“A pretty picture doesn't interest me, it's not even difficult to make.”
This is a translated extract of Hilde Van Canneyt’s interview with Benny Luyckx (2019). It appears in her latest book 4321 vragen Hilde Van Canneyt interviewt kunstenaars (Borgerhoff & Lamberigts, 2020).
HVC: How do you determine the size of your works and how do techniques relate to each other and to your work?
BL: I deliberately chose large format for the charcoal drawings I made in recent years. In this way, the viewer can walk in my drawings, as it were. You can almost see it as a kind of escapism : my drawings are more like sets where the viewer can lose themselves in the adventure. Anyway, in terms of content, my work consists of different layers: from science to computer revolution and paradise, which is still a kind of escape from reality.
In any case, I let work grow. My first sketches are very rudimentary, because I still want to feel and see the adventure when I make the final work. Sometimes a work remains untouched or something that has been on my notice board for years suddenly triggers me. I start every work with an atmosphere, and that also determines which techniques I use and which formats I choose.
HVC: It's not always the happiest faces or subjects that we see from you, so I suspect you're not making yourself happy during the work process?
BL: I am a positive person, but it is of course the darker side of life that I draw and paint. I've been through that too. I don't see my work as therapeutic, but it feels more inspiring than when I'm happy. Otherwise I'd just sit on a terrace. My work A woman called V, in which a lady is squatting modestly, is an excerpt from Venus Frigida by Rubens. That work was in the news a few years ago: apparently Rubens had used a classical Roman or Greek statue as an example. I like to incorporate such art-historical elements into my work, so to speak, in a contemporary context. Like an echo of the past. Also in other works of mine, you will see Bruegel elements. In my work E.D.E.N, you will find the trees with a view by Claude Lorrain. The grid makes the connection with today’s world. A pretty picture doesn't interest me, it's not even difficult to make.
HVC: We sometimes see in your work a typical interplay of lines, that is, this grid. Is it a consciously contemporary fact? It also appears in your work Awakening, L.A.S.T and now in your latest work E.D.E.N
BL: Those are grids, the grid of a computer game. Where's the reality? What is the real world? Is it below or above? This originated with the figure in the work Awakening, which, by the way, also refers to Ophelia by John Everett Millais. What is reality: the piece above the grid or below the grid? What is your current position as a human being in the world with the evolution of computers? In a computer game, the game does not go beyond the grids in which it is made. You also have that in my large works from the E.D.E.N series. It's just things that creep into my mind. I almost make a scenery and a paradise. On the one hand, Eden is an earthly paradise, it creates great expectations, but on the other hand you would not last long. I always add a figure for the scale, also as a stepping stone for the viewer. My work is always about man's relationship with paradise.
HVC: I also see a series of portraits, made with charcoal on paper, in a large format. Their faces are stained and marked, you might say. I read titles such as “A man”, “A woman”. (2017)
BL: I wanted to keep those titles very universal. What is hanging on the wall here in my studio is the result of that previous series of portraits. After the exhibitions of the Numbers series, the first work I made was about the Louvre. Knowing that the Germans were coming, the French had hidden all their artwork in castles. There are also many photos of it, of the Louvre as an empty cupboard. There were many empty frames against the wall. I thought that it was a striking image, because at that moment you just see how important art becomes. There is the financial value, but also the functional value.
I also made portraits under the name of Sleep... The works are about ActionT4, a secret Nazi program to kill psychiatric patients and people with mental disabilities, on the pretext that they costed too much to the regime. But I also got depressed doing that. In terms of content, it was about exclusion and the racism associated with it.
I still had frames, for which I made works with charcoal. And that's how I came back to charcoal. Although I have always worked with it, especially when I was drawing models, for me it is a very natural material. That's how I ended up with those figures that are stained. I wanted to create things that raise questions. Are those people sick, are they pigment spots? But those heads also have a certain beauty in themselves.
If you’re interested in reading more, find the whole interview on Hilde van Canneyt’s website (Dutch language).
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