When discussing ‘my’ work, I refer to my paintings as well as my sculptures. They logically merge into one another as they develop simultaneously.
I start out with an image I observe. After placing it in a context, e.g. a space or a room, I start working with it.
During the first two years of my academic education at ‘Sint Lukas Brussels’, my work mainly consisted of paintings. Summarizing I could state that these experimental paintings were figurative.
At the time I was especially interested in finding an individual style and method of working.
A first breakthrough in my search occurred during a project in Beelitz (Berlin) where I took part in an exchange programme organised in cooperation with the Rietveld Academy of Amsterdam.
I decided to abandon making paintings.
As a painter I would start by creating an image in an assigned space.
After experimenting for an entire month I discovered a new modus operandi: I made my first ‘sculpture shaped ‘installation.
My life is made up of images. Even before I could read or write I would sketch and draw and express myself in a definite way. My thoughts are visualised. I try to picture what I read or study. In order to make clear what I see or experience I create images.
Last year, for example, as I was driving along the Brussels’ ring road, I became intrigued by the construction of the various bridges in Zaventem. I systematically began to develop these images by sketching, drawing and photographing them which resulted in a number of paintings and a sculpture.
Not only did I personally purify this method of working, I also gradually perfected it. It has become a symbiosis between reality on the one hand and my personal approach of impressions on the other.
This rather systematic method of working emanates from a constant urge to analyse images and impulses in order to purify them in a personal yet to the greater public accessible manner.
The idea for a work arises when, at a given moment, something draws my attention.
The main thing then is that this ‘something’ sticks with me and interests me.
It could be anything: a situation, a picture, an object, a person or merely a shape. This is where I start.
What follows then is the process of alienation. I rip this image from its natural context in order to situate it in a different one where I start playing with it. This explains why my work is abstract and on occasion figurative.
In some cases the final result remains recognisable as such, but very often I have to further abstract my ‘image’ so as to turn it into a purely abstract shape, the original one of which however remains retrievable.
The following step then is deciding whether I will further develop that image two or three dimensionally. The choice between merely painting and merely sculpturing is therefore not an alternative. I grant myself the freedom to decide, at any particular stage, what course I wish to follow.
I believe my work fits within the tradition of readymade but at the same time sculptural painting. It is as if it were a cross-pollination between the both of them.
By destroying the object and then making it extremely visible through the art of painting I create a kind of paradox.
I usually make a figuration of the original object whereby I apply it, now deteriorated, as a medium. Although it is essentially readymade, I have transformed the shape into a replica of the renovation of the given object. While concealing the original object, I restore its recognisability through a ‘paintoral’ intervention.
Referring to the tradition of the readymade whilst manipulating the objects by literally and figuratively undoing them of their original function after making them ‘disfunctional’ through a layer of painting and then having them function in an artistic context, is, in a nutshell, the essence of my work.
I consider my ‘sculpture’ to be different from the work of an installation artist.
The work I create is of a more independent nature. It may be exhibited in any given space whereas an installation is more determined by, and connected with a specific space.
My painting with its figurative elements is as it were an excuse for a formal abstraction.
Only recently, I slightly altered my method of working. In stead of making extensive sketches and drawings of my ‘image’, I now immediately take pictures of it.
For me, photographing reality is a means of making a personal impression of my observation. This transitional stage allows me to create that ‘rudimentary’ image which I use as a starting point for my work.
This modus operandi offers a tremendous freedom. Any image will qualify. I do not have to restrict myself to one theme. I can use any form of expression. I am not limited by a certain movement, by materials, nor presentation. There is no need for provocation. I handle the image as I see fit.
I am therefore literally a free visual artist.
2. Characteristics of my work.
My work contains a number of fixed components:
A space: the important issue being the impact of this space on my objects or on my intervention on a given space.
The relation between the objects, the sculptures and the paintings: It is in this relation that I regard the paintings as thematic stories or illustrations of my objects in a given space and matched to an atmosphere I wish to evoke.
