rinus van de velde

overspelige vrouw

a wonder boy
as an appearance in the image - and as a performer in the real world ...

For more and larger images, we are awaiting the permission of Tim Van Laere Gallery Antwerp.


Rinus' vocation was a late one. In his sixteens, he saw a movie on the blitz-career of Jean-Michel Basquiat. The following year, when visiting an exhibition of Fauves in Paris, he is so enthralled, that he buys Ernst Gombrich's 'The story of Art' His interest extends to cultural heroes in general: he reads Peter Watson's 'A Terrible Beauty: the People and Ideas that Shaped the Modern Mind'. With the help of manuals, he begins to draw like a madman, and, from 2002 to 2006, he attends sculpture classes at Sint Lucas Antwerp. As a decor constructor for choreographer Meg Stuart, and as a chauffeur for Guillaume Bijl, he visits lots of museums and continues to draw passionately. Guillaume Bijl writes a recommendation of the HISK, where he takes a postgraduate course from 2009 to 2011. Soon, he finds his gallerists, and is taken up by Philippe Van Cauteren (SMAK) and Jan Boelen (Z33). In 2016, he has his second exhibition in the SMAK with 'Donogoo Tonga'.

On occasion of this exhibition, we decided to express our views on this 'wonder boy of the Belgian art scene'.


Let us make it clear from the beginning that Rinus does not make just drawings. Not only by their giant size, but also in that they are applied to a canvas from 2012 onwards, they aspire to the status of paintings. But there is more. Just like Luc Tuymans and Michael Borremans, Rinus used to work with found photos projected on a screen - under the auguries of Vermeer, who, according to the Hockney-Falcot hypothesis, also resorted to the camera obscura! But, from 2012 onwards, he uses his own material: he has himself photographed in set props made by Maarten Wagemans. The creation of a two-dimensional image thus comes to comprise the making of a three-dimensional model. And, since this self-created world is photographed before it is transformed in charcoal, the whole process unfolds in three phases: the building of set props and the self-performance in it, over the making of photographs, to the 'carbonization' in charcoal drawings. On top of that, narrative texts are written beneath, beside, and above the drawings. And, when the set props are exhibited as 'fantastic sculptures' together with the drawings, as with Donogoo Tonga (2016), the drawings-with-text are integrated into an encompassing installation, which, setting apart the presence of the artist, also stages the proceedings in the studio - somewhat like Hermann Nitsch's blood paintings represent the Orgiën-Mysterientheater without the concomitant bull slaughter.

Let us first concentrate on the drawings.


Let us begin with an analysis of the way in which the blacks are arranged on the white plane.

On the lowest level of lines and stains, it catches the eye that the black is applied through smearing - with the fingers or the hand - of black pastel - which leaves a soiled, even dirty impression. And, even when it is the intention to give such an impression, or to signal 'desublimation', we ought to remind that artists have developed brushes, pencils, chalk, silverpoint, or what have you, to obtain more subtle effects - think only of the ethereal da Vinci below:


On the higher level of the distribution of the tones over the surface without reading space and volume - which is facilitated through turning the picture upside down - it catches the eye that Rinus structures the surface not so much through confronting diverse kinds of lines against each other, as rather through an array of different kinds of surfaces (entirely black or white, with gradients from dark to light, with strokes and stains, ...). But, in contrast to figures like Goya and Picasso, Rinus' distribution is rather chaotic, and the logic can only be understood through introducing the third dimension.


I am disappearing slowly ...

This has much to do with Rinus' working after photographs: the lighting of objects in a three-dimensional space obeys to a totally different logic than that of the distribution of light and dark over a flat surface. It is not so easy to coordinate both logics, although the distribution in the three-dimensional space may accidentally result in a beautiful composition of the two-dimensional surface.


What about the organisation of three-dimensional space?

It appears that the suggestion of depth depends primarily on perspective and figure against background, not on tone or relative sharpness. Whether they are situated on the foreground, the background, or on intermediary planes, all the objects are equally well defined. And the diverse tones, especially the whites, are distributed over all the layers: nowhere is depth articulated in that dominant tones or textures are assigned to specific layers, as in the Goya above or the Brueghel below. Such distribution of tones rather compresses space, and makes the effect of figure against background and perspective undone. The effect is enhanced in that the unbroken whites are spread over the entire surface, like in a woodcut, whereas at the same time the rest of the image shows fluent gradients. Both contradictions have a rather stifling effect, which is only appropriate for subject matter like the foliage in 'Some part of me knew something was out of joint' (2015).

