This work consists of a monochromatic blue-key blue painting whose top half is illuminated by a spotlight to illuminate paintings. This action creates a horizon and a marine whose contrast constantly evolves depending on the light present in the room.
Belgian artist Stijn Cole draws inspiration from the environment to express concepts like time, perception, light and color, and how people see and experience reality. In his works Cole employs a wide range of mediums, combining abstract and figurative media to produce a cohesive whole in which content and form complement one another, demonstrating a profoundly creative understanding of the world around us.
Stijn Cole’s art explores the relationship between colors and forms and how they are perceived in different light and temporal conditions. As a result, he has developed his own creative techniques, committing to a variety of genres and forms.
It doesn’t matter whether he’s working in two or three dimensions, in color or monochrome, on film or digital, Cole is a multidisciplinary artist who paints, sketches, photographs, prints, sculpts, and produces installations. In his work, he often focuses on a specific environment, such as a mountain range, a section of the ocean, the sky or the horizon motif; he is conscious that time and light impact the landscape, and the viewer’s location determines the appearance of the work. His recurring motifs, including the horizon, are employed as a subjective measure of our seeing. The scenery is not the point for Cole, rather, he wants to immerse us in it and change our perspective and perception.
Stijn Cole’s art revolves on the relationship between the subject and the environment around it, It’s the intensity of the light that counts here, not the kind of material used, since how we perceive color and shape is heavily influenced by it.
His installations and other projects continuously draw on this body of knowledge, he strives to capture just the essence of his subjects. In his work, the ideas of time and landscape painting have a revitalized beauty, resulting in a modern impressionism – the artist’s work is often tied to a certain time period, a walk, or travel and has a documentary feel to it.
Cole sees his contribution as minimal, consisting of nothing more than a lens through which he views the world. While doing so, he subtly and precisely calls on the audience to participate and in this deceptive game, he tempts viewers into an intense, spatial, and geometric encounter that will continually surprise them, In fact, Stijn Cole’s most recent works are increasingly taking the form of installations, environments that he builds for the public to explore.
Stijn Cole lives and works in Ghent, Belgium.
He is represented by Irène Laub Gallery in Brussels & Hilario Galguera Gallery in Mexico City.
Light is the most important mechanism by which the world reveals itself to our eye, you very much take this into account in your research. What fascinates you about this aspect in general and in relation to the theme of the landscape?
The very first work I made after graduating was a timeline on which you could read the light intensity of a day from left to right. I was fascinated by the conceptual photography of Jan Dibbets and the works of Stanley Brouwn, and at the time was looking for ways to capture a period of time in a two-dimensional image. It is from this same search that several works have emerged since then. The time aspect that becomes visible in an image because of the evolution of the light condition on a subject, became the subject of my first landscapes. Where in the first works I pointed my camera (obscura) at the sky, I tilted it downwards bringing a horizon into view. This subjective line that corresponds to your eye level, and by extension the position of yourself in relation to a subject, determines, together with the light condition of the moment, how you see the environment/objects. My works are about looking and continuing to look. At first I limited myself to an abstract language of forms, afterwards the depiction of the landscape was added. I see the landscape as an inexhaustible carrier of images and stories on which I can hang my ideas, moreover it is a subject that appeals to everyone.
One of the elements that fascinates me the most in your work is when a minimalistic digital “reduction to a minimum” occurs which, however, is almost immediately able to recompose itself on a mental level in the eye of the observer as a totalizing image that is suggested by the minimal component. There is a moment in which the “object”, the landscape, becomes subjective and universal at the same time and therefore it is recognizable through the shapes, the concept of horizon, the color, the light just as we mentioned and while they’re not representing the “object” in a realistic sense they tell us about the Real. Can you tell me about this process through your works?
This process sometimes overwhelms me as well; I suspect you’re referring here mainly to my “Colorcapes”. In those works I start from a landscape photograph and abstract it by listing the colors present in the image in a grid of 16×16 squares from light to dark. The often lighter colors of the sky are situated at the top of the image, the more earthy ones at the bottom, creating a kind of accidental horizon. I think this reaction is due to what I also said above, everyone is addressed by the landscape and everyone therefore has such baggage and frame of reference that viewers are able to see through the abstract image. A viewer already knows the ingredients of my works, they are just presented in a different order in my abstract works. When people see my colorscapes they spontaneously start telling about the time that there was exactly the same light in their garden or somewhere on vacation, they create at that moment a mental image of a color sum that is actually very mathematically ordered and that is the result of a photograph of a totally different moment in a totally different place.
Stijn Cole on “60 journées d’été”:
In the summer of 2016, I photographed 60 sunsets. From 19:00 to 24:00 I took a picture of the field behind our house every minute. These photos were reduced to 2 colours each and assembled into timelines.
You are a multifaceted artist and you stretch from videos, installations, models, paintings and mixed media. In this regard, I find very interesting the use you make of painting, most of your works are conceived in the digital field, where does the choice of the pictorial medium come from?
