The Horseman and other stories

4 July 2020 - 30 August 2020

Galleria Continua, San Gimignano, IT

In addition to his well-known large-scale, immersive installations, sculptures, art films, watercolours and theatre and opera work, Hans Op de Beeck has also been creating autonomous sculptures of human figures for a number of years now.

Although numerous women, men and children have posed in the artist's studio over the years, these sculptures are not portraits of them, but rather fictional figures, characters who –alone or in dialogue with a second person– tell a universal story in which timelessness and topicality are brought together.

'The Horseman and other stories' mainly presents elaborately detailed human figures. They are mostly depicted in a moment of rest, or while performing a trivial daily action.

'The Horseman', a life-size sculpture of a man on a horse, presents us with an enigmatic, nomadic horseman, a figure that evokes both to the lonely traveller of all times and the homeless migrant of today, in search of a better life. His companion is a little monkey sitting on his shoulder, holding a parasol in its hand to protect its owner from the sun. The horse carries handy work tools on the flanks and small collections of banal as well as mysterious objects that presumably are of great importance to the traveller.

‘The Boatman’ is a life-size statue of a man on a small rowing boat, seemingly pushing the boat away from a bank. Like 'The Horseman', he is a homeless loner, a middle-aged man, halfway through life, always on the move. He has packed his whole life together on the small boat; means of survival, personal belongings and goods that he can offer for sale or exchange are stacked and tied up in an improvised way.

‘Mum and Dad’ is a 1/2 scale sculpture of an aged couple on the lookout in their dressing gowns, as if something happened on the street at night, and they want to find out what's going on from the doorway. Their body language and facial expression speak volumes about their age and their relationship.

In 2015 Op de Beeck made a film with puppets, animated live by puppeteers dressed in black. With 'Celeste & Egon' and 'Celeste (smoking)', he takes up the concept of the representation of man as a doll. The dolls are sculpted from wood, and the limbs are connected by the typical doll joints. For the artist, the human doll contains a feeling of defencelessness and silent tragedy. In the work 'Celeste & Egon' we see the vulnerability of the male protagonist who has fallen and the helplessness and doubt of the female character. In 'Celeste (smoking)' we see the female character alone, in a moment of contemplation, with the so human, simple act of smoking a cigarette and taking a break.

‘The Cliff (wall piece)’ features an adolescent couple sitting atop a headland on the edge of the precipice. The girl’s open gaze lingers in the distance, as if preoccupied with something beyond the setting, while the boy’s attention is entirely focused on her. It is a bittersweet image of young love’s vagaries laced with innocence and designed to appeal to the viewer’s sentiment. The story of childhood, of growing up, is represented as a form of sublime enchantment punctuated by the overwhelming perception of a world not yet lived to which we are enticed to return. It also highlights Op de Beeck’s recurring concern with change, where different stages of our lives are punctuated with the weight of waiting before transitioning into a new phase – here, the advent of first love signals the passage into adulthood and the loss of innocence.

‘Sleeping Girl (home)’ is a scaled-down version of the previously realized life-size work of a sleeping child on a Chesterfield sofa. As voyeurs we look into the room in which she is located, where other furniture such as a large library cupboard and plants are present. Through the windows of the room a kind of evening sunlight falls inside, making the quiet mood tangible.

‘The Hideout’ is a showcase made at the artist’s studio, with on the inside a sculpture of a nocturnal landscape on scale. At the highest point of the unruly rocky landscape is a bare tree with a treehouse in which a light burns as if someone is present. The background of the landscape is a starry sky. The scene appears like a fairy-tale like, congealed memory.

‘Lily’ is a sculpted, classic still-life of a most slender table with a draped tablecloth and a vase with a graceful branch with lily flowers. The extreme verticality of the work emphasises its vulnerability as well as the feeling of the flowers reaching up to the sky.

‘Dog’ is a life-size sculpture of a sleeping dog, a very simple and everyday scene, which speaks of the calm and tranquillity of the passing of time.

‘Vanitas (variation) 29’ is a monochrome grey sculpture of a baroque still life on a tablecloth, in which, by free association, classical and contemporary ornamented elements were brought together to form a visually festive whole. Nevertheless, as befits the Vanitas tradition, it is also a memento mori.

As a whole, this exhibition speaks about our growing pains, the search for identity, the difficulties and awkwardness inherent to our existence, but also about our dreams and hopes for a better future and the search for peace and wonder.

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