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The stifling effect is enhanced in that the expansion of space in the breadth is broken by walls, the upward movement by mostly low ceilings, and the movement to the depth by walls in the background. When space extends into the depth nevertheless, there is no extension to a horizon, but rather a void before which a foreground is delineated - which only highlights the lack of depth in the foreground.


The effect amounts to claustrophobia when an unstoppable horror vacui has Rinus fill his spaces with figures and objects, especially when the details - for instance the grain of the wood - are emphatically rendered in detail.


Add to this claustrophobia the hypnotising effect of the purely additive, mechanical character of the composition. Seldom an organic breath is faring through the ensemble - a condition for feeling like a freely breathing being in the presence of an organic, self-contained whole. That is especially apparent when space is not structured by perpendicular or parallel axes, but by waves or spirals, like the flying away of the pages in 'I am disappearing slowly ...' above. Also these shortcomings are due to the use of set props, because photographing real pages, hung up on threads, does not necessary create the impression of movement on a two-dimensional plane. That is especially apparent from the tennis player who rather threatens to fall rather than jumps forward - which Rinus seems to concede precisely in having him hover above a matrass. Also the wave on the image with the boat gives no impression of movement, not in the 3D-set props, nor in the drawing, otherwise that the Hokusai's print by which it is inspired.


But it is above all apparent when several objects are comprised into an encompassing movement: think of the sitting figures in 'It's as if someone is observing us', which are turning around the axis of the central figure.

It is as if someone ...

As far as drawing is concerned, then, Rinus seems to have the capacity of rendering three-dimensional forms through two-dimensional stains (especially in images with one single object), but that there no talk of 'impressive craftsmanship' in the organization of light and dark on the two-dimensional plane or of the forms in three-dimensional space (especially in the images with more than one object or figure).


Rinus' images are more than man-size and often many metres wide.

Rinus legitimises this as a way of being able to work more 'physical' - a little bit like Pollock, who stretched his canvas on the ground. That Rinus often has to climb on a ladder or a scaffold - which certainly does not facilitate physical contact with the canvas - makes us suspect that other factors must be involved.

That is why Rinus also mentions that he wants to create the impression that you can step into the image - think of how Pollocks wish to throw his lassos on the canvas below him leads to the wish of being immersed in the image like in the mystic clouds of Marc Rothko's paintings.

But also this motif is not really convincing, because not in all the images do the figures stand on a ground that can be viewed as an extension of the ground in the gallery, like in 'They can feel their stories being told': more than often they are in bird's eye or in frog's eye view.

They can feel their stories ...

And, even when Rinus' drawings are not hung up high and at a distance, as is the case with many large size images, but just above the ground and at arms length, they nevertheless do not invite you to step in them. Rather do you have the feeling of witnessing a scene of which you are excluded - were it alone because the dramatis personae never give the impression of being aware of the presences of an onlooker, let alone of intending to interact. And even when you are surrounded by drawings, like in the SMAK, you never get the impression of being immersed in an imaginary world; just like in a comic strip, you experience every single image as a world in its own right that is approached from outside - scenically, not panoramically. The very idea of stepping into the image testifies to the failure of the artist to create a convincing impression of space: in that case, the viewer has from the beginning the impression of being immersed in that space - especially when the artists has the figures on the picture interact with the viewers, like in Las Meninas, or when the viewer has the certain impression of being in the same space in which the figure is entering, like on Pere Borrel del Caso 'Escapando de la Critica' (1874) :


Nearer to the truth is the fact that 'big' is a characteristic of paintings rather than drawings: with Michaël Borremans, the drawings are small and the paintings large. By blowing up his drawings, Rinus will prevent us from regarding him as a draughtsman who merely makes drawings, let alone comic strips. A similar reflex was at play with precursors like Gilbert & George and Hans Op de Beeck (or, from the 'non-artististic' circuit: Raymond Pettibon).


