Zwart Huis
Jan Vanriet

To celebrate its 20th anniversary, Zwart Huis presents a series of interviews with several artists who stood at the cradle of the gallery in Villa De Beir in Knokke.
In this interview we talk to Antwerp based artist and writer Jan Vanriet (1948), whose show ‘Heldenleven’ runs until Saturday 26 June.

In 2005 you exhibited for the first time in Zwart Huis in Knokke. What memories do you have of this exhibition?

I was very much impressed by the architecture, that beautiful modernist building by Huib Hoste and the intimacy that emanated from the small spaces. The rooms invited you to make ensembles, ideal for my exhibition with paintings in a rather limited format, suites that were thematically linked.

What was de expo De Testamenten about?

The theme was a selection from the Old and New Testament, originally commissioned for a book. But I could modernize these ancient 'stories', and bring them to our times. There are references to the persecution during the Second World War or to street violence in this century, demonstrations that were dealt with severely and even brutally.

What is your work about in general?

My work, if it is not autobiographical, is about the human condition, human shortcomings, the individual as a victim of dark forces, often ideologies.

What is the current exhibition at the Rivoli about?

Heldenleven is the portrait of my youth, a small colourful fresco that ends around the age of 23, in 1968, the meeting with Simone, the discovery of love.

What does a typical day in the studio look like?

There is no fixed schedule. Intensive painting goes on for at most six hours a day, always during the daytime. I am not an evening or night person. Painting is studio work, drawing and writing are done at home, in the attic studio. It all blends together.

What is the most important event for you in the past 20 years?

My retrospective Closing Time, which allowed me to close the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp in 2010, was a unique moment. To be given the opportunity to play with this amazing collection, with the oeuvre of Van Eyck, Rubens, Memlinc, Cranach or Titian... Being able to combine those highlights with your own work was an enormous experience, for some obviously a sign of hubris. My exhibition in Moscow, Losing Face, and the whole thing around it, was also impressive to me.

How do you think the (art) world has changed in the last 20 years?

I do not know. I have the feeling that I am an outsider to the current art world, I don't follow it enough.

What role do you see for art as the world stands still because of the corona pandemic?

The little that art can offer is emotion and therefore comfort, reassurance, a heart under the belt. Maybe some insight. That is already beautiful.

What do you miss most at the moment?

I miss some distant friends and I miss travelling, going to see or revisiting beautiful, fascinating things. I've been able to compensate that by working pretty intensively, and that makes me happy. The peace and quiet of this enforced isolation was beneficial at times. But now it's enough, I need to travel, enrich myself and, who knows, come up with new ideas.

What little things can you enjoy yourself?

‘Nothing is foreign to me’ would be a fitting verse from Terentius.


Photo Jan Vanriet, Color, 2006:
Photo Jan Vanriet, Couleurs, Fleurs & Vin, 2021: