Biography

Evelyne Axell

Evelyne AXELL (1935 – 1972)

 

Born on 16 August 1935 in Namur, Belgium, Evelyne Axell (née Devaux) was raised in a traditional, middle-class Catholic family. Her father, André Devaux, was a well-known craftsman in silverware and jewellery in the region and her mother, Mariette Godu, came from a very modest waterman family. At the age of two she was declared “The Province of Namur’s most beautiful baby”; her beauty continued to be a defining feature of her adult life. Although the family home and shop in Namur were destroyed by a US Air Force bomb in August 1944, shortly missing the bridge they were targeting, the young Evelyne was little affected by World War II as the family spent most of the wartime in its summer residence in Wépion. Later she changed schools, moving on to a boarding school for girls in Brussels, where the nuns taught her drawing and painting, encouraging her talent. After graduating high school she studied at the Namur School of Art in 1953. In 1954, she switched to drama school in Brussels and quickly began a career as an actress.

In 1956 she was engaged with a rich hairdresser of Namur and about to marry him but in a train returning from Brussels she met a young TV director, Jean Antoine, who specialized in art documentaries for the recently born Belgian television. And in December 1956 they married in Brussels. She decided to change her name to Evelyne Axell for the purposes of her acting career, which her husband encouraged. He cast her as an interviewer in “Jeunes Artistes de Namur” (1957) in which she introduced young avant-garde Belgian painters. After their son Philippe was born in June 1957, Evelyne Axell worked as a television announcer mainly depending on her husband’s will to obtain jobs. Although she gained a fair amount of local celebrity, she found the job trivial. In 1959, she moved to Paris to pursue a more serious acting career. There she performed in a variety of theatrical and televised plays. Eventually she moved back to Belgium to star in several movies, including three directed by her husband (Jardins français, La Nouvelle Eurydice, and Comacina) and one directed by André Cavens and produced by Pierre Levie “Il y a un train toutes les heures”. In 1963 she wrote and starred in the provocative film “Le Crocodile en peluche”, a love story between a white woman and a black man, also directed by her husband.

In 1964, Evelyne Axell quit her promising acting career to pursue painting in order to become less dependent from her husband. She enlisted Surrealist painter René Magritte, a family friend, to be her artistic mentor. Axell visited with Magritte twice a month for a whole year, during which time he helped her improve her oil painting technique. Surprisingly she then became the only pupil of the great Surrealist master. At the same time, her husband embarked on a series of documentaries devoted to Pop Art and Nouveau Réalisme. Evelyne Axell went with him to London for filming and met Allen Jones, Peter Phillips, Pauline Boty, Peter Blake, Patrick Caulfield, and Joe Tilson. Inspired by these studio visits, Evelyne Axell created her own style of Pop art, becoming one of the first Belgian artists to experiment within this avant-garde idiom. Although some Belgian collectors were interested in her work, private galleries were resistant to showing her paintings. At this time she started to use the androgynous name “Axell” professionally, in the hopes that she would be taken seriously as an artist despite her gender, youth, and beauty, not to mention the explicit sexual nature of her work.

In 1966, her Erotomobiles paintings won an honorable mention in the Young Painters Prize. In early 1967, she had her first solo exhibition at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels. Shortly thereafter, she stopped using oil on canvas and began painting plastic, first clartex and later plexiglas, with auto enamel. This new method became her signature technique, which she showed for the first time at an exhibition at the Galerie Contour in Brussels in the fall of 1967.

In 1969 she won the Young Belgian Painters Prize, no small feat for a female artist at that time. In April 1969 she organized a “happening” on the opening evening of her exhibition at the Richard Foncke Gallery in Ghent leading a woman wearing nothing but an astronaut helmet through the crowd and redressing the naked woman. The French Critic Pierre Restany was present and commented, “The Belgian painter Evelyne Axell has joined the company of womanpower’s art, with Niki de Saint Phalle from France, Yayoi Kusama from Japan, Marisol from Venezuela – and the list goes on. These women are living their sexual revolution as real women, with all the direct, unsurprising consequences: the initiative switches camps.” The subsequent exhibition in the Templon Gallery in Paris became an ironic homage to him. Entitled “Axell, Pierre et les Opalines”, she showed a portrait of Pierre Restany surrounded by a series of sensually opaline nudes — women without a name but each with a nationality.

