Not having a formal art education would probably make me a ‘self-taught’ artist. However, I don’t really feel that is justified. I have learned a great deal from other artist friends and during several art courses that I have taken. For my painting I am especially indebted to Abdalla al Omari. In 2017 his Vulnarability series was shown on the national news (and on pretty much on every international news channel from CNN to Al Jazeera). I was deeply impressed by his work and started following him on social media. One day he posted that he intended to give private painting lessons in Brussels, for which I enthusiastically applied (even though it meant travelling six hours a day to get to the classes and then get back home). This is where I learned to paint and I could not have learned that without these classes. Before these classes I painted in a traditional manner, first making a detailed drawing on a canvas, then building up the image in black and white tones to create shading and finally adding thin layers of oil paint to create colour. This traditional academic technique takes out any spontaneity, which up till then I thought was a sacrifice necessary to become a more or less realistic painter. But when I observed how Abdalla painted I saw how he could with a few bold brushstrokes create a portrait without a hint of careful planning. He taught me how to paint without drawing, working directly in colour and working exclusively with acrylics. I am very grateful for these lessons as I feel it liberated me from any constraints. So, although I have no academic artistic training I cannot say that I feel that I am a self-taught artist.
In my work I like to address political and social issues. I feel that figurative art is best suited for addressing these as it is the most direct and easily accessible form of art. I prefer art that is direct and which doesn’t require too much prior knowledge to be appreciated. I have often stood in front of a conceptual artwork of which I failed to understanding the meaning (until I read the sign accompanying the work). It fascinated me that this artistic movement claimed to put the concept of an artwork at the forefront while being unprecedentedly incapable of using artworks to transmit these concepts. Of course art does not necessarily have to be produced for the public at large, and it is not necessarily a problem when an artist prefers to make intellectual work for a select group of elite admirers. However, it does become problematic when one claims to be willing to tackle political and social issues, which is often the case with conceptual art. If you take these issues seriously you should want your art to reach as many people as possible (as your art is then a tool for encouraging change). I cannot comprehend artists who make inaccessible artworks about important issues, I find this pretentious and insincere.
I dubbed my work anti-conceptual art because I feel that art should not only be about a concept. Art is more, it is the transmission of ideas through a creative process. Artists are often not the inventors of the concepts they work with, we don’t invent the discussions about climate change, Black Lives Matter or the refugee crisis. Nevertheless, art can play a role in shaping these discussions.
Contemporary art increasingly attempts to expand its boundaries into other fields by means of for example performance art (previously the domain of theatre and dance) and installation art (combining architecture, design and sculpture, sometimes even with music and other forms). Although these expansions are not by definition bad they do signal the common believe that the traditional forms of art (painting, photography, graphic arts and sculpture) are ‘played out’. These more traditional forms of art only still accepted when they are employed by marginal groups (on a positive note, contemporary art does seem to increasingly recognise unheard voices) or so called ‘outsiders’, people whom claim to know so little about art they have reached some kind of primal instinctive artistic practice. I think this is the backlash of having had a great artistic revolution in the 20th-century. In less than a hundred years we went from realistic painting to abstraction to conceptual art. In hindsight it is clear that those 20th century artists whom are appreciated the most were also those whom innovated the most. This has led to a boom in new media and new methods, an artist today should not only find his own style but they should work in a never before explored medium. I think this obsession with originality has not furthered art significantly. And since any artist can now claim to be the inventor of a new medium it has become more difficult for the ‘great’ artists to stick out. The solution has been to turn to ever larger sizes to portray ones ideas. Any artist can wrap up household objects to conceal them, but only a truly great (rich and well established) artist has the means to wrap up entire buildings. It has granted the artist Christo infinite fame even though he has not produced anything other than an enlarged copy of Man Rays The Enigma of Isidore Ducasse (1920). In general I believe that spectators should be suspicious of large artworks, if an artist can only produce works which are impressive in size than the art itself is not the thing that impresses you. Whether we are talking about Medieval altars, 19th-century realism or conceptual art I think this rule remains valid.
I think artists should let go of this obsession with originality. I think a good artist will always produce original art, regardless of medium. Rather than searching for a unique style I try to learn from other artists and past movements. Surrealism, Dada, Pop-Art, Art Deco all have clearly and explicitly influenced my work. I don’t believe it takes an outsider to create original work. I have returned to the more traditional media because I feel that in the field of contemporary art these have been neglected. I believe that there is plenty of uncovered ground even in figurative painting or graphic arts. Figurative painting has opened a lot of new worlds for me, it allows one to interact with the world in ways in which you could never do in real life. You can interact with your heroes, shave off Dali’s moustache, anything is possible with five tubes of paint and a few brushes. Although I am gripped by the possibilities of painting graphic arts remain important to me as well. I think art should be accessible not only in terms of its message but it should also be affordable. I think an ‘art print’ or photo of an artwork doesn’t suffice here. Owning original art allows you to really get to know a work well. I think it is important that artists always produce affordable original art, even if their main artistic practices make use of media which are not suited for that.