Good painting makes me hungry

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Painter Max Dreezen, flanked by his sister and photographer Marie Dreezen, strolls comfortably through the collection of MSK. His all-time favourite piece is a landscape by Jean Brusselmans, for whom alone he would visit this museum, “even if he were the only artist on view ”. Today, however, we discuss Smurfette, the perverted promise of romance and the painterly quest of Gustave Van de Woestyne. 

You depict both baroque paintings and Disney figures. What is your choice of imagery based on?

It used to stem from a gut feeling: some images would remind me of painting, art or the act of representation in general. Sometimes I paint from images of football players because the way they’re photographed is very reminiscent of classical painting to me. 

The first artists who led me to draw and paint were Michelangelo and Da Vinci. I was blown away by their ability to depict the human body. At the same time, I was watching Dragon Ball Z where I recognized a similar idealization of muscled figures. For me, there was always a connection between those two seemingly different universes. 

You seem nostalgic when it comes to digging into childhood imagery, but at the same time, you are taking a critical stance against the standards you were bombarded with.

Definitely. I also have a preference to paint figurines, and small objects such as Smurfette or a rubber duck. A great deal of work already came prior to the construction of an image like Smurfette’s: the way she stands, the fact that she’s blonde and her dress, which was literally inspired by Marilyn Monroe standing on the metro grit having her dress blown upwards. I find these kinds of details very bizarre, sometimes funny, but very 'wrong', too. Smurfette is the only woman in her village, and — coincidentally? — a knock-out. It brings me back to the songs from my childhood which would only concern 'the prettiest girl in class'. 

We have always been told stories of this type of desire. Mythological works by baroque Masters (such as Jordaens, Rubens and Van Dyck) already centralized the theme of conquering a woman. The masculine, muscular fauns try to grasp the beautiful nymphs. The greed of the ugly men is fueled by the allure of all things feminine. Its accuracy still astounds me when I consider how recent the MeToo-movement came to be. Or when Cinderella and Snow-white are rescued by a prince, topped off by The Romantic Kiss as the ultimate apotheosis. These stories shape a child and its romantic belief system: what love is and how to recognize it. But I think we’re at a crossroads right now when it comes to this approach to romance. Children are finally growing up with different narratives.

What did you think of the exposition on the work of Gustave Van de Woestyne?

It surprised me in multiple ways, especially since I wasn’t very familiar with his work. Now I understand where he made the big jump from very detailed, realist paintings to his better-known modernist works. There is a clear transition from fine drawing techniques to a more expressive way of working. It helped me to grasp the full range of his oeuvre.

I would place myself in a more baroque or Impressionist tradition of painting

Do you feel like you and Van de Woestyne share a common vision of painting? 

When I looked at the first work of the exhibition, a small self-portrait, I immediately felt a strong affinity towards it because it was so deliciously painted. However, later in life, you see how Van de Woestyne completely rejects this painterly attention towards the glossiness of the matter. He really questioned the medium of painting. Personally, I have quite a strong belief in my definition of ‘good painting’. I feel as if Van de Woestyne perpetually asked himself whether what he had learned about painting was actually true. At a certain point, he was literally scraping off his paint, something I’d never do. I am too fond of the way in which I can mould paint, blend colours, play with brush sizes… In that sense, I would place myself in a more baroque or Impressionist tradition of painting. 

I love how you can trace back the bold yet accurate moves that shaped certain brushstrokes in a painting, something I did recognize in Van de Woestyne’s self-portrait and his depiction of a bouquet.

Does the difference also lie in what you consider to be aesthetically pleasing? 

Aesthetically and on an abstract level, too. If the matter itself is beautifully composed, I’ll be much more attracted to painting. Good painting makes me hungry. 

There are so many different ways to tell a story or make an image nowadays, so if you choose to paint today, it’s because of your attraction towards its materiality.


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