text for catalogue Lode Laperre
On birthmarks and the thinking hand
Two hundred years ago, Immanuel Kant wrote: “The hand is the window on to the mind”. Of all human limbs, the hands make the most diverse motions, motions that can be controlled at will. This important relationship between mind and hand is a cornerstone in the art of Lode Laperre. A long and patient process between control and letting go, between the brush and the engraving pen, between the passage of time and the intervention of wind and other phenomena, results in a harmonious expression of matter and thought on his canvases.
Lode Laperre is a contemplative artist. His work exudes texture and technique, and the many layers of acrylic paint with subsequent alterations radiate deep reflections of his memories and contemplations.
The memories from his childhood at the former home of his grandparents, around the same time as his early explorations in painting and drawing, are now being interpreted in a new collection of abstract colour compositions by Lode Laperre for the exhibition Naevus, Latin for ‘birthmark’. Birthmarks or pigmentation spots are fascinating and countless myths revolve around these mysterious spots. My body is full of freckles. These abstract pigment landscapes can also be found in Laperre’s paintings, but it is another, beautiful and spiritual, meaning that is at the heart of this title choice.
Galerie 10a, which has planned and coordinated this exhibition with Laperre, is located in the house of his grandparents. Until 2002 it housed their textile company, Weverij Dendauw, where every day several family members worked diligently to manufacture fabrics. His father was a hobbyist calligrapher and also assisted in designing the finely detailed weaving patterns, and Lode shares his genes of skill and precision. The patience and determinism of his ancestors can be found in the way Lode produces his art: a kaleidoscope of stories weaved together in captivating layers on his canvases.
All works on display in Naevus are rife with symbolism and project Laperre’s ideas and memories through the thinking, painting, and meditative hand. These memories leave traces, spots, colours and techniques that find expression in some twenty new paintings.
The first work shown to me by the artist was Gobelin (2018, 120 x 100 cm). A gobelin is a hand-woven tapestry, and the name originates in Gobelins, a village near Paris. In 1662, the workshop located there was taken over by Colbert and became known as ‘Manufacture des Gobelins’. The tapestry that adorned the wall of the Dendauw family home was a reproduction of the renowned The Adoration of the Magi (1617-1618), a painting by Peter Paul Rubens. The reminiscence of this gobelin and the colours of the floor carpet right in front of the original location of the tapestry are interwoven in this new work by Lode Laperre. Very minutely he worked the almost dried layers of paint with a needle, so that the woven carpet that lay there on the ground is almost reflected in the newly created Gobelin. This is the first ever painting in which Laperre made extensive use of a needle. During the painting process, Lode deeply immerses himself in what he still remembers of the sphere of influence at the time, so that often new painting techniques, seamlessly fusing form and content, emerge.
Laperre’s paintings reveal a distinct and recognizable visual language. He masters technique like no other and allows his technique to develop as part of the natural painting process.
In The Craftsman , sociologist Richard Sennett writes: “Technique has a bad name; it can seem soulless. That’s not how people whose hands become highly trained view technique. For them, technique will be intimately linked to expression“. In his writings, praise for handicraft is a recurring theme: the human necessity to make things with the hands and the enrichment that that means for the human being. Looking at craftsmanship in an open system with form brings the general question of technique to the fore: the technique of how to lead a life based on skills. Richard Sennett showed in his publications the unity of mind and hand, thinking and acting, reflection and action, culture and nature. In his analysis of contemporary society he sees such strict dividing lines as a source of social problems. “When the head and the hand are separated, the result is a mental impairment.”
When looking at the work of Lode Laperre, the pleasure he experiences when experimenting and almost ‘sculpturally’ editing his paintings, is evident. As a viewer, you sense a harmony flowing from his works into space. His method of painting is closer to meditation than what one learns at a fine arts academy. There is a mental and material journey in every painting, and yet all works seem to be part of a single large opus, in which one painting leads to the next.
His paintings are not figurative representations of real images, but instead expressions of notable image memories from his daily life. They are images he sees only because he is an abstract painter and of course also because Laperre is a person with a great sensitivity to imagery in the world around him. That could be the recollection of two coloured chunks of gum on an abandoned asphalt road, or a picture of hectic traffic on one of his travels in Southeast Asia, or the memory of his grandfather who sat at the table and directed the operations of the textile company. You will not discern these as images in his paintings however, but instead they manifest themselves as energies, colours and atmospheres. Because of his strong fascination with the image, he also succeeds in crafting an unlikely depth and time space in a single work. It can sometimes take Laperre several months of labouring on a single painting before he declares the work completed. This strong and long-lasting continuity is essential to him, he tells me during a studio visit. When Lode goes on holiday, it comes with a measure of guilt because he feels he is abandoning his studio. Recently though, and inspired by his great admiration for the meditation and dexterity of the calligraphers, he deals with that by packing Chinese ink, brushes and pens for his travels.
Just like his paintings, Laperre’s pen drawings appeal because of the pictorial layering and balance in the composition, like intriguing dreamscapes. Laperre draws inspiration mostly from the way people interpret images in Asia and how the perishable image there also gets a very central place.
In Chinese art history, particularly in painting from the Yuan Dynasty in the thirteenth century, the ‘mind landscape’ was explored, which embodied both references to the styles of earlier masters and, through calligraphic brushwork, also gave expression to the inner spirit of an artist. Going beyond representation, the artists imbued their paintings with personal feelings. Painting was no longer about the description of the visible world; it became a means of conveying the inner landscape of the artist’s heart and mind.
