“I've chosen to pay homage to Brussels because I owe everything to it: my heroes — René Magritte, Hergé, Jacques Brel, Eddy Merckx, Jacky Ickx, Arno —and modernity. In addition, I like drawing things that appeal to me and that I therefore know well.”
Ever Meulen likes to take his 1960 Chevrolet Corvair coupe — “a beautiful, compact little American car in cascade green” — out for a spin on Sunday mornings, while the city sleeps. With his wife Viviane at his side, he wends his way through the neighbourhoods of the Belgian (and European) capital, on the lookout for possible subjects. Viviane takes photographs while Ever whips up a few rough sketches on the spot, wherever his attention is drawn by a scene, a movement, or a building angle. “My drawings always emerge from a particular line, perspective or plane.”
After returning to the studio — “ the only place where I can draw” — referring to the photos and sketches, he works out the drawing in all its precise details, sometimes even on graph paper. Occasionally, the lines drawn in pencil are heightened with pastel or charcoal. Meulen’s work is also informed by his lived experiences. “Sometimes a song is enough to release a flood of memories.” Each of his drawings is a palimpsest composed of layers of geometric and sharp-edged shapes suggesting a gaze that is occasionally ironic, often nostalgic, and always attentive to the changes afoot in the city. “ I never want to be bored. I like changing the scene, atmosphere or style, remaining tree to create a very different drawing the next day.”
As one would expect, there are views of the Atomium, the Parc du Cinquantenaire, Square Maréchal Montgomery, the Botanical Gardens, the Forêt de Soignes at the edge of the city, Rue Victor Horta and its Art Nouveau ornamentations, the Villa Empain, the Art Deco Palais Stoclet, and the Grand-Place at the centre of the city, among other iconic sights. Brussels is truly here, in all its helter-skelter glory, tying together city and nature, marrying the Gothic and the baroque, architectural jewels and eyesores. “My Brussels is more that of the periphery than the centre, the Atomium more than the Grand-Place.” I steer clear of postcard impressions. Especially for this project, I was after something very different.”
"For me, sketching in nature is too simple. It doesn't give me any satisfaction. I prefer to draw things in which people were involved."
With absolute attention to detail and without fanfare, Meulen upends clichés as well as perspectives, plays with scale, “unwittingly” inventing odd angles and improbable base lines, piling up contexts and images within the image. Discreetly, he slips in strange and unusual things: here a silhouette on the verge of the abyss, there a faceless figure or, outside the frame, a rain-filled cloud. There is as much rigor as poetry in his line, as much wisdom as zany inventiveness. Each drawing by this surveyor-poet demands an attentive reading to try to plumb the Meulen mystery and catalogue the recurring hints in his work: the automobile etched in its minutest details, the airplane in the sky, struck through with a horizontal line, the stoic bird, the mirror without reflections, mute like the frequent text bubbles empty of all words.
“It's a Travel Book created at home. This stationary journey was a very joyful experience for me” says Meulen. We now have the drawings. It took him some time to part with them. “I’m an old schnook who draws on paper, using organic materials, who works up separate blocks and pages for color. It’s a highly artisanal practice compared with today’s digital approach to drawing, but I like this longer time frame. I don't go too fast, to keep it alive as long as I can."
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