Côte d’Abraham, 510, Québec, Canada
2002 Saturday July 6 at 14.00h
" Le garçon et la fille sont aimables et amusants".
Eric vande Pitte
People often ask me when I started drawing and how I became interested in art.
Well today I would like to answer these questions.
To be honest, I can't remember myself drawing during my childhood but I've probably doodled as much as any small child.
Art came to me through language. Like it was yesterday, I remember the smell of the dark blue ink and the scratching of the pen on paper during my first lessons in Dutch.
I was a curious child but also very insecure. I wanted to learn to read and write as quickly as possible because I thought it would allow me to discover and understand the world. I still enjoy reading very much and I even read what's on a bottle of ketchup or a truck... All writing seems to appeal to me.
I've been in love with books ever since I was six. Every Sunday after mass, I used to go the library with my parents and my brother. When we left the library, I always felt sad because we had to leave so many books behind.
One day I discovered the section with art books, a shelf full of big heavy books which were three times as expensive as the others to lend out. I didn't really know what art was but I liked the illustrations. There were even pictures of naked women, e.g. 'Le déjeuner sur l'herbe'! By that time I could already read quite well but in those days most art books were written in French so I just tried to decipher the pictures on my own, inventing a story for each painting.
On the detailed reproductions, e.g. from Van Gogh, I noticed the strokes of the brush in the colours and this encouraged me to learn more about the technique in the art of painting. With large pencils and colourful paint, standing in front of the kitchen table, I started to paint. My family found this unusual. For my parents, art was a strange world and artist didn't have the best reputation. Picasso's name was used as a term of abuse and artists were considered to lead a marginal existence, interested only in their own pleasure and incapable of maintaining their family. Of course many of them became famous after they died but then it was too late to speak about success in life.
I admired Manet, Monet, Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh and Picasso who all lived and worked in France. Picasso the Spanish, Modigliani the Italian, Van Gogh, the Dutch … all famous painters lived there. Knowledge of the French language, I thought, was the key to open the world of art for me. This is the reason why up until now I give my own works French titles. Maybe it was naive of me but I was hoping my first French class would be about art. It was not of course.
I developed my own way of reading school books. First I looked at the pictures and tried to 'read' them in the best way possible. Then I read the texts beneath, hoping to find out more about the illustrations. I learned that usually the texts didn't correspond with the pictures. I also discovered that reality doesn't always correspond with the image of reality.
All this confused and frighten me and it made me somewhat suspicious. At school I didn't want to drink my milk because I was afraid it might be poisoned. I started to live in my own world and started to sketch, dream and be creative, to draw my own reality. I found peace and quiet in all beautiful things.
I started to copy postcards and cartoons, e.g. from Eric the Norman. However, drawing at such satisfied me less and less and every failed sketch caused me more frustration. I wanted to learn how to draw properly and I dreamed of taking actual lessons. The artistic education at secondary school turned out to be nothing more then a course in architecture, a profession that would allow you to earn a decent living.
Afterwards I went on to higher art education; unfortunately I couldn't take painting, which I obviously preferred, but interior design, a compromise. In this period I went to my classes of interior design during the daytime and took painting classes in the evenings.
As soon as I finished my studies, I found a job as a teacher in drawing and painting. Meanwhile in my studio, I drew and painted with great dedication, portraits, landscapes and still lives.
In 1986, when I was 36 years old, I started to work more systematic with projects. The first was called 'Pitte…' and was a direct memory of the dream world of my childhood. The famous children's books 'Tania at sea', 'Tania on holiday', 'Tania at the mountains' were a model of the first series Pitte.
On 20 covers I depicted myself as the hero Pitte - my nickname as a child - always in a scenery of famous paintings. I set off on adventures with the skeletons from Ensor for example, or the pipe from Magritte; I went fishing in the pond of Seurat or was driving a children's car around the church of Arles from Vincent van Gogh.
From then on other projects followed, for example 'Nu sur Azur' which expresses my fascination as a child for postcards and nude reproductions. My work was gradually receiving more attention. I regularly had expositions and different galleries and museums exhibited and bought my work.
In 1995, I was lucky to get a job at the French Riviera. I studied the drawings from Matisse and developed a series of works using stencils and coloured paper that I had faded in the bright sunlight. One year later, this series 'Jardin Méditerranéen, vu par la fenêtre' was displayed at the Cannes exhibition.
In 1998 I started working on, what I could call my life work, my magnus opus. 'Dans le jardin, il y des arbres et des fleurs', is based on texts and illustrations from my first French textbook. In 'Dans la classe', 'Chez le boulanger', 'A la campagne' I recapture the learning process of simple French sentences (I resume these French sentences from my school time), which are in strong contrast with the mysterious character of the drawings I took refuge in. 'Ou donc est cette rue?' is populated with odd adult creatures which still frighten me, although I'm not sure why.
'A car passes by and drives through a large puddle of water. Marcelle is soaked. Her legs, her dress and her face are stained with mud. Poor Marcelle! A frightening car with bad intentions got Marcelle wet. Why? Does this car know Marcelle? Does Marcelle know why the car did this? In the privacy of 'Marcelle writes a letter' I read that "before writing, Marcelle sucks her pen to get inspiration". In the textbook the illustrations correspond with the French texts, in my series 'Dans le jardin il y des arbres et des fleurs' all attention is focused on the figures in the illustrations.
The simple sentences function as titles for the works.
Besides the pictures and the language, I also use the old materials more and more. I coat my paper or canvas with dark blue school ink before painting or printing. I use thick octagonal pencils on soft silk paper, the paper I preferred when I was a child. In my larger works, I often use violet shades, the colour of the old aniline pencils. I'm also fond of phosphoresce pigments that lighten up in the dark. For me this is more then just a nice effect. An image emerging in the dark and then slowly disappearing, is an allusion on the transitory memories of my childhood.
On the other side, the fading drawings are a reminder of what is called afterimages. If we close our eyes, we can still briefly see the last image.
Yes, and if you ask me who my big example is or which artist has had the most influence on my work, my answer is that the magical connection of words and images, like you find in the work of René Magritte, has always fascinated me. Also the mysterious sketches from Edward Hopper - eloquent in their perplexity - or the beauty of the pure lines from Henri Matisse move me deeply.