Lode Laperre was often in Taiwan and many other countries in Southeast Asia, but has never visited ‘the Middle Kingdom’, China. Perhaps this unfulfilled desire is the reason why he is driven by an inexhaustible interest in Chinese culture and philosophy.
The ten thousand things are really one. We look on some as beautiful because they are rare or unearthly; we look on others as ugly because they are foul and rotten. But the foul and rotten may turn into the rare and unearthly, and the rare and unearthly may turn into the foul and rotten. So it is said. You have only to comprehend the one breath that is the world. The sage never ceases to value oneness. Zhuangzi (Watson, 1968, p. 236)
You can find this wisdom and this sense of unity in Laperre’s work and thought process. When working on his paintings he sometimes removes acrylic paint with an engraving pen, a needle or other tools and methods to bring out patterns and textures. But nothing is lost: these remains of paint clots find a new life in sculptures that are in direct relation to his painting. He calls them Coprolites, fossilized or petrified faeces.
“We cannot control what the human memory does or doesn’t store. Our brain appears to have a defence mechanism. In the same way our memory functions, metal also becomes softer, more beautiful and warmer with time. The past is becoming increasingly romanticized. A lot of the rust was lost and I came closer to the cold metal”, Lode ponders poetically during our conversation about his work Anti-Rust Painting (2018, 60 x 40 cm). Clearly it is a painting, but in essence he painted a rust stain.
In the work Timetagging (2018, 70 x 50 cm), the artist recalls memories of his grandfather’s time keeping. In the former home of his grandparents, a clock stood tall on the exact spot that now exhibits this painting. Lode’s grandfather was a wise and just man, but kept a meticulous eye on his business: time, staff attendance, and the daily running of the company in general. The clock acted as the metronome for the pace of the family business. However, time is not depicted linearly on the canvas, but rather shown as a cycle or even as the totality of transience and creation. In this painting, Lode applies the technique of crackle. Crackle is a figurative element that is developed over time by temperature that causes expansion or air that causes cracks. The fading contrast between the organic and the constructed makes this a standout work.
I find it fascinating how Laperre develops new painting techniques through continuous thought. Time and again he has an incessant urge to further enhance the image, and he often is immersed in this process so deeply that new techniques materialize. This is an irrational yet natural process, and such that even his painter’s mind is often surprised at how uncannily the resulting images are intertwined with his personal memories.
With the work Interpunctus (Naevus) (2018, 30 x 30 cm), the connection between the subconscious memory, brush technique and final image result is razor-sharp. The painting appears to depict a dark universe with innumerable stars. It takes Lode back to his childhood, to a time when his grandfather accompanied him in the dark to cross the street home. On a clear night he looked up, and began to count the stars in the firmament, but his grandfather interrupted him and explained to him there were so many that he could never count them, and that each of those tiny little stars was a sun, and that around every sun there were a lot of planets. “Now, ours is merely one of these planets. And then to think that some people feel they are important …”, mused his wise grandfather, just like the Taoists emphasized that people are only small dots in the infinite cosmos. In the same vein, Interpunctus continues that theme.
Texturama (2018, 30 x 50 cm) is just a little larger and, uncharacteristically for Laperre, almost figurative. The texture resembles velvet. He achieved this by milling in the hardened brush strips. This canvas also arose from a flood of memories that stayed with the artist. The title already suggests that it is a panorama with a lot of texture, but talking with Lode, the references run much deeper. There is his father’s penchant for the books and landscapes of Stijn Streuvels, Lode’s early landscape drawings out of the living room, and also the memories of the reluctant but compulsory visits to textile fair ‘Textirama’, once ending with a harrowing experience of a blown tire on the motorway on the way back. Of course you do not necessarily have to be familiar with all these details and references in order to appreciate and savour the works. The abstract canvases leave a lot of space for their own reflections. In the same way a synaesthesist perceives sound as colours, I perceive my own memories and dreams in the abstract colours and patterns on Lode’s canvases. And the longer you gaze at these works of art, the more mesmerizing they become. Lode Laperre generously expends time and energy creating his art and this deserves a reciprocal endeavor by the beholder.
The final work I will touch upon here is a somewhat older work Tomographics (2013, 60 x 50 cm). A tomography is a two-dimensional image representing a cross-section of a three-dimensional object, made in a non-invasive way. It is best known for its use as a diagnostic radiology tool in medicine. Lode started this painting with the intention to give us an insight into the inside of a painting, to paint what is going on inside, under the surface of a painting. This is of course an illusion, because what he paints could be the inside at any time. The image spills over onto the sides of Tomographics, so it looks like a cross-section of an object, or even an attempt to paint a scanned image of a painting. In retrospect, this is another metaphor for his grandfather, who preferred to stay indoors, yet wanted to know everything about the world.
And perhaps it is also a metaphor for the entire oeuvre by Lode Laperre, arising from the thinking hand and consisting of reproductions of the imageries in his brain. From brain scan to birthmark, the foul and rotten is turned into what is rare and valuable, the minute details, the memories from our youth, the actions we take and the decisions we make, the brain and the hand, everything is connected together, just like the countless stars in the universe.