Hans Op de Beeck: More Than a Visual Artist
Eyes In Magazine, 7 March 2013
In a day and age when specialism prevails, an artist like Hans Op de Beeck stands out in the crowd, as much for artistic excellence as for his multi-faceted talent. To call Op de Beeck a ‘visual artist’ is too simple a title— he is a sculptor, a photographer, a painter, a videographer, a writer and an animator. He does not just dabble in this array of the arts, he defines them. His decade-long career has boasted numerous international art installations and worldwide recognition.
Born in Turnhout, Belgium, Op de Beeck alludes to having experienced a tumultuous childhood. He was the quiet, contemplative child who has since successfully channeled those hardships and melancholic tendency into thoughtful and thought-provoking art. “I experienced life with a certain kind of reflective distance, from the position of a spectator,” said Op de Beeck. “In a very natural and obvious way, a kind of distance and alienation sneaks into my imagery, yes, quite unconsciously. But there is also the conscious choice to isolate and abstract aspects of the complexity of life from the bigger picture. I like to detach, knead, direct and show,” Op de Beeck added.
Much of his art explores the theme of relationships—both of our looming and fleeting relationship with time (and all that conjures up) and our problematic relationships with each other and the natural world. Through his artistic expressions, Op de Beeck shows the viewer “non-existent, but identifiable places, moments and characters that appear to have been taken from contemporary everyday life, aiming thereby to capture in his images the tragicomic absurdity of our postmodern existence."
Editor-in-chief Vivian Van Dijk: “Hans Op de Beeck’s imaginary world comes together in his beautiful architectural, photographical and artistically-designed masterpieces. As an admirer of his work, you feel like you are lucky to be in the audience of his theatre as he performs to you with his huge variety of art pieces, where each of the artworks stand for a very high quality design made from an innovative mind.”
As an interdisciplinary artist, Op de Beeck refuses to limit himself to just one medium, making him one of the most innovative artists of his day. Whether watercolour or plaster, a small canvas or a large, three-dimensional installation, Hans Op de Beeck specifically chooses the medium that will best convey his message and manipulates it for his unique artistic aesthetic. He has a gift for matching medium to theme, be it the “disappearance of distance, the disembodiment of the individual and the abstraction of time that have resulted from globalization and the changes to our living environment that developments in media, automation and technology have brought about.”
Op de Beeck was educated at the Higher Institute Sint-Lukas, Brussels, where he received his Master’s Degree in Visual Arts in 1996. Since then, he has participated in numerous art shows (The Higher Institute for Fine Arts-Flanders, Antwerp 1997 and Rijksakademie, Amsterdam 1999) and won the 2001 Prix Jeune Peinture Belge Art Show in Brussels. He was also featured in the New York Museum of Modern Arts Studio Program in 2002. In 2006, he won the Eugène Baie, Antwerp Art Show.
His studio, located in Brussels, Belgium, is where many of his works of art—what he likes to call ‘proposals’—come to life. Op de Beeck prefers that term precisely because he aims to simply present, or propose, an idea through his art. How that particular idea is assimilated is left entirely to the viewer’s own interpretation and reflection. Through his proposals, Op de Beeck is out to explore the “difficult relationship between reality and representation, between what we see and what we want to believe, between what is and what we create for ourselves in order to make it easier to deal with our own insignificance and lack of identity. The visual output of that investigation often produces slumbering, insidious, melancholy and astonishing images.”
His 2013 piece of art is titled Staging Silence (2). This 20-minute high-definition, black-and-white video piece is based on “abstract, archetypal settings” that have stayed in the mind of Op de Beeck and which he recognizes as “the common denominator of the many similar public places.” As with most of his work, he leaves it up to the viewer to determine how seriously the art should be interpreted. Throughout the duration of the piece, the viewer is presented with some images which are serious and some that are humorous. That duality of display is where the artist is deliberate—the serious and the comedic are intended to represent the “eclectic mix of pictures in our minds.”
