Koen Delaere

Koen Delaere Interview - By Steven Cox

Steven Cox: Can you tell me a little about yourself, your background, and how you first became a full time artist

Koen Delaere: I was born in Bruges, Belgium, I grew up in Zeeuw- Vlaanderen with a short interval in South Africa and now I live in Tilburg where I studied at the Academy. In Zeeuws – Vlaanderen I was involved in organizing shows with punk bands and experimental music, making flyers and zines. After my study I got a stipend from the De Pont museum and I started doing shows and travelled through Europe.

SC: Can you remember your first exhibition?

KD: I used to scavenge for wood at building sites and paint on that and depending on the architecture of the exhibition space, I would saw all these into pieces and planks and build walls with them in the space, mostly working together with friends. My first shows were all like that. I did these works at Fons Welters gallery, w139, Shed in Eisenwerk. After that, for my first solo-show at Autocenter Berlin I was using handmade stretcher-bars and using chicken wire on them, or stretch chicken wire on top of the canvas. At that time I was going for a system of constants and variables as well as trying to use a raw kind of energy and collaboration. Within these shows I would sometimes do performances or ask friends to do performances.

I think what stuck was this use of a system or grid and work with and against that.

SC: Lets jump ahead to your recent solo exhibition at RH Contemporary in New York. Can you discuss the exhibition and the series of works that were exhibited?

KD: My main focus is on this series I call beach paintings. In this series I use a heavy relief on which to paint. The relief functions as a grid. The painting itself is really physical. In these works I use the idea of the grid both as a vehicle for subjectivity as well as a constraint for a really impulsive performative way of painting. Thus the relief functions as a way to capture the act of painting, almost as a photographic object or a performance document. The show at RH Contemporary was called 'Beaches & Canyons' after a record by Black Dice, but I also like the words beaches and canyons and the images they evoke. The paintings can also set up associations of natural experiences.

SC: The titles of your works featured in ‘Beaches and Canyons’ capture my attention: Boca Santa Cruz, Hookshut, Kenepa Grandi. What is the significance of these titles and how do they personally relate to you?

KD: I usually don’t use titles, however I don’t like talking about the paintings as the ‘orange one’ or the ‘green one’. So this time I gave them names for reference. The names are all beaches of Curaçao. Curaçao is a small Caribbean Island where I did a 3-month residency some years ago. In Curaçao all windows have bars in one way or another, some have concrete blinds as beautiful as Schoonhoven paintings, others have metal bars. Their purpose is to let the wind in and keep the burglars out. So they're both open and closed at the same time. They also have these bars where you order your drinks through these metal fences. When diving you see the grid of the waves projected through sunlight on the bottom of the ocean and these amazing coral reefs. There are also some beautiful buildings by Gerrit Rietveld. So there was a natural connection between grids, modernism, beaches and so forth. Just before the RH Contemporary exhibition, I did a museum show at Museum de Vleeshal in Middelburg. It’s the area where Mondrian painted his pier and ocean paintings and where Bas Jan Ader did these performances trying to look like a Mondrian. It’s in Zeeland where I grew up, near the sea.

SC: Have you been exclusively developing your process of making these beach paintings since your time in Curaçao? And if so, can you tell me a little of how these works transformed and developed over time?

KD: The paintings developed from being accidental works to becoming a dominant series in my practice. It’s influenced by different experiences and travels. Since then I have been in the USA, Brazil, France etc. And the works are also connected to some drawings I did using metal fences as grids and pulling coloured electrical wires through them. At that time I was also thinking about Schnabel's plate paintings and how the surface works against the gesture.

SC: I can see that the grid structures that you create in each work relate to the blinds and bars of the windows in Curaçao. In each painting, they are slightly different, for some have slight diagonal structures and others are more conventional. When applying the paint to create these structures, are you conscious of how the following layers of paint will react and move along these planes? Perhaps movement is both created and dictated by these structures?

KD: It depends on what I allow to happen in the moment, but yes the movement can be dictated by these structures.

It’s a cause and effect relationship really; it is playing out certain scenarios and following them through by using aesthetic means to take the physical, or indexical connection between the starting state (input) and the result of the transformation (output) as a theme. I think in that aspect the works are really transparent for the viewer. Every decision and action is in the painting. Every action is recorded by the object, by the painting. This idea that the object captures the action remains transparent. I was already making grids like these before Curaçao, but they were more accidental. The diagonal lines are also corrupting the straight grids; I guess I like it when things get somewhat off kilter.