Large drawings have become a new niche where competition is not as heavy as in the niche of small drawings. Add to this that a large drawing catches the attention - one of the reasons why paintings are steadily increasing in size from the fifties onward. And from imposing itself to the old association between 'large' and 'important' is but a step: how else to understand why Z33 ordered him to paint a 'Nachtwacht'? Also the connotation of 'large' with 'larger than life' plays a role - wholly in line with the 'imaginary artist's biography' where Rinus lives a life that compensates for the daily drudge in his studio.

Be that as it may, in combination with the urge to have bodily contact with the image and of being able to step in it, the mania for large sizes leads to the introduction of life-size figures which reach from the bottom to the top of the image ('They can feel their stories', or 'It is as if someone...'). That only enhances the claustrophobic feeling. The urge to draw life-size figures is all the more remarkable, since size as such has no bearing on the size of the space or that of the figures: even when their size is large, equal to, or smaller than those of our real body, the bodies in the image are always supposed to have the same size as real bodies. The size of a canvas is arbitrary, and depends on it position in relation to the viewer. When the image is looked at on a table, an A4 suffices. When it is looked at in a living or a gallery, a height or a width of two or three metres will suffice. Larger sizes are only appropriate in larger spaces like the former churches or palaces, or on rocks like the Christ in Rio de Janeiro - or in a cinema: in a living room, the size of a TV screen suffices, and in a hand the size of a smartphone. Whoever thinks that images have to be large to convey the impression that you can step in them, only testifies to his poor understanding of the image, and obfuscates the real motif: to impose and to inflate oneself.

When we examine Rinus' drawings against this background, it is obvious that they are far too large, even in the large central room of the SMAK. You have to withdraw towards the centre to get them into view as a whole. And precisely when you succeed in doing that, notwithstanding the set props, you are confronted with another contradiction: not only the size of the captions, but in the first place the definition of the details compels you to approach again, and to take the position of the drawer- with your nose on the details and losing the whole out of view.

And that reminds us that the size, even when it has no fundamental impact on the viewing, exerts a major influence on the making. The larger a canvas, the further the artist has to withdraw to be able to survey his painting. Only when the canvas is at arms length does the ideal distance of view coincide with the ideal distance of making. The rather modest size of such a painting is the appropriate size for a handmade image like a drawing. That Rinus' images are so much larger, explains the mechanical, additive character of his compositions: he has no perspective on the whole when drawing. It also explains the 'horror vacui': with your nose on the canvas, you have the propensity to let things happen everywhere, even when there should happen nothing at all. And it is precisely because of that horror vacui that Rinus' images are large and full, but never monumental and spacious. Such often stifling density is an onslaught on the desire of the eye to contemplate a complex, but intelligible unity. Together with the already mentioned reduced depth, it turns Rinus' images into inhospitable places, which not at all invite us to step in, let alone include us.

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A comparison with Brueghel's' marvellous grisaille shows how the masterly command of all the variables that structure space, and the parsimonious filling of space with simple shapes, ordered in an intelligible composition, discloses an ample space in which we do not want to step because we were included in it from the beginning. For the same reason, we have the impression that this tiny panel of 24,1 by 34,4 cm is much bigger than Rinus' billboards, which, despite their real size, continue to feel as magnified pictures from a comic strip.


Especially since the size, the canvas, and the 'smearing' reveal that Rinus regards himself as a painter, and also because the application of large colour-fields could bring order in this visual overkill, we can ask ourselves why Rinus stubbornly sticks to that black-and-white of his charcoal.

The most obvious answer is that charcoal has become his trademark, which, just like Luc Tuymans' 'washed colours' or Michaël Borremans' 'enigma', distinguishes him from his nearest competitors and their meanwhile countless clones. Rinus himself invokes the size; always having to look after different colours would endanger the speed of the execution. For other heroes of the large size - just think of Neo Rauch - that seems not to be a hindrance. It is far more probable, hence, that painting is too difficult for Rinus. He confesses that he looks a YouTube's where amateurs explain how to paint like the old masters, and how he does not succeed in emulating them. That goes also for his endeavor to become a sculptor, task which he relegates to one of his assistants that has to build his set props. As far as drawing is concerned, Rinus has no complexes: he considers himself to be a master - which is true for his aptness in suggesting objects, but not for his capacity of creating space, let alone of making compositions.