In 1972 Axell visited her uncle’s family in Guatemala, Jean Devaux, the creator – with his wife Marcelle Bonge – of the Guatemala Ballet. There she became enamoured with the landscape and vowed to return. She had planned an exhibition in Mexico for 1973 and decided to move to Central America for a few years where she had found a nice house in Guatemala with the help of the Devaux family. But only a few weeks after her return to Belgium her life and career were unexpectedly cut short in a tragic car accident outside of Gent, Belgium. Evelyne Axell died in the early morning of September 10, 1972 at the age of 37.

 

EXPOSITIONS – EXHIBITIONS

 

2016
Groupe – Group
“Artview”, ADAM (Art & Design Atomium Museum), Brussels
“Beyond Pop”, Tate Modern permanent collection, London
“Manifesta 11″, Löwenbräukunst, Zürich, Switzerland
« International Pop », Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia
“Connexions One, Art Belge de 1945 à 1975”, mvArtcenter, Antwerp

2015
Groupe – Group
« The World goes Pop », Tate Modern, London
“International Pop”, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, USA
“Connexions One, Art Belge de 1945 à 1975”, mvArtcenter, Antwerp
« Pop Art in Belgium ! », ING Art Center, Brussels
“Pop Impact, Women Pop Artists”, Maison de la Culture de la province de Namur, Namur
« La Résistance des Images », La Patinoire Royale, Brussels
« International Pop », Walker Art Center, Minneapolis
« Noir Chantilly, Féminisme(s) », Centre Wallon d’Art Contemporain, Flémalle
« Le fruit défendu », Galerie du Beffroi, Namur

2014
Groupe – Group
“ Femminilità Radicale “, Museo Gucci, Florence
« RE: Painted », SMAK, Ghent, Belgium
« Pop to Popism », Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sidney

2013
Groupe – Group
“Axelle Red, Fashion Victim”, Fashion Museum, Hasselt
“GLAM! The performance of Style”, Tate Liverpool, Liverpool
“GLAM! The performance of Style”, Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt
“GLAM! The performance of Style”, LENTOS Kunstmuseum, Linz
“Warhol, Axell, un double regard sur les Sixties”, Cornette de Saint Cyr – Bruxelles, Brussels
“Pop Art Design”, Barbican Art Gallery, London

2012
Individuelles – Solo
“The great journey into Space”, Broadway 1602 Gallery, New York
Groupe – Group
“European Pop Art”, Museum Het Valkhof, Nijmegen
“Faces”, Palais Royal de Bruxelles, Brussels

2011
Individuelles – Solo
« La Terre est ronde », Kunstverein, Hamburg
« Axelleration » (retrospective exhibition), Museum Abteiberg, Monchengladbach
Groupe – Group
“Seductive Subversion: Women Pop Artists 1958 – 1968”, Brooklyn Museum, New York
“POWER UP – Female Pop Art”, Städtische Galerie, Bietigheim-Bissingen

2010
Individuelles – Solo
« Evelyne Axell, Images contestataires », WIELS, Brussels
Groupe – Group
“Seductive Subversion: Women Pop Artists 1958 – 1968”, University of the Arts, Philadelphia
“POWER UP – Female Pop Art”, Kunsthalle, Vienna

2009
Individuelles – Solo
« Evelyne Axell, le Pop Art en Wallonie », Centre Wallon d’Art Contemporain, Flémalle
“Axell’s Paradise, Last works (1971-72) before she vanished”, Broadway 1602 Gallery, New York
Groupe – Group
« elles@centrepompidou », Centre Pompidou, Paris
« Ingres et les modernes », Musée Ingres, Montauban

2008
Individuelles – Solo
« Axell (1965 – 1972) Entre Pop Art et Figuration Narrative », Galerie Natalie Seroussi, Paris

2006
Individuelles – Solo
“Evelyne Axell, Die belgische Amazone der Pop Art”, Fernsehturm and Belgian Embassy, Berlin
« Evelyne Axell, Du viol d’Ingres au retour de Tarzan », Musée d’art Roger-Quillot, Clermont-Ferrand
“The Sixties seen by Evelyne Axell”, Patrick Derom Gallery, Brussels

