Wouter Van de Voorde on Painting

Christ Carrying the Cross, by Hieronymous Bosch, ca. 1515-16

1. Who are some painters you keep coming back to? What draws you to them?

With my cultural heritage I cannot go past mind numbing greatness produced in paintings from the start of the Renaissance. Painters like Hans Memling, the Van Eyck brothers, Rubens, Breughel, Bosch, the list goes on. The sheer technical quality of paintings by these artists is just to die for. Currently I am a bit obsessed with the work of the German painter Neo Rauch, he uses a kind of surrealist form of painting which just seems to hit the spot for me. I also used to be pretty big on Martin Kippenberger, that dude made some seriously insane work, his oeuvre is so messed up (read: not a clean sequence of related pictures), I love that.

When I was 15 I went to a large Mondrian retrospective in the Hague. To this day Mondrian is a huge influence in my work, not as a reference in how he constructed his abstracts, but more so in the way his entire body of work flows like a living organism. The key thing for me is authenticity, Mondrian, who is most known for his abstracts with primary colors, did not just wake up one day and decided to paint a bunch of lines with colored squares. He started out as a landscape painter and slowly distillated his way into abstraction.

I feel that as an artist you need to develop your own world and way of viewing things, the more organic this process the more valuable. It’s too easy to just jump on the latest hype and milk that for what it’s worth.

Distribution, by Neo Rauch, 2009

2. How does the process of painting differ from the process of photography? How does your knowledge of painting affect your work in the darkroom?

Basically photography is just much faster than painting. Using both mediums they constantly affect each other. Painting is an incredibly direct process. Your pigment is right there, on the tip of your brush emulsified in some oil, ready to be smeared on the white nothingness of whatever your medium is. There is a lot more choices and decisions involved in making a painting, with every brush stroke the painting evolves for better or for worse.

Darkroom work (especially colour) can be incredibly tedious. I am less fussy in terms of doing colour darkroom prints when it comes down to getting the exact shade of things down to 100%. I let my mood heavily affect what I do both in painting as in the darkroom. When I started out painting I used to be obsessed with mixing my colours to perfection to what I was seeing in the world, I got pretty good at it.

3. What are some paintings you'd love to see in the flesh but haven't had the opportunity to yet?

I have a strange relationship with seeing things ‘in the flesh’ as I am quite happy looking at high resolution reproductions of artworks, often this gives you more details sometimes than looking at the actual piece in a museum.

Painting by Wouter Van de Voorde

I feel the same way about music, I’m not the kind of person to stand in a huge crowd at a concert, I quite happily listen in my own comfort zone to digital recordings. I’m sure I’d experience a number of epiphanies if I would to see all my favourites in the flesh, but it would also destroy me in a way that I could never pick up a brush or a camera anymore in my life. Too much of a good thing...

4. When you're painting what are you thinking about, remembering or feeling?

Just like in photography, you use everything that you have lived through to paint what you are painting at the time. Different from photography is the stretched out process of making one image, it’s a much more drawn out trip with highs and lows more often than not resulting in mediocre figurative smearing of paint.

5. What's something about painting/painters that you wish more people knew?

In my experience, the painters I have known throughout my life have all been rather dramatic and depressing figures, struggling with substance abuse, relationship issues and existence in general.

Untitled Self Portrait (Aussen Alster Hotel), Martin Kippenberger, 1985

6. If you had a friend who had never seen a painting before what's a painting you'd show them? Why that one?

Different friends would call for different paintings. This is an extremely hypothetical question in a world so oversaturated with images. I think any painting would do if you had never laid eyes on a canvas before.

7. When you're out photographing do you often feel reminded of paintings by what you're seeing? Do you feel reminded more of photos or paintings?

I’m not a person with a huge library of photobooks and or art books, as much as I love art I try to honour my own way of seeing and capturing what I find worth capturing. It is of course inevitable to be reminded of paintings or photographs.

Photograph by Wouter Van de Voorde

8. What do you think of the editions of photographic prints compared to the single painting? Does the value of each medium shift because of the difference in scarcity?

Definitely, the unicity of a painting is very different from photography prints, although a darkroom print over which has been laboured for hours comes much closer than a commissioned inkjet print. I have given many of my paintings away to friends and family, like that I can be sure to encounter these pictures again at different stages of my life, they are really like children.

In the past couple of months I have been very focused on doing work in the darkroom printing mainly black and white medium format and large format negatives. The absence of anything digital and the craft of making a good print in the darkroom translate in the value of the final product. I used to mainly just scan my colour negatives and get them printed by a printing professional for exhibitions, it feels a bit wrong now to let someone else do the printmaking.

No matter how fine and unique a darkroom print is it can never be on par with the unicity of a painting.