SC: Your application of paint can be considered highly expressionistic, it can also be imagined how you would be literally throwing the paint at the surface. Is there a stage during this process that you have to be careful of not over-painting, in order to prevent the destruction of a visible grid? And, further more, at what stage would you consider a painting to be over-worked?

KD: I think the same happens when you paint a vase of flowers, the danger of over-painting or over-working is always present whatever you do, on the other hand the idea of over-working can also become attractive.  There’s so much that’s under-worked nowadays with a lot of ironic detachment, painting with one hand while talking to your dealer through the phone with your other. Over-painting could be quite a good idea.

SC: I am also aware that you are not very precious about your own works, for in past video interviews online you discuss the regular re-use of stretchers, and at times you are seen destroying failed works. Is it important for you to destroy failed works? Are you not interested in allowing works to ‘stew’ or be re-evaluated at a later time?

KD: When it is a good work, I am quite precious with them.

SC: Whilst you were in NY for the RH Contemporary residency, you completed an interesting series of prints that very clearly play on the grid structures present within your paintings. Was this the first time that you created a series of prints?

KD: I do printmaking now and then.  I did a big project in Sao Paolo, Brazil some years ago, making big silkscreens using open screens and folding the paper while printing them making iris-prints. I also did paintings using flatbed-printers, printing digitally on top of heavy wet impasto oil paint, where I open-sourced all the images used for printing. In printmaking there is a possibility to do collaborative work. I used to do a lot of silkscreens, always working together with friends and family.

In this case, I worked closely with master printmaker Greg Burnett in New York producing 4 different copper-etchings.

Later this year I will make a book for Museum De Vleeshal for the show I did last year with Jeroen Doorenweerd called Zinging Tangerine. Lorenzo Benedetti curated the show, but the museum now has a New Director, Roos Gortzak. So we are talking about some sort of collaborative artist book with Roos to publish around August. I will probably do some new silkscreens for that.

SC: You have a busy exhibition schedule over the coming months with a group show at Ana Cristea Gallery in NY and a solo exhibition at VAN HORN in Dusseldorf. Can you disclose what you will be presenting in these exhibitions?

KD: It’s a continuation of this series. There will be some nearly white monochromes and some really saturated colour paintings. Colour is becoming more and more of a thing at the moment. I’m also getting into poetry more and more. I love this idea of ‘juxtaposition without copula’; first coined by Marshall McLuhan on Ezra Pound. The idea of ‘two or more points of force’ on a single canvas.

At Ana Cristea Gallery I am exhibiting in a group show titled ‘Telecom Hawaii’, in this exhibition, I am showing alongside both Daniel Schubert and Evan Robarts.

For VAN HORN in Dusseldorf, I will have a solo-show in May. It is my first show at VAN HORN. That’s what I’m working on at the moment. For that show I am really focusing on colour. The colours are mostly completed in oil paint. It is physically hard work hitting these colours on top of each other and getting them right.

The way I paint is by only applying paint to the top part of the painting, hitting the top section hard with a brush. Naturally, the paint falls downwards onto the rest of the painting, hitting the reefs of the grid and mixing the colours optically. It’s impossible to plan them out. It is interesting seeing how the colours behave and the presence they own whilst in the space. It can get really abstract in that way. Idiosyncratic, what is blue, what is the right blue? Colour is really abstract, it is sunlight reflecting, bouncing on a surface and reflecting back a certain colour without returning others. On a red surface, only red bounces back and doesn't give you the other colours of the spectrum. So colour is a system, on the one hand it is something to work with, whilst on the other hand, it is overwhelming, engulfing and disorienting.

Colour can be narrative or poetic, it can lead you in a direction and play with your head. In oil paint, the colours still have names relating to the material with which the pigment is made. Like Zinc white. You take a piece of zinc, put it in a jar with cow-urine and the zinc will break down and oxidize into this white pigment. So you get Zinc white. But spray paint colours and acrylics are made artificially and use a fantasy naming system to title the colours: Mermaid-Blue, Dolphin-Blue, Pool-Blue etc. So you make your own colour system following an internal logic. The material I use is oil paint mostly because of its material, it is thicker and harder to work with because of the long drying time, and it’s something to work against. It makes the whole process harder and I really like getting physical with them.