2005
Individuelles – Solo
“Evelyne Axell”, The Mayor Gallery, London

2004
Individuelles – Solo
« Axell. Le Pop Art jusqu’au Paradis », Maison de la Culture de la province de Namur, Musée Provincial Félicien-Rops, Namur, Galerie Détour, Jambes, Belgium

2003
Individuelles – Solo
“Evelyne Axell 1935-1972, Erotomobiles”, The Mayor Gallery, London
Groupe – Group
“The 1960’s, Painting and Collages”, The Mayor Gallery, London

2002
Groupe – Group
« Portrait en Namurois », Musée provincial des Arts anciens du Namurois, Namur, Belgium

2001
Groupe – Group
« La vie en Pop », Galerie 51, Paris

2000
Individuelles – Solo
« Evelyne Axell, 1935-1972. L’amazone du Pop Art», Centre Wallonie-Bruxelles, Paris
« Evelyne Axell, Mémoire de Bacchante », Iselp, Brussels

1999
Individuelles – Solo
« Evenlyne Axell en de jaren zestig », Provinciaal Museum voor Moderne Kunst, Ostende
Groupe – Group
« De Picasso à Magritte. 40 toiles pour 40 ans de jumelage entre Biarritz et Ixelles », Musée Bellevue, Biarritz

1997
Individuelles – Solo
« Evelyne Axell et les années 60. Un frisson de la vie (Het ruisen van het leven) », Musée des Beaux-Arts d’Ixelles, Brussels

1992
Groupe – Group
“ARTificial WOMEN”, Galerie Cotthem, Zottegem, Belgium

1991
Groupe – Group
« Autoportraits en Belgique depuis 1945 », Maison de la Culture de la province de Namur,
Belgium

1987
Groupe – Group
« Femmes artistes en Namurois », Halle al’Chair, Namur, Belgium

1980
Individuelles – Solo
« Axell. Derniers dessins ». Galerie Jacqueline Ledoux, Namur
Groupe – Group
« Vies de femmes 1830-1980 », Europalia Belgique, Banque Bruxelles Lambert, Brussels

1979
Groupe – Group
« De jaren ’60—Kunst in België », Centre d’expositions Sint-Pietersabdij, Ghent, Belgium

1978
Individuelles – Solo
« Evelyne Axell », Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels

1975
Groupe – Group
« La Femme dans l’art », Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels

1972
Individuelles – Solo
Cutureel Centrum, Arnhem, The Netherlands
« Axell », Galerie Contour, Brussels
Groupe – Group
« La Vénus de Milo ou les dangers de la célébrité », Musée du Louvre, Paris
« De Permeke à nos jours », Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels

1971
Individuelles – Solo
« Axell », Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels
“Evelyne Axell”, Galerie Flat 5, Bruges
Groupe – Group
Prix International, Knokke, Belgium
Winter Art Show, Brussels
Galerie Klang, Cologne
Tweede Triënnale, Bruges, Belgium
Galerie Richard Foncke, Ghent, Belgium
“D’aprés—Omaggi e dissacrazioni nell’arte contemporanea », Lugano, Switzerland

1970
Groupe – Group
« Images et signes de notre temps », Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels
« Pop Art—Nouveau Réalisme—Néo Dada et tendances apparentées », Casino Knokke, Belgium
« Le plastique et l’art contemporain », Grand Palais, porte de Versailles, Paris
« Belgische Kunst 1960-1970 », Kunstverein, Cologne
« Multiples », Galerie Rive gauche, Brussels

1969
Individuelles – Solo
“Axell”, Galerie Estro Armonico, Brussels
« Axell », Galerie Richard Foncke, Ghent, Belgium
« Axell, Pierre et les Opalines », Galerie Daniel Templon, Paris
Groupe – Group
« Jeune peinture belge », Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels

1968
Groupe – Group
« Alternative Attuali », L’Aquila

1967-68
Groupe – Group
Galerie Accent, Brussels

1967
Individuelles – Solo
« Axell », Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels
« Evelyne Axell », Galerie Contour, Brussels
Groupe – Group
Schwarz galleria d’Arte, Milan
Biennale des Jeunes, Paris
Premio Lissone, Milan

1966
Groupe – Group
« Jeune peinture belge », Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels
« Boîtes à secrets, à surprises », Galerie Maya, Brussels

1965
Groupe – Group
« Arts d’Extrème-Occident », Galerie Angle Aigü, Brussels

 

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