As long as it's employed with devotion, it’s all right
If you weren’t already in the loop, Vincent Geyskens is currently presenting a selection of a hundred challenging artworks from the past ten years at M Museum in Leuven. We had the honour of getting a tour on-site by the exhibitor himself alongside Brussels-based painter Lisa Vlaemminck. While strolling through the exhibition, Lisa and Vincent reflected on their similarities and differences in modus operandi, kitsch and corporeality.
Are there similarities between your practice and approach?
Lisa: Our work goes in different directions but we both try to get away from the initial identity of what we perceive. I portray the image more in a constructive way where conflict occurs between the layers.
Vincent: In my recent work you could say that I place things more next to each other instead of on top of each other. There is friction in layering in Lisa's work: you don’t know from which perspective we’re observing.
Vincent, I noticed that you often move away from the traditional canvas and paint on objects. Where does this urge come from?
Vincent: Those works arose in 2007 and 2008. I was struggling to break the form and convention of autonomous painting. I answered this issue by applying a juxtaposition of frames, which resulted in a discharge of the canvas. A sequence arose where there was no longer one central point, and the subject moved to some sort of experience. Rather than a fixed representation, it became a presentation, a situation, something going on.
Human flesh is also a recurring motif in your work.
Vincent: My older work used to refer a lot to the skin, beauty marks, make-up, etalage, etc. Everything that intends to show itself, that wants to show but camouflages at the same time. A kind of public persona was something that occurred a lot in my work in the late 90s. After that, there was a shift to collages and the frame series which temporarily ended my use of photographic material and depictions of the human body, but the references to skin and the sensation of corporeality persist as a subplot in my work.
Lisa, do you recognize yourself in what Vincent is saying?
Lisa: When I look at Vincent’s still lifes, I sometimes get a déjà vu to my early work. My work used to start from observation, and still life in particular. My still lifes consisted of organic, deteriorating, and rotting things. I selected my objects as a function of my painting. At first, I tried to be faithful to the still life by making an abstraction of it and forgetting its function. But once I stop looking at the still life and go from the image that appears on my canvas, I noticed scabs started appearing. This materiality is something that hits you and then you build on it. But now my work has evolved and the relationship with the materiality of painting has changed. The search and accumulation of images become parallel and layered (more constructed), as before the struggle laid more in finding and fixing one image. A sort of intensified way of looking. Now I don’t start from observation anymore.
Your visual language is rather recognizable. Was this consistency intended from the start?
Lisa: It’s not that you decide in advance what your visual language is going to look like. But if you look at my work from the past five years, you do see consistency. I prefer to develop a personal visual language rather than questioning my modus operandi with every new painting.
Vincent: I find this very remarkable about Lisa. I don’t really manage to develop that kind of personal visual language. Some artists find their visual language very quickly and others take a long time to figure it out. Others maintain a lifelong distrust towards the intentional development of a personal pictorial language.
Lisa: It’s not because I have this visual language that it is something static. There are major shifts in it which you can clearly see when you compare my two latest exhibitions. It takes a while to finish a piece and I work on multiple paintings simultaneously. So a solution for one painting might work for the other as well, which results in communication between the pieces.
You also make collages. What’s the idea behind it?
Lisa: Because it takes so long to finish a painting, I wanted to have a quicker way to make images. In my most recent exhibition, there were collages in which I started using objects to create a sort of bas-relief. The objects used, kitschy ones such as diamonds, really attract me visually. I am constantly aware of the difficulty of being attracted to kitschy imagery such as a sunset, for instance, or a still life of a fruit basket. It’s an ongoing fight to try and deconstruct this and assign it to my work. In Susan Sontag’s essay, Notes on Camp, she criticizes the ironic way of treating kitsch. As long as it's employed with devotion, it’s all right. That is the case in my work.
Vincent: You notice in the use of materials, that there is no cynicism or hate in it whatsoever.
Lisa: But I hope to continue to question this.
Vincent: Yes. Not in a moralizing manner, but an aesthetic one.
Lisa: Indeed. I attach a lot of importance to that. I don't really like art that points the finger.