SC: I am interested to know how you prepare your works in your studio? Do you begin with preparatory sketches, or do you prefer to work in a more improvised manner?

KD: I never really make sketches. Most important is an idea of colour. But it’s all about getting in the right mind-set really. Finding the concentration to work. I have sessions making the grids, and I have sessions working with colours.

SC: To what extent is poetry entering your work, or influencing the making of your work?

KD: I’m not really a connoisseur in poetry. I got into it when I was 16 or so, reading Charles Bukowski, and I was also interested in the poetic quality of lyrics from certain songs by the likes of Sonic Youth or Talking Heads. They had great lyrics. More recently, I’ve been reading Gilbert Sorrentino and William Carlos Williams. I really like The Orangery by Gilbert Sorrentino, the way he uses the same words in a different order in this poetry series. Oranges and lemons. And I tend to agree with Sorrentino that form not only determines content but also invents content.

SC: In regards to your working routine, do you have set hours in the studio? I assume there is always music playing in the background due to your work relating back to music? Can you also describe your studio?

KD: I have a small studio with great natural light. I worked in a lot of different places over the years, in temporary studios, outside, residencies, the beach and in some museums etc. This summer I will work at CCA Andratx in Mallorca. But, the studio in Tilburg is a good base to work from. I don’t have a fixed schedule but I only work during the day. Music has a double function - for it gets me in a working modus but it also functions as a clock.

SC: The residency at CCA Andratx will be a great opportunity for you to develop a new body of work within a scenic environment. Have you given much thought in regards to what you aim to achieve whilst being based there?

KD: I have been in contact with the CCA Andratx for two years, last year I couldn’t plan the residency within my schedule, and a lot has happened since then. I have some different ideas, but at the moment I am so involved in my current works in the studio that August still seems far away.

SC: You mentioned that you listen to Sonic Youth and Talking Heads, what others bands or genres of music are regularly listened to whilst in the studio?

KD: Don’t get me started on music, I’m really omnivorous. There is so much good music! Aby Ngana Diop, Sun Araw, Liturgy, Black Dice, Thee Oh Shees, Gore, Factory Floor, Sade, Black Flag, Burial, Rodrigo Amarante, Earl Sweatshirt, suicide, Bob Marley, Drvg cvltvre.

SC: Which artists would you consider to have been influential to you?

KD: Flags Of The Fante Tribe, early novels of JG Ballard, Rob van Koningsbruggen, early Paul McCarthy performances, Isa Genzken perhaps, a lot of music really.

SC: You work closely with the artist Bas Van Den Hurk, where together you have curated several exhibitions under the moniker Whatspace. How did this project begin and can you discuss some significant past projects?

KD: Bas and I started Whatspace some 7 years ago. It was a really natural thing for us since we were both involved in artist run initiatives before that. Also some close friends of mine are also running spaces or organizing events, like Joep and Maik who run Autocenter, Peter Fengler who runs de Player club in Rotterdam, Vince and Joost who run Incubate in Tilburg. Or even Jean-Baptiste who does Middlemarch. Manor Grunewald who's doing his Neighbours series in Ghent. Hester who runs Ozean in Berlin. The forgotten bar project by Tjorg Douglas Beer,etc. It’s good to have these artists run spaces as they provide a different model within the cultural landscape. With Whatspace we don’t have a physical space so we do projects in a lot of different spaces working with other organizations or renting spaces or using public spaces. In this way, we have organized shows and performances in NY, Chicago, Berlin, Brussels, Curaçao, and Barcelona etc.

People who work with Whatspace value the community spirit of the organization. The fact that it is not market-oriented, not strategic or ego-driven and that it operates on the basis that ‘anything is possible’, allows for an exceptional freedom that is often hard to come by in more institutional settings.

SC: What does the future hold for Whatspace?

KD: There are some great shows planned and we are working on a book focusing on the first 7 years of Whatspace. Another book is coming out about our project The-Artist-as-Producer.

All images courtesy of Koen Delaere, Van Horn, Ana Cristea, Gerhard Hofland and De Vleeshal

Koen Delaere