Liesbeth Willaert | Well, you could say that all my paintings are like selfies.
Take a pinch of Miró and a dash of Bridget Riley, add in the eternal tussle between jagged reality and dreamy ephemerality and place in a painter. That painter is Belgian born Liesbeth Willaert and this is her wonderful, explosive, colourful exploration into making sense of the world and to find some order in the chaos and confusion.
There’s no conclusion, though. It’s a running commentary on the struggle for supremacy. We can just sit back and enjoy the contest.
Was there a pivotal moment when you decided to be an artist?
Yes and no. As soon as I could hold a pencil in my hand as a child, I started drawing…. and it never really stopped…. So on one hand, you could “predict” I would definitely end up in a creative career. Nevertheless, I graduated with a Master in Political & Social Sciences and a Master in Digital Photography.
So it was not a straight line towards a painting career. I worked first in publicity agencies, but the sense of creative freedom didn’t really exist. That was frustrating me more and more and I was not quite happy with a 9-to-6 job. I was painting in my free time of course, so one day I just took this giant step! I shifted firstly in my mind, the idea I can live from my art, that there’s an audience out there fond of my work… and then – almost simultaneously – many expo opportunities and collectors just came my way…
Can you tell us a little bit about the process of making your work, we love process.
Well, you could say that all my paintings are like selfies. They all represent my inner state at the time of creating the painting. I paint abstractly, so it’s all driven by emotions. When I start, I go all the way loose by taking a lot of colours and filling up the white canvas with organic brush strokes, wild & big movements in many colours & techniques. Then I add a geometric layer to restore the calm & harmony. This process I repeat over and over, till I end up with a painting that feels “totally me” or totally finished.
This depends of course a lot on the mood on that moment. When I’m all “zen”, it’s time to finish details or time to work on geometric shapes. Both require concentration and a kind of inner rest… On restless days or when I have a bit of stress, nothing feels better than deconstructing geometric shapes again with organic, vivid brush strokes…So it really depends how I feel.
As well, this process requires me to work on different paintings simultaneously, so I can choose which layer (organic or geometric) I can work on, depending on my mood.
Hidden Realities 1.3 mx 1.62m Acrylic & mixed media on canvas
Is there a piece you’ve created that you’d like to be remembered for, for all time, or even longer?
My artwork called “Under DeConstruction” is really key. It marked the beginning of a new area where I found new ways of destroying geometric shapes in organic ways with apart from thick brush strokes, randomly pieces of dried paint or paint splashes. It’s one of my classics. It’s a pity I cannot see it anymore, as it’s hanging in the Saphira & Ventura Gallery in New York. I have to fly all the way there to see live again.
Under DeConstruction, Nothing Is What It Seems
If you could work within one past art movement, which would it be. And why?
That’s a really good question, because sometimes I think I should have been born 50 years earlier and been part of the Abstract Expressionism movement in the States after the second world war. That would have been great. That movement is still is the base of many contemporary abstract painters of today.
©Jackson Pollock Yellow Islands (1952) Tate
How would you define beauty in 140 characters or less. N.B. There is no correct answer.
Beauty is when something touches you. When something you see causes you a moment of inner bliss… I think that’s the direction in which we have to think about beauty. As such, it also justifies that “something beautiful” is different for everyone.
Do you have a favourite photograph or painting which has been your inspiration?
Everything pure and intense are things I like. So the pureness and spontaneity in the work of Basquiat is something that struck me. Back in 2002, I saw a big part of his collection in the Guggenheim in Los Angeles. I was already a fan, but from then on only more. The purity in his style on those big formats overwhelmed me, in a good way.
A condensed edition of the best-selling Basquiat monograph
What is your greatest indulgence in life?
Having a great painting session and having a great kitesurfing session with friends on the same day! Then finishing with fresh sea food & good wine on the beach. And dark chocolate as dessert of course. This would be a perfect day!
How does the culture of your location impact your work?
Well, as I’m living between Belgium and Spain, I’m constantly reminded of the cultural differences and the way people see and live their lives… For me, I feel much closer to the Southern, laid back carpe diem lifestyle. Regarding ma artwork, I think the influence of so much light changed my colour palette. I feel more relaxed as I live much more outside (because of the good weather) and my hunger for “sunny holidays” has completely gone. As such, I have more inner peace which makes me comfortable to paint on bigger formats. I love to do murals by the way! For other things, more business wise, I prefer Northern Europe, but to produce art….definitely the south & mediterranean.
Tell us about your colour palette.
It reflects who I am. I agree that we get shaped by your environment. Just check out the change in my colour palette from my paintings of 2004 till now…. And then my question is; when did I move from Northern Europe to sunny, Mediterranean Barcelona? My colour palette speaks for itself. I think I never would have introduced fluorescent colours to my art if I would have stayed in Brussels.
Follow the Sun, Hidden Realities, Hungry For Life
Which artist or artists would you most like to meet? And do you think you’d get on?
Well, Gerard Richter. He’s still alive though and is 90 years old! He’s a great inspiration to me. His abstract colours on big formats in his own specific style, are evoking a lot everytime I see them. He’s a legend. He created a particular style was because he made his own tools to spread paint over more than meters of canvas at the same time. Nowadays you have a lot of copy cats, but he invented this style. For me, he’s a legend.
Do you interact with technology in your work?
The only thing I do is taking pictures of my artwork in between different layers. Because on another day, I would have finished my painting totally differently. So when I go back to “older” states of a painting, it inspires me a lot to start a new painting heading more or less in the same direction…
What do you wish every child was taught in school, at home, in life?
That’s a good question. Specifically regarding art schools, I have some suggestion to make. As a child I went to art school on Wednesday afternoon. And every week we got an assignment, for example painting a dog… Well, I was fond of going to art school, but I didn’t understand I was “forced” to do that specific project. And sometimes I didn’t do it well for that reason. I felt more like making a fish in pottery than painting a dog that day…. I bet if they gave me the freedom to create, even as a child of 7, with the techniques I wanted to & the subject I wanted to…then the results would have been totally different. So, I wish teachers would be able to detect which children create better in total creative freedom. If you play at home as a child, you choose your toy yourself right? Well, why can’t it be in art school like that?
Have you ever held your head in your hands and questioned your career entirely?
No, it feels so natural to me. If I’m not satisfied with one thing or another in my career, I try to learn new skills or new techniques to get where I want. Discipline, a painting routine & marketing/sales routine are key! If not, then painting will stay a hobby I’m afraid.
Do you love what you do? And does it love you?
That’s an understatement, I don’t love what I do, I adore it. Painting for me is my most natural & authentic state. I will always do it and will always love to do it. I’m very grateful to be that lucky!
View Liesbeth Willaert Collection