Op de Beeck explains his choice to portray Staging Silence (2) in black-and-white: “The decision to film in black-and-white heightens this ambiguity: the theatre-like approach of the video invokes the legacy of slapstick, as well as the insidious suspense and latent derailment of film noir. The title refers to the staging of such dormant decors where, in the absence of people, the spectator can project himself as the lone protagonist.”
“Memory images are disproportionate mixtures of concrete information and fantasies, and in this film they materialize before the spectator’s eyes through anonymous tinkering and improvising hands. Arms and hands appear and disappear at random, manipulating banal objects, scale representations and artificial lighting into alienating yet recognizable locations. These places are no more or less than animated decors for possible stories, evocative visual propositions to the spectator,” Op de Beeck added.
His vast oeuvre includes short stories, mixed-media sculptures, watercolor paintings, and much more. To learn more about the artist Hans Op de Beeck and explore his wide array of visual art, please visit his website at http://www.hansopdebeeck.com.
Conversation with multi-disciplinary artist Hans Op de Beeck
Eyes In Magazine: As a child, what did you want to become?
Hans Op de Beeck: In elementary school, I was the typical quiet boy in the class—dreamy, staring at the clouds, not good in sports, but the one who was known to be the best in drawing. From the age of six, I was the kid that preferred to stay indoors to draw and read comics, rather than join the others to play football. From those days on, I thought I’d become a draftsman or a painter. In high school it turned out that I was talented at writing and acting as well, which confused me in my ambitions. Additionally I started playing keyboard and guitar in bands, writing songs, singing, etc. What did become clear during my youth is that I would definitely be involved in the arts when I was an adult, but I had no idea yet what kind of art discipline. Only in my 20s did I realise that the world of visual arts was my perfect stage for a broad artistic visual output.
EIM: In which town did you grow up?
HOdB: I grew up in a small town called Turnhout, in the province of Antwerp, Belgium. At that time, it was a rather sleepy, dull, uninspired environment with high unemployment and very local thinking. Only a small group of punks and a small sub-cultural music scene brought some new ideas and energy in.
EIM: Do you think your background has influenced your work? If so, what specific element in your background is most pervasive in influencing your current artistic style?
HOdB: For sure. I come from a modest background. I grew up with parents who divorced after a sad and bad marriage, with an aggressive, absent dad and a disappointed mother. All those things influence your view on life, as well as your view on how surroundings, scenery and props are not innocent, but carry a lot of meanings and implications.
EIM: What inspires you as a visual artist?
HOdB: Very simple: daily life. I am not the kind of artist who wants to produce art that talks about art itself. My work really talks about life—the human condition, the universal subjects, our problems in dealing with our mortality, with time and space, with one another. It talks about how clumsy we are in organizing our lives, how ‘tragicomical’ and absurd life appears to be in many situations.
EIM: In which way do you consider yourself an innovative creator?
HOdB: Well, I am not sure I can be considered innovative, since my work leans on a long pictorial tradition. The most innovative aspect of my work, most probably, is that my work is extremely multi-disciplinary—large-scale sculptural installations, sculptures, photographs, drawings, paintings, writings and music. More and more my oeuvre seems to be a ‘Gesamtkunstwerk,’ where all media and disciplines blend.
EIM: How did you get the idea for creating your brilliant visual artworks? Are you ever afraid you will run out of inspiration and creativity in your job?
HOdB: I strongly believe in clear visual ideas that both are simple and complex, both banal and extraordinary. Let’s put it like this: I try to bend the ordinary into the extraordinary. My ideas all derive from daily life experiences. To me, it is of great importance that the spectator can easily identify with the subject. My works are visual fictions; they are not real, but have the potential to be taken seriously, as something true, something that resonates with life, something authentic. Fortunately, I have never had the problem of running out of inspiration. To be honest, I never quite understood how an artist could run out of inspiration. So far, I have produced more than a thousand artworks, so the source of inspiration never ran dry. The thing is that, of course in retrospect, there will always be works you don’t like anymore, works you now consider as failures, so the inspiration at that time must have been ‘wrong’ inspiration (laughs).
