The simultaneous exhibitions of Michael Byron and Julião Sarmento presented the work of two painters. Byron and Sarmento both draw upon a symbolical literary tradition to create their ponderous imagery. This dual exhibition sought to help decipher the state of painting in the contemporary visual arts.

For American artist Michael Byron (1954), painting is essentially a narrative endeavor. His early works are deliberately theatrical; they consist of a painted backdrop with an object in front of it, sometimes even a burning candle, which grounds the painting in a real-time situation. In later works, the objects are photographed and silk-screened onto the painting’s surface. All works are full of historical quotations, mainly taken from seventeenth and eighteenth-century printed matter. Byron’s paintings are symbolist; they are aimed at a mythic, rather than a realistic, representation of society. Thus, as he has said, his narrative vein is never prescriptive: “Symbolism gives expression to certain ideals and emotions and searches for an intimate contact with the viewer. It has an emotional investment. Symbolism is humanistic …it presents human experience by using the accumulated symbols of history.”

The exhibition at Witte de With focused on Byron’s paintings from 1986-1991. The Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam also concurrently showed a suite of one hundred drawings from 1989-1990.

The paintings of Portuguese artist Julião Sarmento (1946) contain a diffused plethora of feelings and autobiographical stories. Representing the dance of life and death, his work is rich with undertones of sexuality and occasionally explicit sado masochism. Quoting from art history, the cinema and commercial imagery, Sarmento’s narrative paintings depict the disintegrating bodies of the moribund, the victim and the lover. The human figure is the only subject that Sarmento feels can be endlessly painted: “A bottle is a bottle. In the history of Western art there is an iconography of objects that speaks for itself. It is therefore very difficult to be detached from earlier realities whenever you paint a subject matter that is connected to a never ending chain. The human body is the only subject matter that still can?t be reduced to a simple iconography.”

The exhibition presented Sarmento’s work from 1984-1990