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The Art of Confinement with Gilles Van Schuylenbergh

During these weeks of social distancing, Galerie Jos Depypere is thinking about a way to bring art closer to its collectors. By sharing a glimpse of the daily lives of our artists confined to their home and atelier, we hope that we can build an imaginary bridge between our artists and collectors during these weird times of Covid-19.


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Who is Gilles Van Schuylenbergh? Gilles Van Schuylenbergh (born 1982 in Dendermonde, lives and works in Aalst) transforms a fragment from the world around him into his own translation into what you might call a collage painting. Using photo collages, oil and acrylic paint, he works on an image that strikes him until he has managed to bring multiple perspectives together into a new rolling and undulating ‘landscape’. In this way he tries to purify the (physical) experience of a certain environment and to translate its essence into the canvas. Gilles has a slight preference for a decaying environment. “When the Aalst dilapidated industry inspires me, it is without symbolic theme but always and only for aesthetic reasons.” he writes about it.





Has this situation changed your daily life? Absolutely. When the manual of our daily life is suddenly changed, we are left numb. Some still struggle with this (including lockdown parties) but then we adapt surprisingly quickly. I promptly saw the severity of the situation. When the pandemic was still in China and I saw carnival corona costumes at Aalst, I thought it was funny but still far removed from my personal life. Somehow at the same time I suspected that a month later we would have to wear the same costumes for real. Now that we are in the middle of the lockdown I can relate to the social distancing. I have always been troubled by my personal bubble and the social rules of shaking hands and “smooching”, which is not to say that I think it’s a joke. Sometimes the pandemic and its victims get horribly close. When I hear peers complaining about the feeling of suffocation and total exhaustion, it strengthens my commitment to go for total protection and to not portray it as “it’s especially bad for risk groups. This experience will make us stronger and will make us keep our feet on the ground. The ignorance that has been rewarded in recent years with reality TV garbage and even a bully-presidency, has lost its significance. I’m glad about that. So, knock on wood, with a rubber glove of course.



Could you tell us what a typical day in your atelier looks like? I split my time and energy between my children, the household, music, podcasts and paintings. A typical day in my studio does not actually exist. I know my head must be empty before I can paint diligently. That is why I find a lot of distraction (without looking for them) that keeps me from starting (including this interview that I should have started with a long time ago 😉 ). This can be very frustrating at times but is therefore not particular to this Corona crisis. Before, I would also clean up my studio for an hour before I would start working. I like peace, also in spaces, and although my studio seems very messy, everything has its place and I feel more balanced when there is order. When I actually start, I like to put on podcasts or music. They provide a different distraction, or even “guidance”. The most productive moments spent on my easel are when I barely have to think. A painting is something emotional and when you have mastered a certain art, there is nothing so blissful as transcending it again and giving yourself priority, otherwise you will get crafted art. That’s like a musician who knows the notes but doesn’t think about them while he / she is playing. During Corona I love to paint outside on my courtyard in peace. It’s a switch I have to flip but that was reverted too quickly by customers during my working hours (normally I also run a drawing shop and a gallery). I think the lockdown is a wonderful rediscovery of focus for many artists.





Has the confinement changed your point of view on art? No. These times have especially changed my view of people. I feared semi-post-apocalyptic scenes in which people would instinctively switch to brutal selfishness, but the opposite is true! I see a lot of community spirit, love, caring and, ironically, rapprochement at times when it is not allowed. Irony at its best! I have only just met my back neighbors, while they have been living here for 5 years. Typically human! When something is not allowed, they want it. Comparable to the forbidden fruit, I guess? My vision remains the same art-wise. It translates reality into something indefinable, yet universally intelligible, through which magic happens. When the most diverse peoples can be touched by the same image. I suspect that the crisis is having an impact on many artists and that “art” as a whole will leave a beautiful “timestamp” that can still be read in so many years, just as we can still feel the influence of the First World War in Dadaism, for example. . I am curious about the artistic wrinkles created by Covid-19.



Has the situation affected your own works? I suspect it has. The freedom within my painting feels greater. When I am less disturbed, I can devote myself more to it. As I said, I never try to put a message in my work, because the realistic basis of my photo collage cannot escape its own connotation anyway. By that I mean that the power of an object is more than enough and that when an artist tries too hard to add a charge, it ends up in a camouflage by obscuring the original. A painting with too much symbolism is more of a rebus puzzle and they have a solution, ergo they are finite. Picasso said it all: a work should never be ‘finished’, because then you kill it! There is currently one work of mine in which the Corona crisis is visible (I would actually like to start painting it now because the collage is already finished) and that is from the playground of my son. I had to get his teaching materials at his closed school and saw the abandoned playground with a football and children’s shoes in the sand. The vibe of that image was so emotionally loaded that I only had to copy it into my visual language, without adding any opinion or emotion.





Do you believe that art can help people during this strange period of time? Apart from this period, art can ALWAYS help. In her most accessible form (music) she can comfort or even discharge herself in dance. I like loud music (even when painting) because it works like an auditory red bull. I used to see that with my father (André Van Schuylenbergh), who put (the) “The Rolling Stones” or “Led Zeppelin” on to recharge. I can get a lot of energy from Nirvana, Weezer, Pixies and Slipknot. The beauty of art is that the experience is always individual. It always goes between the recipient and the work. Even though a painting is world famous, when you look at it as a spectator, it remains an individual dialogue. I think that intimacy is always beautiful, even during this crisis. A good painting is undefined and therefore eternal. It contrasts and laughs with the temporality of our situation. And laughter discharges and de-stresses. So yes, resoundingly yes!



What is the first thing you wish to do when this is all over? Locking myself up in my atelier with the excuse that I don’t trust the situation yet. 🙂 That, and then have a really good dinner at L’Histoire32 in Aalst. Our cooking artists are much more victims of these times, as their art is incompatible with social distancing. Takeaway menus are not the same as the total experience of a delicious restaurant.





Some available artworks of Gilles Van Schuylenbergh:


Besides painting Gilles has created a short video on the daily life of his father André Van Schuylenbergh during the confinement.



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