Quality is the first norm for art, but its final norm is love and truth, the enriching of human life, the deepening of our vision.


Merlevede, Gian

Gian was born in Germany in 1973. He is of Belgian-Swiss descent. He was raised in Flanders. Since he was drawing and painting all through his childhood, he trained at the beginning of the ’90’s in Antwerp (Sint Lucas Kunsthogeschool) as a graphic designer. Next he went to the university of Ghent where he completed his degree in art history in 2000. His thesis carried the following title: Art without Center – The Vision of Hans Sedlmayr on Modern Art. In 2001 he went to Toronto, Canada to study Christian philosophy of art (Institute for Christian Studies).
Early 2003 he worked in an administrative job for Zwaan Bvba in Mechelen, an import company of Christian books and media. In 2005 he quit this job and started to prepare for his first big solo exhibition. Two years later an Antwerp art gallery presented his show “Wrestling in the sea (with the One)”. In September 2009 he married with German artist Simone Distler. The art couple now lives and works in the Eastern German Erdeborn.
Work process
As a painter Gian has specialised in acryl painting. The core of his present work consists of paintings that study  themes in depth. A random section of titles: Message from Eden (1996), Gate of Heaven (1997), Between Heaven and Earth (2002), Holy Fire (2005). These paintings take a lot of time to mature. They often have to be deducted from strong, inner impressions that are their basis.
Gian describes this process of  ‘transposition’ as one of intense self examination, as the inner “seed images” feel multidimensional, almost holographic and possess a kind of elusiveness, which he can only bring bit by bit into focus. When a painting is finished, Gian releases his emotional concentration on the “seed image, which then disappears to the back of his mind and becomes vague again. The exploration of these “seed images” is exceptionally enriching, as they transcend what he could think of himself. For Gian this feels as a tangible form of higher inspiration and the expression “artist-under-God” is therefore very relevant to him.
Since 2001 Gian also started to paint more and more spontaneously as a form of relaxation. In that case he creates the painting more by chance on the basis of what the composition itself asks for as to form and colour. For this a lot less analysis is necessary. These works mostly go without title.
Motivation and inspiration
“His paintings reflect a search for resourcing, as if he is related to Jacob who wrestles with God for a blessing. With a sophisticated glazing technique (many thin layers of acryl paint) and variations of organic and geometric figures he creates visionary images of what is above, under and outside the world. Often many years pass by before a painting is finished.” (Peter Callens)
What does Gian want to achieve with his work?
Through his paintings and the meditative process preceding it, Gian discovers new things about the Living One, and about the supernatural dimensions which are part of being human on earth. Especially the “seed images” have a nourishing and expanding effect on Gian’s thinking and walk of faith. He perceives new light and quality in life and is fascinated by who God as a Person really is, and what new light this throws on his self-understanding as a limited, earth bound human. This wealth Gian wants to share with the viewers.
Faith - art connection
Gian is an inspired Christian. When he was 30 he stopped going to church regularly after a religious burn-out. Since then he is on an “indefinite retreat.” He considers an inner circle of trusted friends and family with whom he can pray and discuss spiritual matters as his present church. His artistic themes reflect his search for integrity and wholeness, for meeting the God behind the Bible.
Between heaven and earth, diptych (each panel measures 98 x 45,5 cm), acryl on paper carton glued on multiplex, 1998-2002.
As the title suggests, the artist compiles in this two part painting thoughts about life in its visible and invisible dimensions. Apart from a realistic rendering of a landscape, the imagery is abstract. The colours and compositions call up associations of things divine (or the numinous). According to the artist the left panel depicts the human experience of fulfilment and saturation as well as that of strain and frustration. The latter is represented in the overgrown and non-accessible country road and the theme of field work (the ploughed field after the harvest). All in all the general emphasis is on the evocation of grandness and relief, the mystic-invisible presence of dimensions unlike the earthly. The right panel forms a dynamic contrast to this, as it wants to suggest a cosmic “power event” totally different from anything recognizably terrestrial or human.
The Cave80x100 cm, acryl on canvas, glazed varnish, 2002-2006.
This is a painting from the first series “Wrestling in the sea (with the One).” This series of more than a dozen paintings tried to capture a “seed image” that deals with the feeling that one is caught between hammer and anvil, as if God is the Rock and the Sea at the same time. In this image an underwater fight is portrayed: the phase of being sucked under water, of being grinded between rock and water.
Without title, 50x60 cm, acryl op canvas, framed, 2007.
Purification, 100x100 cm, acryl on canvas, matt-satin varnish, 2005-2007.
This painting also belongs to the first series of “Wrestling in the sea (with the One).” This painting depicts the tension between drowning and being washed ashore, between the force of the sea and the serenity of the sheltered bay. Gian is working on a second series on this subject. He hopes that in this series he can capture the “seed image” in a more satisfactory way. He intents to bring this subject of fighting-on-the-edge visually to a head. This first series feels too harmonious to him. The challenge is to find a finer dividing line between the hideous and horrible throes of death during the fight and the subsequent harmonious phases of resignation and peace. Whether he will succeed, he does not know.
The Dark Throne, 100x150 cm, acryl on canvas, 2007-2010.
This work is an image of God’s throne, hung in a cosmic balance. Some parts are accessible, others are not. “The Dark Throne” deals with a period in my life in which I experienced a deep crisis of faith. A verbal reflection of what circulated in my thoughts and conversations with God during that time tells more about the origin of this work:
‘I can’t see anything here, I shout.
I stagger and grope with blind hands in the dark of his house.
The throne room is raven black, and my heart is sad.
I cry without tears.
Is this his throne room? But He does not raise a finger for me?
I nag and beg, plead and rail. But He does not say a word.
This makes me even more angry.
God is dead for me from now. I even stop praying. For months on end.
Gradually it becomes calm.
One morning, out of the blue, He suddenly utters:
‘Wonderful, isn’t it, this intimacy between us?’
Dekker & Sonneveld (ed.): De Crux – Christenen over de kern van hun geloof, Buijten & Schipperheijn - Amsterdam, Paperback, November 2010.