The drawings are embedded in texts: below the image, written on the canvas, and beside it, written on the wall.

Rinus in unambiguous about the function of these texts: they have to remove the ambivalence that is inherent in found images by providing an interpretation through a story. Whereas Michaël Borremans and Neo Rauch could only embark on the adventure of 'narrative figuration' under the auguries of the enigma,  Rinus unabashedly engages in the well-trodden narrative images. It is interesting to see how he remarks that, deprived of its literary context 'everything is just about the quality of the picture'. The élan of modern painting consisted in eliminating the literary from the image in order to reveal its purely pictorial qualities. In resolutely understanding the image as the illustration of a narrative, Rinus deliberately undermines (breaks with) such anti-mimetic pathos and refers the image to its natural habitat.


Already through the exhibition of the set props of the scenes performed in the studio in view of making photos that are 'carbonised' into drawings, Rinus' drawing are integrated into a more encompassing installation of two-dimensional drawings and three-dimensional set props. Through embedding these drawings in a written narrative, they are further integrated into a series of invisible representations in the mind. On top of that, the written words with which these representations are conjured are added as visual configurations around the images. We thus get a complex whole of three-dimensional set props, two-dimensional images, one-dimensional texts, and a series of invisible representations in the mind.

As far as the composition of the visible elements of this installation is concerned, it is impossible to escape the impression that they partake of the same horror vacui as the over-filled and over-detailed separate drawings. We are reminded of the horror vacui of many comic strips, which contrasts sharply with the well composed monumental ensembles of architecture, sculpture, stained glass, and paintings in cathedrals or baroque churches and palaces - or in bourgeois houses and villas like Klimt's Beethoven frieze Stocklet palace:


This comparison reveals that Rinus does not harmonise the compositions of the separate drawings, let alone compose them to an integrated whole. He writes: 'With charcoal (...) I get more uniformity in my works, which I regard as one big installation'. But there is more to such unity than using a uniform size and executing the drawings in the same material. Not only the images have to be adjusted to one another, also the images, texts, and set props. To be sure, image and texts are made of the same material, and the linearity of the text contrasts with the already described array of surfaces in the drawings. But that is al little bit meager.

Regarding the composition of the mental representations, it is important to note that Rinus' installation does not provide indications of how to combine the lecture of the text with that of the images, as is usual in comic strips. In Donogoo Tonga, you ideally should first read the five 'chapters' of the text outside the drawings, thengo to the first drawing and read the caption, and thento the second, and so on. In fact, the visitors go first to an arbitrary image. When they take their time, they also read some fragments of the text below or beside the images. In that this process is wholly unstructured, Rinus obtains an effect that is opposed to the intended: the images are more mysterious than ever - and partake in the 'enigma' that makes Borremans' images so 'artsy' - and that goes even more for the texts, when they are read at random and fragmentary - Belgian surrealism, you know. There is every likelihood that the anti-narrative pathos that is the whole charm of Borremans' images is only apparently broken here; in reality, it extends to precisely the text that was supposed to clarify. It is only in the catalogue or in the art magazines, then, that the visitors learn that they are dealing with a 'fictitious autobiography'. That only such external text can make it clear what this rather complicated complex of visible and invisible images is about, is something this installation has in common with the paintings of Luc Tuymans.


There is no doubt that we are dealing here with self-images - the general term introduced in our e-book 'Het zelfbeeld tussen spiegel en dagboek' ' to refer to such diverse phenomena like a 'self-portrait' and an 'autobiography'. Rinus makes four kinds of self images. To begin with, there are the classic self-portraits: images of a self-staging in some trendy pose (like the one under the title of this text. Next, there are self-images that are rather visual self-dramas than self-portraits, on which Rinus and his friends pose in an imaginary situation. Aural versions of such images are the monologues or dialogues in the captions below the images. And, finally, there are the series of mental images - the more extensive self-stories - in the texts beside the images.

It is not evident that we are really dealing with images of Rinus, since he mostly appears in what Koen Sels calls 'imaginary artists's biographies' - in the case of Donogoo Tonga: the adventures of Lamendin by Jules Romains. But it is not Rinus' intention to tell the story of Lamendin. If that would have been the case, we could understand why Rinus lends his appearance to Romains' hero, but not why he does not call Lamendin 'Lamendin', but rather Rinus, just like we would understand why Rembrandt lends his appearance to conjure up the image of Paul, but not why he would call his painting 'Rembrandt', rather than Paul.