Using a commonplace I could say that I try to illustrate my paintings, my objects in that space. I do not, however, want my painting to become subordinate to my spatial work. Both need to be present analogously.
The playing with architecture: It strikes me that lately I have become more and more fascinated with architectural forms. I enjoy manipulating their scale. I will enlarge it, and on occasion reduce it.
I consider it fascinating to strip architectonic forms and to then place them in a neutral environment. This too is a form of alienation.
In a number of my works I allowed myself explicitly to be led by architectural forms.
Design, which is closely linked to architecture, also offers an interesting perspective to work with. The aesthetic factor especially can be very inspiring. However, I do not believe that industrial construction would fit in my work.
3. My work in the present age.
In a few days time I will be 23.
For those art critics who identify art with the ‘suffering’ of an artist, I am totally uninteresting. Unfortunately I have absolutely nothing to offer in this area.
I have no drugs past, no unhappy childhood, no dramatic traumas, no psychological problems or anything of the kind.
Art nowadays, is to some extent, characterized by the dualist attitude of artists vis-à-vis the public and the current cultural policy. The latest newspaper headlines illustrate this perfectly. On the one hand there is all the fuss about not programming Louis Paul Boon’s ‘Fenomenale Feminatheek’ in Antwerp’s Photo Museum. There is also the ‘nipplegate’ affaire of Borgloon. And what to think of the Swiss paediatrician Beat Richner, who as head of a project helping Cambodian children refused a 60,000,000 donation merely because the money was raised at the auction of a nude photo of Carla Bruni.
These are only a few examples of narrow-mindedness and prudery that bear close resemblance to censorship.
At the same time however, some artists employ techniques that go beyond the limits of ethics and decency, which brings me to the art of Guillermo Vargas who, in an attempt of reflecting on the fate of Costa Rican dogs, willingly let a mongrel suffer and die. Or the German artist, Gregor Schneider, who, in the near future, is planning an exhibition on the beauty of death and who is therefore looking for terminally ill people who are prepared to die publicly in a museum.
Personally, I don’t have the need to shock the spectator and certainly not if it is used to disguise the artist’s lack of craftsmanship.
Allow me to quote the French choreographer, Maurice Béjart, with whom I totally agree, when he says that ‘freedom’ and ‘rebellion’ should never be invoked by artists as an excuse for ignorance or laziness.
And yet we know that it happens!
Over the last few years, the spectator has been tremendously spoiled by the media (and art). All taboos have already been broken. In order to draw attention more effective means will be needed.
According to me, and I am certainly not the only person who thinks so, contemporary art has become an amalgam of various trends. Due to the enormous diversity of media and materials which are at the disposal of artists, contemporary art offers a great variety of works containing a mixture of installations, performances, film, photography and internet art.
There is also a tangible contradiction between the many immaterial objects such as lighting installations as well as the countless basically unsellable happenings and the gigantic sums of money exchanged in the international art business of young artists.
“We live in a world were the past becomes vaguer by the day whereas the future becomes increasingly uncertain and unpredictable.
Might this be the main reason why memory has become one of the topical concerns of the last two decades? While for the most of the 20th century artists liked to envision the future, in more recent years they have been busy trying to reconstruct or reenact various pasts. In a retrospect, this sudden turn will emerge as one of the major cultural developments in modern history.
… raise questions about our interests in the past and the future and about connections between them. For instance, our inaptitude in dealing with a growing number of serious challenges raises the following questions: Are we forgetting the future? Are science and technology the only fields we associate with progress today? What is the impact of the increasing obsolescence (in onbruik raken) of material culture on the political, social, and cultural make up of our society? In other words, to use Norman Klein’s phrase: What is the future of forgetting?
Taken from a famous science fiction movie trilogy, the project’s title indicates that our interests in the past and the future are interconnected while suggesting that one should not be neglected for the other—that our interest in the past should not overshadow our concern for the future.
