich contemplates a landscape which mixes expressionist and realist brush-strokes.

'He said what!?' incorporates pop elements into a scene where a woman is lying on a sunbed by a swimming pool, phone in hand. De Greef always uses a palette saturated with colours, with yellows, reds, ochre tones, blue and black.

One element is repeated above all others: the skull. Most of the time the woman is holding one in her hands and gazing directly at it. It is a gesture of empowerment: they "conquer death, they are survivors", and they are looking towards the future. The artist makes an interesting reflection upon freedom in one of the few pictures in which a woman does not appear: he draws a peg with the end at which it is held severed. If there is nothing to hold on to, there is nothing to catch.

Dieter de Greef uses irony by combining text and image: the message "Fuck painting. Let's go to the beach!" is interspersed with a girl jumping on the sand. In this case, as with many others, a black stain covers her face. At other times the artist covers up the model's sexual organs or breasts. Because, says Francés, he doesn't want to incite desire or provocation. He just wants each person to build their own story, to experiment with their own 'coup de coeur' through these portraits which are in dialogue with each other.

And that is why the exhibition is called 'Coup de théâtre', an expression which refers to an unexpected turn of events during a performance. The artist feels that for him, that describes the challenge he faced thanks to the CAC Malaga.

After a period of inactivity, Dieter de Greef returned to painting and since then his life has taken a drastic change. Four years ago there was one of these 'coup de théâtre' when Fernando Francés found him by chance on the Internet, via Instagram, and they developed an immediate intellectual connection which led to this inauguration. "He started to prepare works for the museum, painting compulsively from eight o'clock in the morning, and he also cooked and looked after his family," says Francés, who is delighted by his "discovery".

After all this, the curator of the CAC has a message to a person who sees nothing but nudes on the walls of the exhibition room: "Society's continually moralistic messages try to imbue us with what is right and what is wrong. But that isn't down to who creates a work: it's down to the person who looks at it," he says.