I can feel this is a letter, trying to communicate something, but I can’t read it
The seemingly insignificant drawings and words on the walls of a painter’s studio tell more about the artist than the colours and shapes depicted in the restricted space of the canvas. At the HISK Studios in Ghent, Antoine Goossens’ white walls are covered in words. 'BLOOD WILL BE SHED BUT HARDCORE WILL NEVER DIE,' written in bright red and yellow. Underneath the naive, yet aggressive, words there is another sentence in smaller more fragile letters: 'I don’t want to speak for the image because the image has to speak for itself.' In Goossens' studio, we contradict the words on the wall, aiming to find ways to speak for his paintings.
The spectrum between the abstract, physical aspects of a painting and the figurative image lies at the core of the painting. Where do you place your own practice on this spectrum?
At the beginning of my career, I was interested in acquiring a certain kind of skill, and focussing on painters I was fascinated by at the time. Afterwards, partially influenced by the type of painting that dominated the art school I was part of, I started making more abstract works. In hindsight, I realized that during this period I was actually consumed by the question of whether or not painting as a medium is still relevant. In the search for answers to this question, I was accompanied by my eagerness to gain technical strength. However, I also wanted to learn to let go of technicalities by bringing all the questions I was asking into dialogue with the elements I depicted.
I try to lure my audience into the painting with a couple of recognizable elements and subsequently alienate them by playing with their expectations
It was helpful to engage with these questions at the time but now I’ve completely let go of them. I've gone back to the beginning, which is the statement that I absolutely love to paint. Now, I aim to execute a painting as if it were a theatre. A theatre with a central figure that moves in front of a background is defined by the canvas itself. The background and central figure engage in a constant dialogue. Of course, I am still researching the relationship between the abstract and the figurative but more concretely by focusing on the relationship between the figure and the background. The theatrical aspect of the piece, humour, and alienation is central to my artistic practice.
In my works, joyful elements are always present but still, the atmosphere is dominated by discomfort and alienates the audience. I want the audience to think ‘what on earth am I seeing here?’. It is of enormous importance for me to initiate this type of dialogue with my audience. I try to lure them into the painting with a couple of recognizable elements and subsequently alienate them by playing with their expectations.
The banana peels and other joyful elements, or the words on your walls can be linked to what is labelled as either pop or low culture. These elements emerge from cultures that are traditionally linked to masculinity. What is your position towards using these elements?
I love hardcore because of its intensity. However, I don’t take these elements all too seriously. I present something but I don’t take it too seriously. I think they’re clichés. What you see on the wall is just a game.
A kind of game that says more about who a painter is than what is curated on the canvas?
On the wall, I permit myself to really be. I like doing sports. I like doing physical stuff. I love all these elements, but I also see the humour in them. By presenting these elements in this way I’m putting myself and the things I’m interested in into perspective, which I think is healthy. That’s who I am.
By presenting these elements I’m putting myself and the things I’m interested in into perspective, which I think is healthy
In your works, I see the friction and tension, but they’re also an embracement of who you are. Not an abstraction or a compromised version of you, but a literal presentation of the elements that make a person: the toys one plays with and the words one encounter on the street.
I’ve had a difficult time excepting this, but now I’ve gotten a boost to doubt myself less.
What were you scared of?
To be me.
How did that show in the work?
Sometimes I made paintings that consisted of not only figurative but also abstract elements. They were mind maps. While making them, I have to confess that I made choices listening to an internalized voice that would say; 'Am I allowed to do this?'.
But now, the freedom you see on the wall slowly but surely starts finding its way into the work itself. And that makes painting fun because I now dare to deviate from realistic representations of the dolls and sculptures I paint and truly engage in dialogue with the canvas. Now I don’t search for expressions in these dolls and images, but I give them expressions on canvas.
The interaction with the audience and the voice questioning whether or not I’m allowed to depict something is not disciplining me anymore. Currently, the engagement with the audience starts at a later stage in the process and is not embodied by an internalized voice questioning my choices. However, I’m still interested in the audience. That’s why I’ve started making billboards.
The freedom on the wall slowly but surely starts finding its way into my work. And that makes painting fun
When painting on billboards, you are literally playing. Because a billboard’s primary goal is to communicate a very concrete message, a contrast to the primary goal of a painting. By painting seemingly useless figurative elements and words that make no sense on a billboard, you are challenging its primary cause. Could you tell me about this relationship between image and text in the billboard and in your work in general?
I use language because I want to research how I can escape the immediate communicative nature of words. When I’m painting, certain sentences repeat themselves in my head. I’m hopelessly dyslectic, but I love to text and despite my lack of talent for writing I love to try to find the words to describe my work. The love-hate relationship I have with language has now found its way into my work. Right now, the primary question on my mind is; how can I make letters indecipherable but still create the illusion of communication? I want to make my audience think; 'I can feel this is a letter, trying to communicate something, but I can’t read it.'
I want to make my audience think; 'I can feel this is a letter, trying to communicate something, but I can’t read it
In the art world, there is a certain kind of pressure to be a multi-disciplinary artist. Because you are so committed to painting as your medium, I wonder what your response is to this tendency.
I don’t feel the urge to expand my artistic practice to other mediums because of outward pressure. Painting remains to be essential for me because I don’t have to rely on anyone. I can go as far as I want because the only confrontation I have to face is with myself and my own mistakes. This also brings us back to another question we briefly discussed earlier: is painting still relevant? I believe we’re past the point where it’s relevant to linger on questions on whether or not painting as a medium is still relevant. For me, accepting painting as a medium creates a space that I’m eager to move in.