Looking back and looking forward often reflect cultural traditions and trends, resulting in regional differences and interactions. These differences have an impact on political decisions as well as on a political process. The unification of Europe is a case in point. The different sense of the past in the East and the West makes the former division of Europe persist in many different ways, and thus presents difficulties in establishing a common image and intervenes in the process of unification.
The proposed project seeks to explore and confront these different present pasts in relation to the future. By challenging both our links to the past and our notions of the future, contemporary artists have an important role in defining terms of collective identity. Works of art shape our imagination and thus provides antidote to a major failure of contemporary politics—a failure of imagination”*.
*( BACK TO THE FUTURE: PRESENT PASTS, PRESENT FUTURES, Exhibition Project Summary )
4. Artists my work relates to:
Three-dimensional artists or installation artists:
Jan De Cock
Hans Op de Beeck
5. What are the parallels between the work of these artists and mine. What affinity is there with their work? Where does this affinity come from? What is the distinction between me and these artists? In what way do they affect me?
At the moment I feel attracted to the various styles and trends of the work of a number of artists. With some of them I feel a strong affinity for their concept. With others I feel attracted rather by their creations in space or by their way of shaping space.
Hans Op de Beeck
Hans Op de Beeck (°1969 in Turnhout) is an artist who, at the time when we became acquainted, gave me a tremendous sense of relief. Hans is particularly known for his scale-models of empty, dehumanized landscapes and townscapes.
He also applies himself to drawing, photography and video work.
Through his work he usually tries to evoke an atmosphere of alienation and desolation.
In preparation of his work he often makes drawings. He regards drawings, scale-models and videos as related forms of expression. They originate from the same reservoir of pictures and can be used interchangeably.
These drawings and studies are then exhibited as fully-fledged works.
Everything that precedes the ultimate work is regarded by him as a studied, public form of expression of that personal analysis.
I too see photos, sketches and studies as an important component of a work, hence their validity and justification.
In some areas I feel related to Hans Op de Beeck. I recognise myself in his search in trying to find the best possible medium for each specific work.
He too does not feel restricted to any form of expression. All is possible
His goal however is to go on evoking that same atmosphere of desolation and emptiness.
He also works figuratively, not however without abstracting exactly that what needs to be spotlighted.
A concrete and huge difference between his and my work is my constant pursue of the absolute emptiness of an image.
My awareness of this possibility is of course utopian but that is exactly what fascinates me.
By starting with what is real and then constantly building on my personal interpretation (without returning to the original) I wish to increasingly detach myself from the original meanings in order to create a new relevance. As this relevance is grafted on my personal experiences it has to be rendered in full and, since the absence of content for ever remains impossible, my images obtain the residual value of a fair attempt. This renders them a new raison d’être as an expression of something that totally denies the use of the original structure.
An artist I also like to compare my work with is Piet Mondriaan (°1872 Amersfoort, + 1944 New York).
His early work was strongly based on the perception of reality: what he painted is what he saw. In a later stage he started purifying reality on the basis of forms.
His well-known studies of the simplification of a tree have been very inspiring to me.
Mondriaan starts of with a tree which he ten repaints and redraws several times. During this process he keeps omitting new elements. He goes on abstracting without returning to the original until only a few horizontal en vertical lines remain. In the end, all you see are visual elements that no longer refer to a tree.
In doing so, he tried to render the deeper nature/essence of reality and not nature as it had accidentally occurred to him.
Although he initially started from the visual perception, he gradually blocked out everything he considered unessential.
As his work became increasingly sober it eventually gained an entirely individual appearance.
Mondriaan’s method of working where he sets out with a tree, his form which he keeps simplifying over and over until only an abstract line pattern remains, is the one aspect of my work in which I follow his example.
I too start out with recognisable images which form the basis of my work. In my mind I then start playing with these images and forms. I start by making photographs, sketches and drawings that eventually result in an object a scale-model or a painting.
According to me, an important aspect of the work of Frantz Absalon (1948 Martinique) is also a kind of dualism. He constantly commutes between serenity and agitation, a search which results in a never ending process of construction and deconstruction.