EIM: Do you have a favorite artist yourself?
HOdB: No, I don’t. There are too many interesting ones in all disciplines that it is too hard to name one a favorite. To give some names, I’d like to mention Raymond Carver as a writer and the Coen brothers as filmmakers; those are some great examples of valuable artists.
EIM: What is the most difficult aspect of your job?
HOdB: The fact that it is an absolutely passionate occupation; this means an enormous dedication that implies a lot of pressure and sacrifices in your private life. When you’re a successful artist, people seem to presume it all goes effortlessly but of course, it is the opposite. Being a visual artist truly is the most fascinating job in the world, but also one of the most demanding ones. Another difficulty is all the constant financial and logistical side of the type of work that I’m doing; mainly large scale and extremely labour-intensive.
EIM: What is the most fun part of your job?
HOdB: The fun part is, of course, when people tell you they were moved by your work, that it meant a lot to them, that it gave them consolation and beauty. So yes, the warm reception of your work is what keeps you going and what gives you joy. The fun part of creation itself—at the studio or on location—is when you enter this mental zone in which you start to forget time and space, I presume something close to the runner’s high of athletes. And of course, when an extremely labour- intensive piece is finished all of a sudden, in a way you hoped for, when all things suddenly come together in an harmonic way, that’s of course an enormously satisfying experience, every time again.
EIM: Do you expect your way of creating art to change in the future?
HOdB: Since the beginning of my professional art career, about 14-years-ago, I’ve always expanded my use of media and formats. Aside from my visual art work that finds its exposure in the world of museums, galleries and events such as biennales, I’m working on a script for a feature film and I continue to write short stories. A well-known theatre in Germany invited me to write and direct a play for which I’ll do the whole visual side as well (stage design, costumes, light, etc.). So there are quite some new as well as slightly differently oriented experiences coming up for me.
EIM: Do you embrace the changes in photography and visual culture brought about by social media and technological influences?
HOdB: In my video work, for example, I started to film in 4K, which currently is the highest quality for High Definition video. The image quality we can make use of today is not comparable to what it was a couple of years ago. Yes, I welcome new technology. I also made a film for which I filmed my actors in green key studios, and for which I created photorealistic scenery on computer. The characters in my film Sea of Tranquillity (2010) wander around in fictional spaces, all computer-rendered, but visually very credible. For some sculptures, I have also used 3D printers for shapes that were not possible for me to sculpt. So, indeed, I do embrace new technology, although I must say that the hand-crafted objects and constructions are my favorites.
EIM: What do you consider to be your greatest masterpiece? Do you have any plans for future masterpieces?
HOdB: No, I would never be that arrogant to label one of my works a great masterpiece, but I did produce works I’m still really proud of. Some of the best video and film works I produced, are Staging Silence (2) and Sea of Tranquillity, the best sculptural installations Location (1) up to Location (8), the best short story I’ve written so far is Spa, the best music I composed is the title song Sea of Tranquillity, the best photo series I made probably is the Roomseries. It is very hard to choose something like ‘a best work’ one made so far . . . maybe the sculptural Location (5) is one of the strongest. It is a life-sized installation in monochrome paint, which is entered through a stairwell leading to a restaurant that spans a motorway. Walking past the counter and the kitchen the spectator takes a seat at one of the tables. A night-time scene of a motorway stretching into the distance, lit by orange road lighting can be seen through the huge windows. The construction of the illusion is achieved by raising the road surface by a 9-degree angle and by distorting the perspective as it moves towards the horizon; the lighting masts decrease from four meters to only 40 centimeters, thereby creating an illusion of a view that goes on forever.
EIM: What would be the title of a future book authored by Hans Op de Beeck?
HOdB: So far, I have published four monographic books: Extensions; On Vanishing; The Wilderness Inside; Sea of Tranquillity. I have no idea yet what could be the next. It might be a book with all my black-and-white watercolor paintings since they haven’t been put together in a publication yet. Since all those works have a nocturnal mood, the title might have something to do with that.