Gert Scheerlinck: Painting with Materials
by Paul Weiner
Gert Scheerlinck’s paintings extend into the field of material interventions through which he studies the poetics of everyday life. Scheerlinck presents found objects and arrangements that approach conceptual ambiguity, allowing for open interpretation while offering intensely minimalist aesthetics reminiscent of Arte Povera. Splitting the difference between painting and sculpture, Scheerlinck complicates his found objects by entering a world of intense yet blasé anecdotes commenting on the fabric of society. He revitalizes discarded materials to catch his viewers in a web of imprecise or displaced signifiers and develops tension in a reconstructed, banal conversation.
Scheerlinck is an artist from Belgium who has exhibited his work at Museum M in Leuven, Belgium; Campo site, Ghent, Belgium; Patrick Studios, Leeds, UK; ABK, Aalst, Belgium; Entrepot Fictief/Jan Colle Galerie, Ghent, Belgium; Flux Factory, Long Island City, NY, USA; and in a variety of other international spaces. He has upcoming exhibitions at Bozar De L’abattoir in Bergen, Netherlands opening October 17th and at Oude Beurs in Antwerpen, Belgium opening October 21st. Critique Collective previously interviewed Scheerlinck about his early paintings before he transitioned to a material based practice. Further images of Scheerlinck’s artwork can be found on his website.
Since we last spoke, you made a transition to a largely material based practice. Could you explain what prompted you to stop using so much paint, or at least to use it differently, and pursue the assemblage of materials and objects?
As you know, I’m trained as a painter. During the training, the most important tools were canvas and paint. The canvas could be replaced, but painting without paint was not addressed during my education. Even after my training, paint remained a way to express myself for quite a while. When you interviewed me the first time, the canvas was already replaced by non-artistic material, but I could not let go of the paint yet. The real turn came when a curator asked me about the importance of paint in my work. At that time material had already taken a prominent role, and the paint was incidental. That was the moment I started to see painting differently. I still apply the same principles, but I replaced paint with materials, and the interaction with space is even more intense now. I paint with material.
Do you expect your viewers to have the same thoughts or interventions with these materials as you do?
Absolutely not. Every material evokes some association or arouses certain feelings. I often refer to daily life, the natural environment, cultural stratification, relationships, and contradictions. But this does not necessarily correspond with the viewer. The interpretation can vary from person to person because my work is suggestive. My work is often described as poetic. An art reviewer formulated it as follows: “Each of these art works are an image of life itself in small and higher expectations, in dreams and nightmares, in findings and concerns … The artist profiles himself as eyewitness of everyday life”. I couldn’t say it better myself.
Where do you usually find the components for your work and how does this impact the meaning behind the assemblages?
Actually, I’m not even consciously looking. It seems, rather, that the objects find me. In one way or another, they grab my attention through their shape, color, or texture, and, of course, the object must also evoke suggestions to me. Most people think I have a studio full of smelly and dirty stuff. Nothing is less true. I just pick up the objects I feel connected with. The object must speak to me. It’s hard to explain. It is a feeling, a kind of sympathy, an understanding. It feels good or it doesn’t.
The place where I find an object is of interest to myself, but it has no effect on the final assembly. This encounter is needed because I want to bring back that what is removed from society.
Though you have moved away from using paint in your work, some of your pieces still reference art materials. For instance, in Untitled (slippers), you rest a pair of slippers against a bent canvas that has been stretched and primed. Other works, though, totally eschew art materials. After your transformation in moving away from paint, how do you feel about the removal of any traditional art making materials?
The piece with the slippers you refer to can be considered a transitional piece. The broken canvas does, indeed, refer to my past as a painter. The slippers belonged to my wife, the one who supported me in my career choices. She understood fast enough that a canvas was limiting me and motivated me to go beyond the obvious. In that way, she played an important role in who I am as an artist.
When the word ‘canvas’ was mentioned, I felt ill at ease because it needed to be used in its original meaning. In this piece of art, I don’t use the canvas in its original function, but as mere material with a connotation to painting. That’s a big difference. I found distance from the use of canvas and paint in their traditional means to create art from a different approach. In that way, I don’t see why I should take full distance or never use them again.
As you mentioned, your work can reference life, the environment, and cultural stratification. Since you are using found objects, do you allow the objects speak to their own implicit politics or are you constructing stories out of these objects that serve your own political views?
Every artist working with materials needs to be able to feel the material, both physically as well as emotionally. There needs to be a kind of affinity with the material. I never start working with the object right after finding it. It stays in my studio for a while. I observe and scan its form and color, its emotional value, memory, or happening. And this takes time.
When – in time – the object can be on its own and tell its story, I don’t have anything to add. I need to accept it as ready-made (e.g. Mattress). In other cases, I work on the object and create my own story. I scan it and transform it by combination or deduction. Often, I put hard against soft or warm against cold. I search for dialogue. A good example is ‘In Transit’, a recent artwork where two objects, a chain and a piece of tire, form a relationship. The tire symbolizes a movement towards the future. The chain refers to the past, dragging along the burden and desire to break out of the routine. On the other hand, it is also symbolizing a bond (the Dutch for bond is band, which is also the word for ‘tire’). This piece was made for the benefit of an educational center where they support youngsters with serious and prolonged issues.
Your work often takes on muted hues, black and white shades, and minimalist or abject presentation. Are these visual choices made for stylistic purposes or is there a conceptual reason for the simplicity many of your works take on?
I consciously work with minimalism because I want to keep the focus on the found object that needs to be observed in its simplicity and beauty. Because of the fast and evasive society we live in, we take approximately 8 to 15 seconds time to look at a piece of art. To learn how to look at art is a thing of the past. Every detail and all questioning escapes the viewer. As an artist, I feel it is my objective to put that in the spotlight and to invite the viewer to learn again how to watch and appreciate the little things in life.
To come back to your question, in short, the answer is both. I don’t consider the artwork acceptable when both conditions aren’t met.
Take the “sock and apple” as an example: visually, this a very aesthetic piece of art, but it makes you think. Why has the sock been stretched? And what is the apple doing there? These are two very recognizable materials most viewers can relate to. It invites them to think. For me it is a very personal piece. The sock belonged to my daughter when she was 4 years old. Stretching the sock symbolizes her growing up, and the apple refers to the apple of my eye, the one I love the most.
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