Over the years I have added more and more media and I try to purify each medium to an essence, just as I do with the works themselves. The drawings are one type of pencil on paper, the bronze sculptures are replicas of parts of the landscape. The photographic works are more about the medium of photography and the support rather than the image itself. Currently, I often work a little less rigidly and sometimes stray further from that strict schema. I started the paintings out of necessity, I was going crazy with the constant repititive work at the computer to assemble the timelines.I had the “Colorscapes” in my drawer as digital prints for some time but lacked a certain sophistication in those images. For some reason the “Timescapes” which are also just summations of colors didn’t lack that tactility. I found it important to leave the grid visible where the different colors are listed because otherwise the images tended too much towards pixelated images and that was not my intention, perhaps that was the cause. Suddenly the idea came to me to make the colors physical with paint. I searched on top of the prints for the exact colors in oil paint. It is the traces of the underlying attempts, the imperfect colors, the stains that appear on the edges of the paper that suddenly give life to those flat prints. I am using a kind of essential painting that is all about mixing and arranging color on a support.
Can you tell me about your vision regarding the “documentary” component and the creative process of your work in relation to your ongoing series of “souvenirs”?
I like to refer to my own work as documentary images because each work is a cut-out of reality to which I actually make little change. Of course, I make selections from the photos I take, but I don’t really do more than put them through a certain filter. I notice that people often find this a denigrating description; documentary is associated with everyday images from the media that have to illustrate a story and that are merely “documentation”. I look at it differently: the images I make are not intended to illustrate a defined story, but they are all linked to my personal life, they are the results of the moments I experienced. This ties in with the idea of souvenirs. Souvenirs are objects that make a memory tangible. You bring them back from a holiday and more than in the object, their personal value lies in the memory of the moment you found them. When my family and I decided to move back to the city after 10 years in the countryside, I made some works that would capture the memory of our time in Chimay. During the spring, I went looking for trees that were standing alone in the landscape, photographed them and had those images developed on lambda paper. On the first day of summer, I’ve put the images outside in the sun, half- covered, and they stayed there all summer, leaving the uncovered half bleached. I called this series “Souvenir d’été”. Since then, I have given each work the title or subtitle “Souvenir” because I noticed that their meaning for me was not in the making of the works or their presentation, but in the memory of the moment when I saw the image and recorded it on camera or in the search for stones in the forest, in the time I’ve spent with my daughter on our trip to Compostela.
Stijn Cole on “Finistère / Fisterra”:
For the exhibition El Camino (LAC Narbonne) I made a road trip to Santiago together with my daughter, who was 10 at the time. The first destination of our journey was Finistère in Brittany, the most western point of France. From the cliffs I took a picture of the sunset in three directions, a few days later I did the same in Fisterra in Spain, another “end of the world”. The two actions resulted in 2 painted altarpieces.
Your work has an almost impressionistic component and it is linked to a period in time, this is most visible in your minimalistic “timelines”.
The passage of time in the natural world, with all that it implies (changes of lights, positions, changes of seasons, objects, subjects, etc.) is able to define the shape of what we are faced with, but at the same time when we interface with what is other than us, we are the creators and spectators of what we are looking at as our imagination is an element that contributes to the process of elaboration of the experience that we make of reality. The landscape on the other hand is always in constant change by itself and you seem to take all this into account since the element of the “movement” of “change” is always present, and even when presented through your filter it leaves room for more points of view possible (yours, that of the spectator, the “natural” one). What is the message you intend to communicate? Can you tell me about these works?
As I mentioned earlier, I first started to photograph the sky with a motorized camera-obscura. For me, those images were not convincing enough – there were all kinds of small errors and the transition needed to get a positive image was too subjective for me, so I decided to make such images digitally and in colour.
The result, I think, are images that can be viewed, as you say, in different ways. These “Timescapes” are very mathematical, they are computer- generated images, sums of colour in the visual language of statistics. You can look at them from a purely aesthetic point of view, the way you look at Sol Lewitt’s drawings, for the intriguing complexity of the summary of colours they propose. Or you can approach them conceptually (Stanley Brouwn style), with the idea of capturing a longer period in time through a medium that is designed to capture the immediacy of a moment .
On another hand, the horizon creates a landscape through which the images suddenly take on an emotional charge. You let go of the image and project its colours onto your frame of reference. The shifting tones, from grey to orange, to blue or black suddenly become a sunset; they become last week’s sunset or a sunset you saw in Spain…. I like the work of the impressionists because they stir up the same emotion. I think their anchoring to the moment, the depiction of the now is very contemporary. A new exhibition has just opened at Bozar in Brussels with David Hockney’s i-pad paintings. Like the impressionists who first used oil paint in tubes, he is – and I am as well – a child of his time who uses technology to achieve his goal.
