Artist in ExileJohan Tahon

'Artist in Exile' is a series of interviews initiated during the Covid-19 pandemic. Zwart Huis asked 10 artists about how they experienced the lockdown and how it influenced their work. We close the series with Johan Tahon (1965).

How are you experiencing this period?

I think I belong to a group that sometimes experiences this period as a gift: we have so much time freed up and it is extra quiet outside. I have never seen nature awaken so consciously as this spring. Besides spending a lot of time in the studio, I also spent a lot of time under the lime tree in my garden.

As an introvert it is of course also pleasant that I don’t have to talk to people. With the exception of the daily contact with my wife and son Gustave, I don't have much need for social interaction. This period has taught me that my limit of isolation is about 7 to 8 weeks. After that I quietly began to feel that I am missing my friends.

What impact does this period have on your work?

I must confess that I haven't been out of the studio for seven weeks from day one of the lockdown. There is a possibility that I partly fled the uncertainty of the situation and the threat by making sculptures. I have discovered this dynamic in myself before. It is something very simple and it works very well for me.

What does a typical day in the studio look like? Do you have a fixed way of working?

I need time to wake up in the morning. I often dream a lot and it takes time to process these dreams. I write them down and then I read my mails.

After lunch I have to do some physical work. It often happens that I half consciously prepare my studio to create new things. Then I start sculpting or drawing to quickly disappear into a zone that I find difficult to describe. As if the subconscious determines the form and my hands start sculpting it. I feel grateful and happy that - as an artist - I am allowed to enter this zone over and over again.

What role do you see for art in moments like these?

We are now hopefully moving towards the end of the pandemic. In the beginning I – more than ever – felt very clearly how important having a studio and making art is. Not only for artists but for everyone. During a lockdown there are not many possibilities and it is good to let your creativity speak for itself. This has a calming effect; you can escape reality for a while.

The intimate and spiritual character dominated when I was working in the studio, but you do realize that at a certain moment these drawings and sculptures have to go out into the world. Only then are they complete; when they are seen through the eyes of the viewer and can also be meaningful to others.

What little things do you enjoy?

I'm often absorbed in my thoughts, but my son Gustave manages to make me laugh each and every day.

What do you miss the most?

My favorite restaurant.

What music do you play in the studio?

For convenience I will answer this question in percentages: 50% of silence, 25% of classical music (Klara Continuo and a slight preference for medieval and renaissance music) and 25% of solid rock (from Nirvana to Amenra). Spotify and AirPods are some of the most beautiful new technical possibilities of our time.

What books are on your bedside table?

At the moment I'm reading Marguerite Yourcenar's 'The Hermetic Black' again. Lovely to read about the sixteenth-century life of an alchemist in the medieval church of Rozebeke, which has recently become my studio. But on my bedside table is the new poetry collection 'Zon' (Sun) by Peter Verhelst.