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#24 Photography as a basis

Speaking: Tom Woestenborghs

The art works of Tom Woestenborghs look photographic, in fact they are built from tape and plastic foils.

The year that visual artist Tom Woestenborghs (1978) turned 40 and feared an artistic midlife crisis, he decided to focus solely on the creative process. He limited himself to three subjects: floral still life, abstract and feminine nude.

While he is building his exhibition at Pennings Foundation he gives an explanation.

“I was trained as a painter. After my studies (at St. Lucas and the Higher Institute of Fine Arts, both in Antwerp) I started making video installations, then graphic images on light boxes and then collages with foils and tape.

I was a socio-political engaged artist. Around the age of 40 I was tired of looking for social themes. Then I started to limit myself to the three basic themes: abstracts, nudes and flowers. Layer on layer I apply plastic foils or tape, just like you build a painting. I use different types of tape and foils, including band aids, painting tape and adhesive tape, both textile-like and transparent. The textile tapes have a tactile effect."

Petra Cardinaal welcomes the visitors at the opening of the exhibition of Tom Woestenborghs (middle). At the right: Frank Taal. This exhibition was organized together with Frank Taal Galerie. photo Hetty de Groot

“The art works look photographic, in fact they are collages. I choose the models myself, I don't want professional models. I take the photos of the nudes myself. First I make digital sketches for the collages. For the basic shape I make a mold or drawing. The plastics foils are cut into shape.

The surface is rhythmically structured, just like a painting. For a while I provided the collages with a layer of epoxy, but I stopped doing that to show the materiality of the image. The materiality is strengthened by the presentation in light boxes."

Journalist and art critic Edo Dijksterhuis interviewed Tom Woestenborghs. photo Hetty de Groot

Every collage is structured differently. One work is made up of pieces of tape, the other from foils, or a combination of tape and foils. The one is flat, in the other the suggestion of depth has been created.

The colors are generally hard, just like the colors in the advertising world. "The world has become formal and hard." But he also refers to the pre-Raphaelites, a 19th-century English group of artists who emphasized aesthetics and sensuality.

Every work is different. There are also photos and graphic work. Two flower still lifes have become almost abstract representations due to the enlargements. In fact, these photos are a comical reference to traditional Austrian chair covers from the fifties and sixties.

When asked why he doesn't show a male nude, he answers that no men were willing to pose for him ...

Female nude always evokes associations. Only if you look closely you see that the left model is injured. That's a statement! photo Hetty de Groot

Tom Woestenborghs may have focused on the creative process, however it is not possible to make art without giving it meaning. Flower still lifes are easily associated with transience. The female nude with lust, identity, power relations and voyeurism. And even abstract art evokes associations.

The making process invites people to take a close look at the nudes. photo Hetty de Groot

Some reactions from visitors to the work during the opening on November 15, after Edo Dijksterhuis had interviewed Tom Woestenborghs:

“What appeals to me is the enormous diversity. You try to think: what has been his idea that he has brought this collection together. The colors, the shapes, the whole abstract versus those beautiful nudes. That combination is really fascinating.”

“I have the impression that it is less narrative work than his earlier work. I think that's good about it. Because it is less loaded or something. I think it's a certain freshness and unpretentiousness that appeals to me.”

The light boxes in particular show that the works are made of tape and foils. photo Hetty de Groot

“I think this exhibition is a real Eindhoven exhibition! We are concerned with technology here. If you look at the creation of the photos, as Tom said: "First I make them digital," then he will digitally assign layers to them. And then he converts it into a work of art. Well, that's really something that connects with Eindhoven, because that's what we do here."

“What I like is that people take a close look at the nudes, where before people might not dare. It is because of the tactility of the material that you want to see from close up how that works. You are very much ‘invited’ to get so close to the nude."

“We have been following Tom for a number of years. I am really a fan because he makes people think about things. In his earlier work I thought Tom was very good at that. This series is a bit different, I think it is atypical. But I think the result suits him. Yes, I am a fan of him. Also because of the message behind it (‘I'm just going to make art apart from the rest of the world’), that just won't work. The fact that you think about this in everything that is presented here... It is a very good exercise in itself, I think. In that respect, he has succeeded in making everyone think about it again. I think that's his strength.”

Tom Woestenborghs plays with the suggestion of depth effect. photo Hetty de Groot

“At first, I was always panicked in case I didn't understand works of art. That panic always made me run away. A gallery owner once told me, and I thought that was a very nice expression, about ‘delayed knowledge’. You look at something, you can't place it yet, but at a certain moment ... then suddenly you have something that makes sense, it appeals to me. I am still working on it ... About Tom's work, I think it is very beautiful. In particular, I like art that does not really give a very clear picture, art that is more abstract. Some of the works here have that too. Here also the ‘delayed knowledge’ applies to me."

Thanks to Renée Visschers for recording the quotes.

The exhibition by Tom Woestenborghs, ‘Artistic midlife crisis or a storyteller. Nudes, abstracts and some flowers’ is on show until January 12, 2020.

(During this exhibition Pennings Foundation is open every Sunday afternoon).

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