Aspiring to turn up the volume and shake up the stillness

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Fleur De Roeck arrives at The Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium wearing a green tarboosh-like hat, red lip and white trousers featuring her own illustrations screen printed in black. Poised and soft-spoken, she states smiling: 'colour brings me joy'. Prompted by the exhibition Picasso & Abstraction recently opened in Brussels, we reflect on her own mixed media visual practice and evolving creative process.

The expo is dedicated to Picasso’s oscillating relationship with abstraction. In the framework of this theme, it also focuses on the artist's studio as a setting for the work itself and as a laboratory for creation. How do you relate to this in your practice?

I always say the studio is my biggest love! [laughs]. My work really took off when I settled into my first one, where I was lucky to stay for seven years. As a child I relocated from the south of France to Belgium, and growing up I changed homes a lot; so inhabiting this one place as a constant in my life established an important sense of stability. It was located right in the city centre of Antwerp, close to the river where I would often go on walks, collect found materials and experiment free of constraints. It was unconventional, located right above a dark parking garage but full of natural light. Having to eventually move out and find somewhere else was difficult for me but this October, I moved into an even bigger and private studio which feels like a luxury, I’m super happy about it.

Inhabiting this one place as a constant in my life established an important sense of stability

Your mention of collecting found objects made me think of the human-size Bathers, the only sculpted group Picasso ever made by assembling wooden planks and other scrap materials. 

I loved these sculptures and seeing them situated in his studio, as shown through an enlarged photo placed on the wall just beside them. They seem to capture many of Picasso’s ideas and I like how their flatness actually reveals great depth. When I was young I would often draw on wood. Then there was this moment later in life when I went back to France to stay with my family; I started painting on stones picked up in my surroundings. That was the catalyst for working with a mix of materials, painting and photographing them and making compositions.

I like how their flatness actually reveals great depth

Have other symbolic circumstances made a mark on your work?

When I first started painting, I had limited resources and wasn’t in a stimulating relationship which really affected my self-confidence and was mirrored in my use of dark, heavy colours. After unexpectedly selling some of my work I invested in more materials; then I freed myself of that negative personal life and decided to do a residency in Spain. This series of events all contributed to adopting a new, brighter palette that I took home with me and have worked with ever since.

How about individuals - such as in Picasso’s case - whereby new approaches were influenced by the works of Paul Cézanne, Alexander Calder or by the words of his writer friend Guillaume Apollinaire?

Lately, I’ve been exploring how to activate my work. For my first solo at Tatjana Pieters Gallery in Ghent, a friend and I tried to reenact a series of improvised gestures we had co-created in my studio. This first attempt led to a collaboration with Vieze Meisje, who performed as part of an installation called Best Case Scenario for a show in Amsterdam last year. We’re currently preparing for another upcoming project and I hope to keep developing this new approach further. I think my partner, who comes from theatre and with whom I sing in our band Les Fleurs, has also been a big influence on this new outlook. Last week I entered an exhibition of paintings where I was greeted by very loud music: I want to play with this idea of breaking the silence, to challenge the often rigid and serious conditions through which we experience art. 

The varying dimensions of the works on show, from sketchbooks to small etchings to monumental paintings, take us on a truly experiential journey. I wonder how that translates for the artist?

It’s like the difference between listening to music through headphones or a stereo sound system. I also paint in both small formats and on large canvases; it’s a different experience, becoming more embodied as the works grow and especially immersive in the case of installations. 

'I start with an idea, and it becomes something completely different', reads one of Picasso’s quotes printed on the wall. Does that resonate with you?

I never really know where I’m going when I start working on something. I don’t sketch, so my process is inefficient and often very frustrating. But that initial uncertainty and the challenges I keep facing keep things interesting. Having said that, I am committed to eventually finding a method that works for me, like connecting the right pieces in a puzzle.

I never really know where I’m going when I start working on something


Analogue photos were developed by @morifilmlab

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