The web of identity.
Belgian artist Klaas Rommelaere immediately caught our eye as he began his creative journey within the art-scene! Having begun his career within the world of fashion, Klaas took a left turn and moved on facing an ” aversion to fashion” and its restrictions. Balancing the intersect between the two (though his references are clear), it is a web of influence which creates his artistry today. We were thrilled to be able to discuss such a web of inspiration with the artist himself, alongside the practicalities of creating such a monumental exhibition and the helping hands he had along the way. You can catch the work, Dark Uncles, at the Texture Museum in Kortrijk and immerse yourself in a personal, daunting yet impressive installation of sixteen embroidered pieces, characterising his family and friends as puppets.
Crazy time to complete such a huge project! What has the process been like?
It’s been a blessing just to do this project during the lockdown. I was stressed out about all the work during January and February, and suddenly when March came and there was nothing to do and I could work the whole day doing embroidery. It was a very ambitious project and I always overreach a bit, but this time in the lockdown gave me a chance to just work from the morning to the evening. I love to be alone also. It was almost like a breath of fresh air.
It’s a very meticulous piece, how much help did you have in putting the exhibition together?
The museum where I’m exhibiting at right now sent out a call for me, to see if anyone wanted embroidery packages. I got a hundred answers for people who wanted to help me out. Lots of older ladies! During lockdown they say it kept them sharp and active because they didn’t have any visitors, they were just sat doing crosswords and stuff. It was great because suddenly they could be active with me. And that’s why the project looks so good now because so many people could help me out.
The help you had then injected so much life into the pieces, having so many hands on deck. I find the collaborative process really beautiful…
Yeah! It was strange at first because there were all these different people working on it who I didn’t know. I couldn’t see them – it was all through Whatsapp. I told them to send me pictures when they had started. There was one person who overfilled my work and made it over colourful and hyper and that’s not me so I had to adjust it a bit because it can be Disneyland. Then I left people alone. I’m so thankful to all these people. After lockdown, I got to meet a few of them and they were so enthusiastic and lovely and I’m such a lucky guy to get to work with such ladies. Even now, the project is finished and I still get emails from them asking to send me stuff, and it’s not for the project anymore, but they don’t mind. They’re so enthusiastic, even though they’re mostly 60+ and my work isn’t that typical, like landscapes or anything. But they’re so open to it.
It’s nice to see a different generation embracing all different types of art! The women towards you and vice versa… How was the process of direction?
When I work with the older ladies, and I give them a drawing on a canvas or something. I’m really interested to see how they translate it with a totally different vision to what I have. Sometimes they make it really ugly and I’m so interested as to why they’ve made it ugly. But for them it’s beautiful.
Can you tell me what your intention was within the creation?
What I do is always very personal. When I explain it to strangers, it feels like I am reading a diary or family history or something. I made my family and some of my friends into puppets. The reason I did that was because I had such a strong memory of my grandma, and how she used to make flags with her sewing machine. I would take pictures outside and my whole family would carry them out, so I had such a strong picture in my head of people carrying my work. Every drawing on the [puppet] person is my memories with them or their personalities. It’s almost like a dedication to these people. I’m so aware that I am who I am because of these people influenced me, even in a subconscious way. I’m very grateful for them. I put them on a pedestal now, but I’m very aware of that. So it’s also an investigation into who I am and my history. I think the more you investigate yourself and ground yourself, the stronger you become. Of course, lots of people say this, but to realise it for yourself is so important.
It’s like visualising this beautiful web of what creates you…Even though the work is very personal to you, it does resonate with others. Why do you think this connection exists?
I think people connect with it because it’s so worked-at. You can read it and look at it for an hour and still see new things. It’s very detailed and layered.
I think there’s a connection particularly to the vulnerability in your work. Do you see it this way also?
Yeah! I love doing interviews because it’s so interesting to hear this kind of stuff about my work.
Lots of your work is rooted in the fashion world along with the high level of craftsmanship that goes into fashion. Where do you place yourself within the intersection between art and fashion?
I studied fashion and I did a year of internships after, which were really heavy. I had a bit of an aversion to fashion after that and didn’t really want to look at fashion shows. I always wear the same shoes and made myself a bit of a uniform because I didn’t want to think about fashion anymore. But, I started to make masks because I felt freer making art. Everyone I know works night and day, but I’d rather work night and day for myself. I can do whatever I want without seasons. It also gets more respect when it’s put on a wall in a museum. I don’t really think about fashion anymore.
It’s interesting you say this because going back to the web of influences – that influence from fashion is there, but it’s not the most obvious thing now. It takes a bit of digging to go back to it…
Yeah, maybe that would be a later project to go back and investigate that! Where do you see the fashion stuff?
I think it links to the trend within fashion now, with multi-textural pieces with loosely-sculptured silhouettes. Maybe it’s more incidental?
Interesting! Now I only ever watch the Raf Simons show, the Prada show and the Walter Show. Because I realised my mind couldn’t take in so many influences.
Fair enough! What would you love each audience member to take away from the exhibition?
I love that when the audience comes in, it’s a whole world. It’s like my own Disneyland I’ve created. I want this element of escapism within my work, but not on a commercial or superficial level. But first of all, it comes from me, I want to push ideas as far as possible and then if people enjoy it, that’s good. I hope they get a good vibe from it. I think it’s important to bring something positive but not cheesy.
Thanks for talking today. It’s been super interesting!