If Rembrandt had called his painting 'Rembrandt', we would not read his painting as the image of an imaginary appearance of Paul, but as the image of Rembrandt 'playing' Paulus - and that Rembrandt is not imaginary, but real - as real as the Marcel Duchamp who 'plays' that he is Rrose Sélavy. And, since Lamendin in 'Donogoo Tonga' not only takes the visual appearance of Rinus, but also his name, we read that self-story not as that of the Lamendin from Romains' book, but as the story of Rinus who 'plays' that he is Lamendin. We put the word 'play' between brackets to indicate that this playing is not the playing of the actor who produces the audiovisual image of a character, but an embodying, a 'pretending to be'. The Rinus who 'plays' Lamendin is as real as the Rembrandt who 'plays' Paulus ' or the Duchamp who plays Rrose Sélavy.

The term 'imaginary artist biography' is rather misleading, hence: it is not the biography of an imaginary artist, but the biography - more precise: the visual and/or narrative image - of a real artist, Rinus Van de Velde, albeit 'Rinus Van de Velde as the (imaginary) Lamendin' or 'Rinus Van de Velde as the (real)'Franz Kline', and so on.


Only when we fully realise this, does it dawn on us that Rinus does more than 'pretending to be x' amidst the set props in his studio. It is rather as if also the real 'Rinus', who stages the 'Rinus who pretends to be x' - Rinus the draughtsman hence - in his turn plays a role, this time with the studio or the gallery as the stage and the art world as the public. Just as, amidst the set props in his studio, he plays a role dictated by Jules Romains, in real life - in the studio and the museum or gallery - he plays the role dictated by the art world.

How much Rinus experiences his artisthood as a role, is apparent from the fact that he, referring to the never ending stream of large size drawing - 'My life has become an excel-file' - remarks: 'It is the stream that is the work'. 'An artwork is not so much localised in the work itself, but is rather a way of life, as is the case with Joseph Beuys to some extent.' Only against this background do we understand why Rinus also exhibits his studio in the museum. The making of four kinds of self-images is embedded in a more encompassing self-staging: his self-staging as an artist in the art world.

Only for such self-staging does it hold that it is an 'imagined artist biography': the biography of an imagined artist, of someone who pretends to be an artist. For, the real Rinus apparently does not consider himself to be a genuine artist. In the story around Donogoo Tonga there is talk of 'secret paintings' and 'failed sculptures', of  'I returned to my old trauma of not having become a painter', of  'I am an artist, I know everything about the fears of being a fraud', and 'I seem to have a fear of colour', and of 'Hidden behind a drawing is another one, in colour'. The feeling of not being able to measure up to the old masters is also evident from his answer in 'Reyers laat', that he 'choose to draw because you are not reminded of the history of drawing 'from Van Eyck to Tuymans (sic!)'. Rinus' real life in the studio is, hence, the life of someone who pretends to be an artist by staging himself again and again in the role of an artist in images that are - in his view - not 'genuine' images, no paintings in colours, but 'merely' sketches, 'paintings in black-and-white'. And that self-staging suits him all the more, since he sells well, and since he is loved by the media, so that, what initially was only his second nature, surreptitiously turns into his first, so that the 'imaginary artist's biography' turns out to be a 'real artist's life' - to the v from the cv. How much the 'real' Rinus is a Rinus who 'plays' the artist, is evident from the fact that he has himself interviewed but Koen Sels while he works, because also Billy Childish did it, and from his fascination with biographies, where he is most interested in the date of their first exhibition. And how small the difference between his role as an artist and his roles in the drawings is, is evident from the fact that he not only stages himself on the scene of the artwork, but as a mannequin on the catwalk as well (DIOR and Paul Smith), and from the fact that he understands himself there not so much as a real mannequin, but as the look-alike of James Dean - another genuine artist. In the end, the whole world becomes the stage for his relentless self-performance: thus, he travelled to Iceland to sleep in the bed where Bobby Fischer slept in 1972.

