Interview (ENG)

Sven Vanderstichelen: Hans, in recent years you have evolved from a predominantly figurative painter towards more abstract and semi-abstract work, why…?

Hans Everaert: Because I gradually became more interested in that sort of approach. I observed, so to speak, that I couldn’t ‘tolerate’ a certain degree of figuration in my work anymore. Some things begin to bother you and other things become of greater interest to you, and in my case those last things were the more abstract elements, if you want to call them that way – in my opinion you can always find traces of figuration in them, though probably more the physical aspects of reality, than the purely visual ones…

SV: … like some sort of skin, paint as a skin?

HE: … yes, skin, or under the skin… maybe I try to translate things into paint that specifically don’t occur on the skin, but rather underneath (in the physical realm, let’s say) or above (in the ephemeral).

SV: You regularly interrupt abstract zones of paint with perspective lines and the like… do you still feel the need to create some sort of space, rather than to just remain in the paint?

HE: Yes, I do. Whenever at a certain stage during the painting process I get the impression that I would start to work in some sort of void, that the abstraction is not anchored in some way, then I will start to look for solutions. And one solution could be to introduce something figurative, a perspective line or whatever, because in the end I do want to touch some kind of subject. My paintings do deal with a very specific subject matter to me, it can be unclear, it can be almost hidden in the paint, but I myself always have a clear idea of context, of what the work is about in a broad register…

SV: I can sense in the experiments you are undertaking an increasing need for layers, for a more layered universe. And then you start polluting these layers with ever more control... To what extent is technique important in the structuring of a work, in the construction of a good abstract or semi-abstract work?

HE: Technique, yes probably… but layers for sure… When I am working on a very flat image - one layer so to speak - then I have noticed time and again that it doesn’t really appeal to me. My work needs more layers, pollution also, and some sort of ‘scraped’ surface. And technique is just the result of doing things frequently… I mean, by now I know what works and what doesn’t. And I am constantly trying out new stuff, because I am a rather experimental painter. So I mess things up quite often, but all along you build a good set of skills of course, some sort of ‘craftsmanship’. And this craftsmanship will always be made up of accidents and coincidences, but you learn to guide these coincidences. And that’s what makes it interesting for me. If technique would imply that I’d always know in advance what the end result would be, then I would be a very different painter in the first place, and also a lesser painter I believe, with less interesting results for myself.

SV: In the evolution of your work one can see a more ‘gestural’ painter emerging, it seems that you became increasingly less static in front of a canvas. The ‘scripture’ and the gesture have become important aspects: the scraping, the swiping and the subsequent ‘re-soiling’ if I may put it somewhat degradingly…

HE: Yes, it does come down to that... partially… but always in a semi-controlled manner, with some sort of result in mind. I am also using different materials to paint with, not only brushes but also squeegees, cardboard etc, that kind of stuff, that leaves more prominent traces in the paint and on the canvas. The gestural is important to introduce spontaneity and surprise in a work. If everything is painted very thoughtfully, then often the end result will also be too thoughtful in my opinion… and in a sense I am trying to undertake in every work at least one very unexpected action, preferably several but at least one unexpected intervention that also makes a work become mysterious, or…

SV: … gives the work an identity…?

HE: … yes, or to use a very ambitious word, that introduces a stroke of ‘genius’ into a work. An action that makes you think: ‘something has happened here’, something that fascinates and that is maybe incomprehensible, but that is ‘justified’ all the same… something that makes you think ‘well, this is a very drastic intervention, but hey, I accept it, I consider this a just intervention’. And this almost certainly has to be an intuitive intervention, it can hardly be premeditated. So, I constantly have to strike a balance between intuition and control, between being deliberate and undeliberate. If, in the final result, one senses that a certain balance was achieved, that I have managed to work with these two components jointly to arrive at something special… that is more or less my ambition, or my attempt…   

SV: Some time ago I saw in your studio a collection of photos and clippings that you used for inspiration. I can image that in a figurative environment those images were very inspiring, but to what extent do you still need that kind of source material when you create a new work today?

HE: I would be inclined to say ‘not at all’, but okay, maybe occasionally I do look up some reference… although, I can’t remember that I specifically went looking for a picture during the past year… Those photos – because you refer to them – were classified based on their subjects: architecture, trees, flowers, that kind of things… And in fact it was always my intention to abandon those subjects in the process of painting, but I did use them as a starting point. Today I’d rather start in a different way… 

SV: … from the experiment itself?

HE: … yes, from a certain texture, a certain combination of colours, or sometimes – indeed - from perspective lines, or from some kind of landscape. And when you consider some kind of landscape for example, then the next question is: do I include the horizon in my view or not, those kinds of reasonings.... but you don’t need source material for that... so my approach definitely has changed, yes...

SV: In terms of colours, you are using – as many of your contemporaries – mostly compelling colour palettes. We come from a period often referred to as ‘the grey school’, with paler colours – your older work is also more in that kind of tone, while in your recent works we see splashing and clashing of very contrasting colours. Why that shift in the palette?     

HE: First of all because I like it that way, because I feel that it makes my paintings more challenging...

SV: … more aggressive?

HE: … yes, yes, maybe a bit less ‘classical’... My older work – closer to the grey school indeed, but even long before that... - contained a lot of references to ‘tradition’. I think that my recent work shows a more contemporary painter, who creates a sort of tension which is present somehow in our contemporary society – and that this tension can be felt in the work. Harmony is not of our times, so to speak, and in this way...

SV: … dissonant…?

HE: ... yes, those dissonants... that you can see the value of them, that they are actually very strong. It was no real decision, I just felt that for me it resulted in better, or more interesting work. And it also just creates a whole new range of possibilities... By nature, one’s field of action narrows out over time – in my case it’s getting more focused on some form of abstraction. But on the other hand that field should not become too narrow, because then you feel it is in fact impoverishing and becoming sterile. And that shift of the palette, as you call it, probably opens things up again, creates new opportunities. I really haven’t given it much thought ....

SV: Well, you should not think too much about it, just keep on going for it...

Hans Everaert in conversation with Sven Vanderstichelen, March 2014