Interview Christel Van Hemelrijck | Contemporary Art Curator Magazine
Interview Contemporary Art Curator Magazine
- Can you pinpoint the moment you decided you wanted to become an artist?
I started out rather late with painting and at first it was more about catharsis than making a living of it. But the situation quickly changed from “clearing my mind” to becoming a full time artist. It was more a feeling I had than a decision I made. I realised that it was exactly what I wanted to do when I was walking to my first exhibition, a few days after the opening. I knew it wouldn’t be easy to switch careers but I took a leap of faith because I knew that in the long run it would make me a lot happier than staying on in television. The first year after starting out I had a few exhibitions and from then on it only got better. Part of it is luck of course, but part of it is knowing what you want and sticking to it, no matter how difficult it may be. And I can assure you that there were moments that I doubted everything. But to be honest, now four years later, I don’t regret it at all.
- Where is your studio and where are you from?
My studio is at my place in Mechelen (Belgium, where I was born). It is comfortable in a way because I don’t have to leave the house to work. If I get up in the middle of the night I just go upstairs and work. But the studio is situated on the third floor so it can become quite cumbersome to drag those large canvases upstairs. I am looking for a bigger studio and preferably one on the ground floor. I am undecided whether I will rent a place nearby or just move to another house with a bigger studio.
- Tell us a little about your artistic background. What were your first influences to be creative and become a serious artist?
I never attended an academy or took any art classes but I have always been interested in art, from antiquity to contemporary art. My favourite movements have always been Impressionism and Abstract Expressionism. I like the color field paintings of Barnett Newman and Helen Frankenthaler, the bright colours of Lee Krasner, the emotional intensity of Joan Mitchell and I am in awe every time I see the palette knife style of Clyfford Still or the intensity of the work of Mark Rothko. And I can spend hours looking at Monet’s work at the Musée de L’Orangerie in Paris during a visit. I suppose they all unconsciously influenced my style. But then it’s no surprise to discover influences of great artists in the work of a contemporary painter.
- Can you tell us what you have going on right now?
I am currently working on a new series “Travellers”, about the need for connection and interaction with other people, especially in an era where all movement is restricted. The works will be at a solo exhibition in Belgium this summer.
This series is more feminine, more rounded, there is more light in it as well. Very different colours are used in comparison with the two previous ones where red and blue were omnipresent. I still use the same technique as I did before but I apply my tools in a different way for this particular body of work. I use flexible silicone tools and I had them custom made because what I needed wasn’t on offer in art shops or online. It’s a great feeling to finally discover a provider who understands what you need and is able to make a tool to your exact specifications. It makes it all the more exciting when you have your own customized material.
- Can you describe what an average working day for you is like? Do you work on many creations at once or one at a time?
I don’t really have an average working day. Sometimes I paint, sometimes I am busy with social media or interviews, or I am working on my website. And some days are more about contemplation, which is as important as painting in itself for me. The inspiration comes in waves actually. Some weeks I paint every single day, some weeks I hardly work in my studio. In general, I work on one canvas at a time, especially the larger ones. But with the smaller works I put the first layers on a few canvases and then finish them one by one.
- What makes your art different from others?
I think we all make different art; everyone has their own style. But, it was probably my fear of brushes when I first started out that convinced me to use silicone. For my first series I only used palette knives, from the first layer to the last. But, afterwards I started using large brushes for the first layers and I finished with a palette knife. Later on, I discovered silicone, which has just the right amount of flexibility and sturdiness to get the result I wanted. My art evolves, just like everything else does. What happens in my life has an influence on the work I make. It can have an effect on the colours I use, the way I use my tools or even the size of the canvases.
- In your opinion, what role does the artist have in society? What do you hope that others will gain from viewing your art?
I think art represents one of the few areas where people can share an experience even if they see the world in totally different ways. Art can bring people together who have completely different views about other aspects of society. Making art is often a solitary event but once finished it has the possibility of connecting people. Every work I make tells a story; but everyone can see a different story. That’s the good thing, there is no right or wrong, just what you feel or see when you look at a work of art.
- What’s the most important element in your artwork?
That’s a tough question, maybe it’s a mixture of colour and contrast and the emotion it evokes. It’s still not easy for me to talk about my own work in terms of “most important element”. My work is all about emotions, thrown on a canvas. It’s about what I go through; what happens in my life is reflected in what I make.
- That being said, are there any lessons that you’ve learned that you could pass on to the younger generation of artists as they begin their journeys?
Probably one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in life and not just as an artist, is to follow your heart. If you do what you love you will become good at it, no matter what. And get out there! If you want to make a living from it, people need to know what you are doing. You have to show your work, whether it’s on social media or in an online exhibition. Or even renting a place and organizing your first exhibition yourself, like I did. It landed me my first gallery only a few months after I started painting.
- What’s on the horizon for you?
Who knows what’s on the horizon anymore? With all the Covid restrictions all exhibitions have been postponed. I hope society will open again soon, so we can get on with our lives. And I hope I can travel to exhibitions abroad soon as well. But no matter what happens, I will continue my life as an artist. It’s who I am, or rather who I became.