Artist in ExileMichaël De Kok

This month Zwart Huis publishes a series of interviews with artists who live and work in today’s quarantaine. As such, the gallery hopes to support and promote its artists in these strange times of Covid-19. We continue the series “Artist in Exile” with Michaël De Kok (1958).

How are you experiencing this period?

This period which is dominated by the virus hardly influences my daily rhythm because I largely spend the days on my own. It’s the daily walk with my dog and then off to the studio. Back home I like to cook, look at the news and then often go to work. I do think a lot about the impact of this crisis and especially what lessons will be drawn from it. Will anything change after the pandemic? What about our consumer behaviour, the many pleasure trips, the transience of our society and the superficial visual culture we are massively enduring?

What impact does this period have on your work?

Because exhibitions have been cancelled, I experience more calm and that gives me more time to start with new work. I now see that this sort of peace is essential for me and I tend to forget that.

What does a typical day in the studio look like?

After a quick breakfast I take my dog for a walk out of town. There is a lot of nature within reach where I live. Once back in the studio I quietly drink a cup of coffee and contemplate the things I'm doing. I then make choices and look for the reason to start new work or continue working on something that isn't finished yet. The experience of a walk is hardly ever an immediate reason for a specific work because the impression is still too fresh. A distance has to be created first from the perceived image in order to obtain a "purified" or "filtered" image, stripped of any form of narrative. I try to transform the memory of the walks in my surroundings or of other journeys into images that can only be painted, sometimes in an almost fundamental way. I am concerned with colours that radiate or absorb, with light or the absence of light.

Do you have a fixed way of working?

Over the years some rituals have become important in order to have a good day in the studio. Moments of concentration are often the result of those rituals. They are mostly of a very practical nature, such as getting the right things ready. In the end, for me painting is a traditional and intuitive activity. The thought process about what needs to be painted took place well on beforehand.

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

I think that art in this period (but also in other times) can teach people about a not so obvious way of looking at something. Taking the time to look at something, to take something in. After all, we are so used to a very fast and superficial visual culture that we are so abundantly exposed to through the media.

What little things do you enjoy?

Surprises that arise during painting, presents you get because of the unpredictability of the behaviour of the paint on a canvas. Through the experience of all those years of painting you can control a lot, but not everything and that still surprises me at best.

What do you miss the most?

Because of the crisis measures I miss the openings, the meetings with fellow artists and friends.

What music do you play in the studio?

Bach is everything to me and also helps me to concentrate. But there are also moments when I prefer silence.

What books are on your bedside table?

A good friend of mine gave me "The Scrovegni Alternative" a personal view on modern art from the Flemish cultural philosopher Francis Smets. I read this with great fascination. The last novel was "Serotonin" by Houellebecq, which is still playing through my head.