His work develops from extremely simple objects such as a needle and a thread.
Bearing in mind the perfect balance between serenity and agitation he then starts looking for the most purified and perfect form.
In this stage the persistent questioning of every intermediate step (drawing or object) is highly important as is its remodelling in a personal ‘visual language’
The ultimate goal is to create a work free of mediocrity and extremes, sculptures pure of shape and colour.
Aestheticism is also one of Absalon’s important characteristics. Although his sculptures (mostly in wood but also in cardboard and plaster) seem to be build out of sustainable materials, they are made of quite ordinary ones. He spends al lot of attention however on processing and workmanship.
Because of its simplicity and its trivial details one could state that Absalon’s work joins in with the views of modernism where ‘less’ automatically means ‘more’.
Yet Absalon opposes this modernistic trend. According to him change is not necessarily an improvement. He is very critical and does it all in his own way.
He wants to show that an artist’s life and work constitute an entity s and that the development of personal choices of disciplines can make reality more bearable.
The aspect of Absalon’s work I am particularly interested in is his use of visual language. His sculptures are pure as well as disciplined and demonstrate his brilliant spatial insight. I am also attracted by the purity and the integrity. His work is at the same time cool, white and seemingly untouchable which leads us to an abstract world the artist wishes to show us.
From the spectator’s point of view the sculptures evoke a feeling of isolation and concentration.
I also discovered that Absalon uses different plastic dimensions such as paintings, sculptures and installations simultaneously.
In a similar way I too try to communicate a spatial insight and just as Absalon I am a strong believer/ fervent advocate of aestheticism and craftsmanship within art.
A work needs to contain a clear structure, an almost controlled discipline while it has to be made with a human hand in pursuit of perfection.
A number of works of the artist James Turrell (°1943 Los Angeles) involve the complexity of the perception of light and space. He usually works with projections.
Turell is fascinated by the transparency of the works. Initially he only projected coloured light on a wall, coming from an invisible light source, which evoked a kind of three-dimensional impression.
Later on he replaced the light projections by installations consisting of neon tubes and LED lamps and in which he also involves (architectonically) the environment.
Turrell constructs spaces using light. The light source practically always remains invisible, only the projection itself can be seen. This pure light only wants to reveal itself. It does not illuminate an object, it has become an object.
James Turrell situates his art somewhere in between logic reasoning and pure observation.
He wishes to make the public aware of their own perception by creating works that reveal the discrepancy between knowing and seeing.
However, Turell does not seek to show us an illusion or some kind of fiction. He wants to show reality. He claims that, to some extent, we observe a reality that we create ourselves, which makes him conclude that watching almost equals creating.
Turrell is fascinated by the invisibility of the light. He wants to occupy himself with the light we see in dreams.
Turrell is partly inspired by impressionists such as Monet and by landscape painters such as Constable and Turner. They too were very fascinated by the incidence of light.
Turrell however does not paint light, he sculpts with light.
When looking at Turrell’s work it makes me think of a small scale-model in a real space such as the entrance hall of a large building, yet in its ssurrealistic interpretation
My first models had something in common with the works of James Turrell: a feeling of indefinable space perception intensified with blue light.
Later on I based one my paintings on the pictures. I choose for a large format so that I could play with the interpretation of a real space which after all was no more than an optical illusion.
Hans Op De Beeck (M.-P. Gildemyn, Interview with Hans Op De Beeck, in: Hans Op De Beeck : A Selection of Work 1996-2001, Brussel, Dorothée De Pauw Gallery / Cera Foundation, 2001)
Piet Mondriaan (Piet Mondriaan : Piet Mondriaan, Yve-Alain Bois, Joop Joosten, Angelica Zander Rudenstine, Hans Janssen, 1872-1944 vert. uit het Engels Loekie Schwartz / Waanders uitgevers Zwolle, 1994)
Absalon (Absalon : Carré D’Art Nimes, De Appel Amsterdam, 1994)
James Turrell (De Pont : De Collectie, Tilburg, De Pont, 1998)