I’m kind of an aesthetic junkie

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We met Pieter Chanterie on a cloudy Saturday at the Fin De Siècle museum in Brussels. 'I don’t know what to expect,' he said when we began our two-hour tour across the late 19th and early 20th century through four floors and eight rooms, some filled with big, dark paintings, others filled with colour, playfulness and hope. There was confusion at the beginning, not knowing that afterwards, these paintings would become a source of inspiration. Later in the afternoon we sat down and talked about his own work, aesthetics, and James Ensor.

How would you describe your own work? 

I often say my work is narrative, but not necessarily a story: it’s dreamy and imaginative, qualities that I also saw in this exhibition. It’s sometimes inspired by traditional painting but inspiration could come from a comic book as well. It both includes a crazy carnivalesque world and things from everyday life, like food or utensils. My paintings are often small and I noticed that I was drawn to the smaller works here too. They have something more compact and are, in my opinion, stronger and more intimate. 



Any thoughts on the exhibition? 

I didn’t have a lot of affinity with the first couple of rooms. Everything was very dark and big and I’m not a person who's into Realism. In the following rooms, where - among others - James Ensor and Léon Spilliaert are exhibited, it started to become interesting and I felt the dreaminess that I like in the last paintings. Although I don’t like Symbolism and I’ve had an aversion to it throughout my whole life because I thought it was too kitsch. When I saw Treasures of Satan by Jean Delville, I was in a dilemma. Did I like it? It felt so wrong. On the other hand, every piece of artwork here is so aesthetically beautiful. Typical for the Fin de Siècle period is that everything is so extremely decorative. I adore that too; I’m kind of an aesthetic junkie.



So you are inspired by this period?

I wasn’t before my visit. I would always say I wasn’t inspired by Art Nouveau or Symbolism. I’m more attracted to medieval art, Renaissance, Surrealism, and Expressionism. Now that I’ve had a closer look, I did feel it. Even when looking at the big dark paintings in the beginning. [Laughs] I got really into Ensor’s work. I think it was the best work of his I've seen so far.

What was your favourite work in this exhibition? 

Scenery for the Ballet La Gamme d’amour: Second Scène: the Marketplace by Ensor. I was attracted by the carnivalesque theatrics of the painting. It had something delicate but playful. Although it was big and full of information, it was still organized. The little puppets were standing next to each other like in a puppet show and it reminded me of Egyptian hieroglyphics. It was readable, frivolous, and still playful. I felt like he enjoyed making it and that’s what attracted me. 


I also enjoyed the little vases in one of the last rooms. I like exhibitions where the focus is divided between different disciplines because it makes me think about the value of an object and the difference between a decorated utility object and a painting that is not useful in the same way.



Where do you get your inspiration from? 

A lot comes from daily life. For example, the barmaid who works in a bar near my house is very inspiring to me. Her name is Eva - we became friends - and she often wears a tracksuit with a fur coat above. She has an eyebrow piercing and crumpled blonde hair. She’s a real babe and I imagine the restaurant’s success is because of her and her presence. I find it inspiring to mythologize her so she becomes a fantasy figure. It’s about the balance between a 21st-century woman with an eyebrow piercing and the glorification of a mythological figure.

I find it inspiring to mythologize her so she becomes a fantasy figure

When I look at your artwork, I get this divine feeling. 

Yes, it’s a bit spiritual. It’s not clear what kind of spirituality it is, but for me, it’s mostly about the things that transcend the here and now. I’m interested in the history of Christian paintings, but also in posters of chakras. It’s nice to look at the visual constructions of these esoteric posters that are actually quite schematic. My inspiration mostly comes from everything together; most of the time I’m busy trying to archive and organize everything, while at the same time I’m also curious about other things and I don’t want to miss anything. Actually, I never know where to start, but I still try to do it for my own peace of mind. I always say I’m a control freak who’s captured in the body of a chaotic person. 


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