Interview with Tim Ceustermans-Deschepper, by Wouter van de Koot.
‘A visual language should be rich’
I remember the first work I saw by Tim ceustermans-Deschepper like it was yesterday. It was during the exhibition Hiwaar in Borgerhout (Antwerp), where he had had moved a complete playground to a fallow piece of land. The objects rose higgledy-piggledy from the earth, as if they’d been left to decline long ago. The place was closed off with barriers and signs that said ‘no trespassing’. I was very impressed.
Today I’m sitting in his studio apartment in the heart of Antwerp, surrounded by large, elegantly painted, figurative paintings. We talk about the evolution of his work and our upcoming exhibition, ‘Setting the Scene’.
When I saw your realistic paintings later on, I wondered how you had made the jump from ‘The Playground ‘, and how you combine those two paths at the same time. Can you tell me something about that?
‘In the paintings, the emphasis is on the image and the characters, while in my installations and objects text in the form of one-liners and the material are important. The paintings are created from images which I collect throughout my life and which I then combine in order to create an image which has more meaning then the original photo. The characters in my paintings have to go beyond themselves.’
How do you mean?
‘I mean that they symbolize a certain trait or a deeper motive. You look past the character and wonder what gesture he has, what that image wants to tell you. In the long term this way of looking can become a form of self-reflection ‘.
For the spectator or for you?
‘For the spectator mostly’
Don’t you think your characters become more one-dimensional and less interesting if you want to diminish them to a single emotion, or a single symbol?
‘No, the attitude of a character is always open for multiple interpretation. People pick out, or relate to what they recognize.’
‘If the air between me and the painting starts to vibrate it’s finished’
What excites you in a particular image, that you choose to make a painting out of it?
‘I choose on intuition. If I feel that a picture goes beyond itself, I can do something with it. I don’t dress up my characters in some way. I come across them by accident and subsequently put them on the canvas to make them even more powerful. They are people of flesh and blood, with a deeper psychology.’
Can you make that more concrete? On one of the paintings in ‘Setting the Scene’ we see a little boy on the back. He does something with tight, coloured stripes which can depict light or electricity, but we do not see exactly what he does. What do you want me, as a spectator, to understand in terms of deeper psychology?
‘You suspect he grabs something with his hands, he works, he roots. He seems to create a complex structure of coloured stripes. As if he were master of light and time. He is a manipulator. People have always had the idea that they should be able to control light and time, that they should be able to unravel the science behind it. In the whole series of seven canvases you sometimes see figures who are passive, floating on the movement of light and others who feed the image with energy themselves.’
The titles of your work are usually quite leading. How important is that to you?
‘For me the titles are subordinate. The images should speak for themselves, the titles are a kind of conductor.’
OK, now take a look at the technique of your work. How do you usually build up a painting?
‘I use a pretty classical build up. The work is set up in ochres, on a white background, and then built in transparent paint, layer upon layer. I always add some extra oil to the paint. To add contrast I add some really opaque parts. I love the playing field of open and transparent colours. The painting process can push me in a different direction than that I initially had in mind.’
When do you consider a work to be finished?
‘If the air between me and the painting starts to vibrate, if I physically feel that I can do no more.’
Do you ever start over again, if the painting fails the first time?
‘No, never, I don’t allow my work to fail. I have the image in my head, and the painting is just the technical implementation. The final image is always better than the original. At some point in the process of painting I let go of the picture and that’s where it becomes interesting. That’s where you allow your emotions to get involved.’
‘The traces of human presence give the landscape a rough and dirty edge’.
In your new series you use images of lanscapes which you took on your travels to Australia, to create a background for your characters. How important, or how random are those?
‘That is very purposefully done. I wanted to focus on nature, and I would also like to be its champion.’
And how do you like painting nature?
‘One of my favorite painters is Turner, and I can only hope that I can ever match him. Sometimes it might seem simple to paint nature, but nature is where the most complex shapes and structures can be found. All forms of art and design can be traced back to natural forms. The idea of the landscape as an entity fascinates me. It is so diverse, from micro to macro levels. And for me the landscape is also connected to the psychology of human beings. Certain landscapes evoke certain feelings. I suspect it will keep me busy for at least several years.’
And do you see yourself use the Belgian landscapes as well?
‘If the atmosphere is right, yes of course! I’d like to follow in the footsteps of the landscape art of the low countries.’
What often bothers me about landscapes, is that you can never depict them literally. If you do, they just become kitsch. The best landscape painters are those who distort the landscape into a private visual language, Turner, Van Gogh etc. How do you make that transition from reality to the canvas?
‘That just happens in the painting process. And you should also allow failure in your work. It can’t always work.’
Why is the experience of a beautiful sky in reality not enough? What’s the need for a painted one?
‘It is more than just a beautiful moment in Australia. In the series ‘ Traces in our backyard ‘ I added traces of human presence, and usually not the best presence. That gives the landscape a rough and dirty edge.’
‘A visual language should not be minimized, when it can be so rich!’
How do you position yourself in relation to other contemporary artists?
‘I want to distance myself, and our exhibition relates to that, from the purely conceptual in art. It’s all so stalemate. It works refreshing to create a clearer picture. For me there are three pillars to a good work of art: the technique, the aha-erlebnis and originality. You have to be surprised by the good idea of the artist, you should have a sense of recognition, and you have to be able to admire the technique. Although the technical aspect sometimes doesn’t matter that much if the artist has an original angle. A visual language should not be minimized, when it can be so rich! And I think narrative, figurative art has more potential to be rich.’
The title of the upcoming exhibition is ‘ Setting the Scene ‘. What’s your interpretation of this?
‘For me it’s about preparing yourself to create a large painting. Preparing everything and staging the picture in my head: the brushes, the lighting, myself. And then: let’s rock ‘n roll! ‘
And what does this exhibition mean to you?
‘First of all I’m happy to encounter people to whom I feel connected. And I am pleased with the high quality of the participants. It challenges me. I want to be triggered by works of art, feel the excitement, be pushed on. It’s been a while since I felt that with other artists or exhibitions, so I’m very happy to be able to experience that feeling now, in an exhibition I participate in’.
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