NEW YORK — Raoul De Keyser, a Belgian painter whose evocative, seemingly awkward abstractions both celebrated and questioned his medium, died Oct. 5 in Deinze.
He died of natural causes.
Mr. De Keyser became one of the most respected painters of his time, but slowly. For much of his 50-year career he exhibited primarily in Belgium and the Netherlands, achieving international recognition only after his work was included in the 1992 Documenta exhibition in Kassel, Germany, by that year’s commissioner, the Belgian museum director Jan Hoet.
Mr. De Keyser worked with a striking economy of means. His mature paintings often consist of a few sparse patches of paint over a monochrome field, suggesting scattered islands and eliciting frequent comparisons to Mondrian’s early seascapes. They also evoke the remnants of a larger, more assertive painted shape that has been tenderly cut into irregular bits.
Nearly all Mr. De Keyser’s work teeters between abstraction and legibility.
“The things I see come back in one way or another,’’ he said. Indeed, a series of especially spare, seemingly abstract paintings of white lines and grids on mostly green backgrounds from the early 1970s were based on the chalk lines, goal posts, and net of the soccer field near his home.
Mr. De Keyser, 82, was born in Deinze and lived there all his life. He began to paint on his own as a teenager but soon veered into journalism, writing for daily newspapers.
Mr. De Keyser sought artistic training only in his early 30s, studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Deinze under the painter Roger Raveel. He joined with Raveel and two other painters to form a Pop Art-oriented group called New Vision and, over the next several years, produced flattened, thickly painted close-up views of corners of his living room, the handle of its sliding glass doors, and bits of his garden, as well as schematic images of clouds and horizon lines outlined in black.
The paintings ignore the brand-oriented, photo-based direction of American Pop in favor of more life-based efforts of British Pop artists like David Hockney and Patrick Caulfield, forming one of the less-studied chapters of Pop’s history.
But Mr. De Keyser was always drawn to abstraction. In 1966, after being impressed by a big, bright painting by the American Al Held at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, he returned home and painted over the background of a 1964 image of his dog Baron with flat, vivid yellow, retitling the work ‘‘Baron in Al Held Field.’’
Mr. De Keyser’s mature images often seemed to be based on something real, including the flat fields, tangled trees, and riverbanks around Deinze, but also maintained a mysterious ambiguity, refusing to be anything more than painted motifs. They avoided monumentality,as well as bravura brushwork and all notions of finish, masterly personality, or evolutionary development.
His working method was intuitive and relatively permissive, largely free of restrictions or formula, which distinguished him from similarly skeptical painters like Robert Ryman, Blinky Palermo, and Daniel Buren.
Working directly on canvas with a brush and occasionally chalk using a light, frugal touch, Mr. De Keyser — who switched from acrylic to oil in the mid-1970s — reviewed nearly every mode of abstraction from gestural to geometric.
He had his first museum survey at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp in 1970.