Can you tell me more about the motif of the horizon and what it represents for you?
In the very first works I made, there was no horizon visible yet – I photographed the sky during certain periods of time. Philippe Van Cauteren had just started as director of SMAK and he invited me to create an exhibition for Kunstverein Ahlen in Germany. The space was much too big for me, I didn’t have enough works, let alone works with which I wanted to be seen. I painted an elementary landscape in green-key and blue-key with the horizon at my eye level on one (32 meter long) wall of the room. The room was darkened, and 7 slide projectors were used to project patches of light in the format of classic landscape paintings from various museum collections on top of it. The height of those patches was adjusted according to the position of the horizon in each painting. In traditional presentations, paintings are always hung with their middle at “eye level”, which usually varies from 155 to 160 cm. I found that it became a problem when showing landscapes with a visible infinite horizon and I adjusted the horizon of all those landscapes to my own eye height. Since then, the horizon, the subjective line that separates the visible from the invisible, has been a motif that recurs in many of my works. My eye height is 158 cm, standing nicely in-between the standard 155 and 160 cm.
Stijn Cole on “Fold”:
I was standing on the pier in Calais photographing
the sea with the horizon perfectly in the middle of the picture when suddenly fog came up and the horizon disappeared, I took a picture anyway and decided to fold the picture of this horizonless landscape in the middle. Depending on the light in the room, more or less shadow falls on the image and the horizon reappears. Afterwards, I tried a few times to look for such a situation again, but the fog always seems to have disappeared when I reach my destination; such images must catch me by surprise. To date, the series consists of 3 works, I found this one by chance, the work shows a frosted field on a foggy morning.
Stijn Cole on “Marine 1:1”:
This installation consisted of several components of which the one with “Blue Prints” was the most important. In the centre of the room I placed a metal structure on which 10 large photos of waves were placed. These images are built up in two layers. A first layer in a monochrome colour and a second image that floats a few centimetres in front of it in black and white printed on plexiglass. Both images are of the same wave with a delay of 2/10 of a second in between. Because there is a space between both images, the work gains an extra dimension and the image seems to move.
Can you tell me about the work that was on display at the Corsini botanical garden and its dialogue with space in the group show ENDGAME?
In the exhibition Endgame I am showing 2 bronze sculptures entitled “Cancale 1:1 #4” and “Cancale 1:1 #5 », as well as a photographic sculpture called “Souvenir 2021”. Both could be seen as documentary sculptures: the bronze works are replicas of parts of the Breton coast and the photograph was taken in a nature reserve in Ghent, the city where I live. The photographic image allows me to place what appears at first sight to be an ordinary cutout of a disordered Belgian landscape in the context of a Botanical Garden. This inclusion adds some less appealing species to their collection of carefully chosen Mediterranean plants. The picture is mainly defined by the presence of wild nettles, an invasive species that often supplants nature in Belgium because there is too much nitrogen in the air. Other more fragile species are disappearing and biodiversity is under threat. The monumental photographic image (2 x 3 meters) consists of two parts connected by hinges that give the image a spatial dimension and allow the light to fall on the work in two different ways. Due to the aluminum surface of the print, the colors from the environment are reflected in different ways on the image. This gesture of the folding the image in two gives it a structure, the overflowing cutout of nature becomes a land-scape. The work stands on a table making it seem like an altar in its surroundings.
What are you working on at the moment?
Currently, after a Corona sabbatical year in which we moved and renovated our new house and my studio, I am preparing 2 gallery exhibitions. In January my first solo will open at Irène Laub Gallery in Brussels and in September at the Mexico City based gallery Hilario Galguera. The production for Brussels is in full progress, the exhibition will be called “souvenirs” and I will show some new paintings and sculptures in bronze, in Carrara marble and in Belgian red marble. In February I am planning a road trip through Mexico. As always, I have a list of projects in mind but the local landscape will determine what the works will eventually look like. I am also working on an architectural project for a neighborhood in Schoten (Belgium) with the architect office Bart Dehaene. I have designed a square and some facades, the delivery is only in a few years but currently we are fine-tuning the brick pattern I designed.
Stijn Cole on “Sautadet 1:1”:
This fountain is an exact replica of a section of the waterfalls in Sautadet in the south of France. I made a mould on this part, which is dry in summer, and recreated it in bronze. The waterfall was a commissioned work, it is on permanent display in Genk, in the garden of the Emile Van Dorenmuseum.
Stijn Cole on “Cancale”:
The two bronze sculptures that I dug into the sloping entrance path to the garden/exhibition are modelled on parts of the rocky coast in Cancale (Brittany), they are fragments that are inundated by the sea twice daily. Shapes sculpted by nature. They are part of a little bay where I always went on vacation 30 years ago, so they have a special meaning for me but also have a more universal significance, they are relics of a landscape that threaten to disappear under sea level. In the expo I place them at different heights in dialogue with the sea.