Thus, Rinus Van de Velde's self-images are not only part of an installation where four kinds of self-images are condensed, that very installation is in its turn merely a part of a more encompassing self-staging - a performance not only on the catwalk (as would-be film star), but also in the galleries and the museums (as would-be painter).


A self-assured young man, who stages himself as the artist who cannot stop drawing himself in the guise of other artists and other celebrities, and in doing so becomes famous: what to think of that? When, apparently, 'the artist is the message', why should we be interested in the 'life and works of Rinus Van de Velde'? Would that life be so interesting, that it would compensate for the after all rather meagre quality of the images?

It turns out, then, that we are dealing with the life of someone who is only interested in becoming famous. Apart from friendship (albeit with other celebrities in spe), there are no other kinds of partners: no parents, no children, no girlfriends, even less economic of political relations, let alone communities! The whole world is reduced to the art world, and the problems of life to 'making it as an artist'.

This can only interest those who share Rinus' obsession and they seem to be numerous. Granted, it is no sinecure to be confronted with the success stories of sportsmen, musicians and film stars, heroes of  IT, scientists and authors. Because, as a consequence of globalisation and the mass media, they come to challenge us into the remotest village, the arena where the competition is fought has become world-encompassing. Add to this the ever easier access to the feats of culture heroes in the past, and we understand why more and more youngsters throw in the towel: it is painful to find out that, after years of hard work, you still are not a match to the admired heroes from the past and the present.

Next to the old method of becoming an admirer instead of idol - from the football fans to the devotees of art - there are those who - according to the formula of the one-eyed man who is king in the land of the blind - proceed to performing in smaller arenas - within the borders of a country, a city, or a village, or within the confines of a language. Social media offer a new solution: to create a virtual audience - with the additional charm that a live performance can be replaced with the appearance as an image on a screen. - which paves the way for adopting an imaginary identity. Rinus Van de Velde develops a new variant of that niche: rather than on screens in the virtual world of the mass media, he stages himself in his dream-roles in giant drawings that circulate in the real world of galleries and museums. That arena, even when it is the natural habitat of geniuses old style, is merely peanuts compared with that of the stars: the number of visitors of even the most popular biennales dwindles to nothingness in comparison with the number of the adepts of pop-stars or football-heroes. In that the successful Rinus nevertheless stages himself in the role of celebrities of the art-world, it is easier for his fans to identify with hem.

The possibility to identify with someone who is making it, explains also why the sensation in the galleries no longer derives from the 'ground breaking art' on the walls, but from the wonder boy in the centre of the gallery. The shift from the wonderful work to the wonder-boy seems to be the fulfilling the wet dream of Nicolas Bourriauds, who regards art as a convivial happening rather than as a product in his 'esthétique relationelle'. It is only appropriate then that the works of Rinus are no longer groundbreaking: as if there never has been something like modern are, the drawings of Rinus as just plainly 'realistic' and overtly 'narrative', just like the images in the 'culture industry' and in the pre-modern 'academic' art. An even more interesting bonus is that all that art speak of curators in the catalogues is replaced with the understandable texts of Rinus on the wall. And the icing is perhaps that the drawings of Rinus are not at all of the highest quality: they partake more of the graffiti on the walls of a deserted tunnel by night than from the old masters.

We understand, then, why the revolutionary fire, that with Nicolas Bourriaud was only left smouldering, flares up as the unabashed ambience in the presence of a star. With that flaring up is sealed the shift  from the revolutionary artist who, swimming against the current and pushing the boundaries, is hailed by all those who want to blow up 'the establishment', to the wonder boy who, with his drawings and his good looks, is conquering the top of that very same establishment, hailed by all those who would like to join him there.

Or: how the cult of the permanent vicarious revolution gradually seems to make place for a new variant: the cult of the vicarious success - no longer the endeavour to transfer the revolution that after the Second World War did not get off the ground from the real world into the galleries, but the conquest of the walls of galleries and museums by those who did not succeed in the real world (of politicians, scientist, sport- and chess-heroes, film- and rock stars - and real artists).

Let us hope that this variant turns out to be the swansong of the vicariousness as such, and not an occasion for nostalgia for one of the previous phases, like that of such opposite critics like Maarten Doorman or Robrecht Vanderbeeken.

© Stefan Beyst, April 2016.

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