Stephan Balleux’s paintings appear dark at first sight but they aren’t necessarily, especially with contradicting titles like “Hold Everything Dear,” or “Cuddle.” He does tend to use a lot of dark colors— be it oil paint, watercolor, or charcoals and pastels. But what triggers the thought of darkness is the creature that appears in his several works— that unknown I call “creature” because it is alive, in motion, and either in process or progress. Balleux paints a black Mobil-like blob that reminds me of the character “death” you might see in movies; seeming to appear out of nowhere, or draining into an invisible portal in air. That something, somewhere we can’t quite see but all the while has been lurking, inscribing numbers on our foreheads.
Your latest project/exhibition is called “Sui Generis.” How would you explain “a reality which cannot be included in a wider concept”, and how would you say you've portrayed that in your works?
I chose this title because I was thinking of my position on painting. I take painting as something that is mysterious, impossible to understand. Most of the texts I could have read or have read about painting have not enlightened me completely. The use of the term “Sui Generis” is a way to say that painting is something that one can't explain with the knowledge of the other part of human activity: it still remains something so specific that it can't be rationalized through the explanation given by philosophy or any other human science. In this project I used a lot of images from the colonization area, and this period is ambiguous to me: history taught us the atrocity of such timea, but it can also be seen as full of romanticism— some people were going to the end of the world to discover things new to them- new plants, animals, tribes- the way I try to discover painting. Painting itself is portrayed like an organic life form that interacts with our world.
Could you tell us something about the “Painting Painting Project?” Why do you think the project is important?
I don't know if it an important project, but this project for me was a way to investigate painting as a topic. You can speak through painting about everything‑ politics, social behavior, beauty, etc.
My question at that time was “What is painting?” “What are its specificities? Can I do painting with everything? Is a painting a still? Is painting still possible nowadays? I guess the most important part of this project was my investigation of painting through movement, with CGI video. It helped to connect the old lady painting to the digital age, and opened my eyes on the construction of an image from every aspect.I did then what it is called an “expanded” painting. In this project, I began also to develop one of the roots of painting history: deception. It was a way to paint what was not really trendy at that time; that which required virtuosity and classical painting knowledge and investigation— something I was struggling with and even tried to bury for some time after my studies. I was not the first to work that way, like Lichtenstein, Richter, Patterson or Brown, but I investigated painting through most of his topics, landscapes, still life, portrait, vanity. Topics were chosen because they weren't new, but obvious and boring.
I read that you went to art school in Brussels at age 14. How has your experience as an art student been? What was it that appealed/appeals to you most?
I loved to be in this art academy so early. It was a good construction for the artist I wanted to be. I especially like this period, between my 14 and 18, because my teachers taught me the basic of art and perception, and because I was so young, it happened very smoothly. Art has grown on me with deep roots. It opened my eyes on the possibilities of art, let me experiment all the techniques, helped me discover that it was a way to apprehend the world and to communicate my own experience to others. Before, I just knew comic books, and that I wanted to work for Tex Avery.
What I really loved was that I was suddenly an individual again. The first two years of high school, the previous school I attended was a machine to produce good future workers for the capitalist society. I felt like a number, and was totally not interested in that way of life. When I entered the art academy, I was acknowledged with talent and personality, two things I forgot that I had. That we all have.
It is amazing as a teenager to do what you were really meant to do. I can't be more grateful to my parents for being understanding enough to let me do it—it changed my life.
If you had to name at least 3 painters that you admire or take inspiration from, who would they be?
Diego Velasquez is of course my most beloved painter. His way to capture the essence of perception, to make a painting something breathing still appeals to me deeply. Also, it is completely impossible to understand how this guy was working, it looks like miracles. Mark Tancey, who I discovered three years ago is very interesting: his thinking about painting and image is based on the work and essay of the belgian master René Magritte, who developed one of the most intelligent ways to use images, words, and poetry through painting. For the moment, I am also interested in painters who appear animist.
The last paintings that I saw from Serusier, like most of the nabis, show landscapes where each part of the scenery has a life of it's own. A tree has personality, the river is a character as important as the human figure. Rudolf Stingel interests me conceptually as well but my heart goes more to painters who do their paintings themselves. I guess I am more romantic and I believe that the artist communicates something very personal to the piece he is making through his own hand. Actually, I am interested in a lot of different practices and systems in art. Robert Ryman is as important as Caravaggio or the director Andrei Tarkovsky.
Inspiration comes from everywhere, not especially in the painting area. The book “sculpting with light” by Tarkovsky made a big effect on me, Myazaki's animation movie as well, Jean Genet's poetry, Bonnie price Billy and Nick Drake songs, Mircea Eliade essays and novels…the list is huge.
Stephan Balleux is a 37-year-old painter who has recently moved back to Brussels from Berlin. He says the place has changed a lot since the last time he was there, especially the art scene. When not painting, he likes to listen to a lot of music, read essays on art, anthropology and philosophy, and watch lots of movies. He also says he likes looking at animals, taking walks in the forest, collecting books, and playing music. Visit his website for more information.