“A reflection on life is a reflection on mortality, on meaning, on trying to understand.”
From where do you draw your inspiration for your artworks?
My inspiration comes from direct daily life experiences, from all universal questions that we meet in the most simple everyday situations, on unexpected moments, in unexpected places. I like to depart from simplicity, not from spectacular things or explicit news facts from the actuality. I strive to make images that have a certain timelessness about them, so they can talk about today as well as about the human condition as it always existed in all times.
Sometimes it find it just at home, when I see one of my kids sleeping on the sofa, and that I feel moved by the vulnerability and intense silence of such a scene. Sometimes I find inspiration in the public space, like the many times when I found myself sitting quietly in a deserted motorway restaurant at night, gazing at the motorway that stretches up to the horizon. With those elements I then create installations or sculptures that capture that feeling and evoke it for the viewer. Such quiet scenes, in my modest view, contain all about life.
You state that your art is “a reflection on universal questions of mortality and meaning”. Can you explain how this is physically presented in your work? What specific questions do you want the viewer to address? And what effect do you want to have on the viewer with your work?
I try to create quiet, sculpted, immersive environments, films, sculptures, paintings and plays that invite you to sit down, pause, take your time, calmly look around and think about life – your own life, its difficulties and anecdotes, as well as life in its broadest sense. By making my work as inviting and sensory as I can, I can create both a fully physical as well as mental experience, I hope people can instantly feel an atmosphere they can identify with, relate to and that triggers something deep inside their being. A reflection on life is a reflection on mortality, on meaning, on trying to understand. I don’t run away from depicting the melancholic and tragic; although I will not stress on those concepts, they are part of my artistic output. I try to use forms of beauty as a means to talk about the underlying depths. It is consoling to understand that one is not alone in his or her struggle with life. I like a work to be like a consoling hand on your shoulder, or a soft embrace.
Your artworks combine large-scale installations, sculptures, films, drawings, paintings, photographs and text. Why do you choose to work across a broad range of artistic methodologies? What role does photography have for you in your work and how important is photography to your processes?
I can’t help myself, apparently, to explore more or less all available media. I wish I would be making just small drawings; life would be easier, ha-ha. I started with painting, then started to add sculpture, then installations, video and film, and more recently writing and directing theatre and opera. It all came naturally; it hasn’t been a deliberate choice. To put it a bit pathetically: you don’t choose your artwork, the artwork chooses you. All these different media came knocking on my door unsolicited, and I let them in. But my goal, throughout all these different practices, has always been to move the viewer with an experience.
Photography has always been part of my art practice as a kind of side activity while creating the other work. Yet, I strive to make every picture that I present in an art space as a full-grown art piece; something that evokes a world by itself. So, in that sense, it is not a subordinate medium. It is a tool to freeze a moment in time during the multiple processes that are ongoing in my studio, on the exhibition location or in the theatre.
Your work is exhibited extensively around the world with multiple solo and group exhibitions each year. Is it an important part of your strategy to have your work very much in public spaces and accessible?
I am not naive, and I don’t want to suggest that, but I have never had a strategy when it comes to showing work. Somehow it all just happened to me; I always intensely concentrated on my creation itself, and very little on promoting it. I did not apply for participation in shows in the beginning. The work seemed to attract people from the start and invitations keep coming from everywhere. But of course, an artwork does not exist when it isn’t shown. Making shows and their entire staging in the art space is as much part of your creation, in my view. Making the work accessible is how the work comes alive. When people in the professional artworld notice that you have a good, strong, positive drive to doing your utmost to make the exhibition into a full experience, they always turn out to be very supportive.
Your more recent work has seen you embrace theatre and opera, in addition to your other art forms. Are you moving more towards live performance in your work? Please tell us what you are currently working on / your future projects.
Theatre and opera have become an extra activity in my art practice. I have no ambition to gradually move more and more towards those media. I had done stage design and costumes for some opera and theatre productions in the past. At some point some years ago the (now previous) intendant of Schauspiel Frankfurt had seen a retrospective show of my work in Hannover, and he knew I loved writing as well. He was the first to invite me to not only create stage design, costumes and light, but also to write the play and direct it. On top I also composed music for that play. In that sense, this play, ‘Nach dem Fest’, was a true Gesamtkunstwerk.
The warm reception by audience and press of this work, encouraged me to make a second play some years later in Antwerp (B), and currently I am writing my third play for next year. For the moment I am working on two performing art productions. I am working on the general concept, the stage design and costumes for a dance production. It is a collaboration with the famous choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and the opera of Göteborg in Sweden, where it will have its premiere in the beginning of October. Straight after that, I will be directing ‘Bluebeard’s Castle’ of Bartok, for the Opera of Stuttgart. Aside of directing it, I also create the stage design and costumes for it. The premiere in Stuttgart is in November.
My new theatre piece is a monologue that I’ll direct, in collaboration with Blindman Ensemble, a music ensemble that will create and perform new music for it.
Some day I hope my writing, directing and set design experience will all come together in an own motion picture, a full length movie for the cinema.
What has been the reaction to your work by the Chinese market? What do you think Chinese collectors like about your pieces? And what excites you about promoting your work in China?
When I had my first extensive solo show in China at Galleria Continua in Beijing in 2009, I was one of the first European artist of the gallery to sell works to Chinese collectors. My work seems to be very well understood and appreciated by the Chinese audience and its collectors. I had done shows in China before, like my participation in the Shanghai Biennale, and I felt the work was always warmly welcomed.
Apart from the great efforts of Galleria Continua to show my work in China, I have no own strategy for promoting my work in this enormous and most intriguing country.
But, in general, as a European artist, it is always wonderful to feel that people in other continents appreciate what you do, that your work bridges the different cultural backgrounds.
© HANS OP DE BEECK, Room (9) (Manet), 2017
Courtesy of Galleria Continua (San Gimignano, Beijing, Les Moulins, Havana)