The press on Ruud van Empel
‘Artist Ruud van Empel (Breda, 1958) makes collages of self-made photos that he combines using Photoshop to create an idealized representation. In fact, with familiar elements he presents a world with which we are not acquainted. We have only the image that is dished up to us by Van Empel in the minutest detail. You could perhaps refer to this work as ‘illusionary’ but, at the same time, his images have an unparalleled reality content. Nevertheless, you never encounter anything like this in real life. These unheard and unseen features make them delusionary. This apparent conflict determines the quality of his work and its appreciation to a large extent. In Van Empel’s work, illusion is a paradox.’
De Nieuwe/January 2015 (Art Magazine of the Arti et Amicitiae Association)
The illusion as paradox/ By Alex de Vries
‘Still-Life-fungi, a voluptuous still life that refers to the Vanity paintings from the seventeenth century and on which fungus plays the leading role, accommodates a whole arsenal of narratives and insights. This work shows Van Empel in top form, as an artist who reinvents photography and gives reality a knockout blow with his reconstructions.’
Het Parool 15-09-2014 (National daily newspaper)
Van Empel asks questions / By Ronald Ockhuysen
‘In Van Empel’s world, creating portraits is a relative concept. People who think they recognize themselves in his portraits – which happens regularly – are mistaken. He constructs the faces of his ‘small figures’, as he himself calls them, bit by bit, on the computer. He developed this method himself, down through the years. He points to the wall behind his desk, to a portrait of a school class. ‘Every face is made up of a countless number of fragments, which I collect from all over the place. Every face is one file that I subsequently combine with all other files to make a whole.
Van Empel is sometimes busy for a month with one work.’
NRC Weekblad October 2010
Searching for Childlike Innocence / By Pieter Kottman
‘Van Empel’s merit lies in the subtle undermining of true Paradise.’
De Volkskrant 20-09-2011 ( National daily newspaper )
By Marina de Vries
‘Perfectly ordered yet sinister, the lakes, trees and leafs are inviting and foreboding at the same time. The children don't seem to be intimidated by it, though. They look at you with eyes wide open. Bold. Innocent. Confident. But there's something uncanny about their look. Their innocence seems tainted. The reason for this oddness, we soon find out, is because we are looking in the eyes of people who don't exist and never have. Instead, they are photoshopped into being through a patchwork of noses, arms, eyes and lips. This is how the artist goes about creating these images: First he collects all the features he needs by shooting a variety of young models in his studio and by subsequently wandering through Dutch forests, in search of fine leaves, perfect branches and the right waters. Only to tear it apart and spend weeks reconstructing it all until both the person and the setting match his desired standard of photo-realism. Van Empel calls this digital collage. If we are to believe Elton John, who as a fan even dedicated a song to Van Empel during a concert, his techniques represent what much of modern photography will grow into in the 21st century. His work also deeply impressed the director of San Diego's Museum of Photographic Art, Deborah Klochko. Intrigued by "all the little secrets in his work" she exhibited Van Empel in 2012. Having worked on it since he graduated from the Sint Joost Academy of Fine Arts in Breda in 1981, Van Empel's style of magic realism did not develop overnight, nor did it take off easily in the Netherlands. Outside of the confines of the Lowlands, however, his work found widespread appreciation.
In the last 10 years, he has exhibited around the world, including in Bejing, Barcelona, Tokyo, Seoul, Tel Aviv and New York City.’
‘Everything is so consistently, motionlessly, too beautiful to be true that it seems immediately suspicious and perhaps even threatening.
Ruud van Empel makes technically perfect use of these ambiguities.’
Elsevier/ Saturday 24 September 2011( Weekly magazine)
Strangely close / By Riki Simons
‘Van Empel seeks the best image: if he has a photo of a splendid tree upon which no appealing light falls, he superimposes the light from a photo showing beautiful light on an ugly tree.
There are almost no restrictions, everything can be created using the computer and perfectly retouched: photographic elements such as sharpness and depth, a dewdrop on a leaf, a ladybird on a blade of grass. But, in essence, the procedure does not deviate from the regular cut, pasted and torn collages that he produced at the beginning of his career. But, it should not be too perfect, according to Van Empel himself: the final product should not resemble a real photograph too much. It should grate or wring a little. He is most concerned with the addition: the idea or detail that gives a work a certain tension or depth. After all, emphasizes Van Empel, he is not only engaged with aesthetics: every image has a different concept as its basis: a girl alone in the forest, two boys who are standing arm in arm, a black child with blue eyes. A black child that represents innocence – that kind of thought has never been displayed.’
Hollands Diep/2011 ( Monthly magazine)
A Child out of Thousands / By Jan Pieter Ekker
‘Anyone who leaves the beaten track and makes his own way on the basis of his vision and feeling induces my admiration. The Groninger Museum also adheres to this philosophy.’
FOTOgrafie/ October 2011 (Photographic monthly)
Pioneering Photography / By Diana Bokje
‘The text that accompanies Souvenir 4, in full, is the following: "My father never told us anything / But I knew he was a soldier in our former colony / The Dutch West Indies / It was supposed to be paradise over there / All these objects had been a mystery to me / Except for the empty cigarette box he got from the Tommies / That liberated our city in 1944."
Against the immersive, seemingly unreflected exoticism of the earlier series, this account hits like a splash of cold water to the face. Because this, of course, is the real, traumatic historical kernel beneath the fantasized Eden of van Empel’s other series -- the lingering colonial holdings of the Netherlands in the Caribbean, like Curacao and Sint Maarten and (now autonomous) Aruba, legacy of the country’s 17th- century slave-trading empire, these days a playground for tourists. Unlike heroic tales of liberation by the British in World War II ("the Tommies" who gave his father the cigarettes), van Empel tells us, this bit of history was ever-present, charged with significance, but left unexplained -- the ideal material onto which to project fantasies.
You cannot say that the "Souvenir" series is a "critique" of such fantasies. Its relation to his other work is more complex and ambiguous than that, a kind of working through, a self-diagnosis, a recognition of a compulsion as a compulsion. "I want to throw them away, but I can't," van Empel writes beside the final Souvenir image, a musty ensemble featuring a cloudy fish bowl, flowers, figurines, a framed photo. "These objects have been around me all my childhood / I used to hate them, now I feel attached to them / This could be the sideboard in our living room / I want to throw them away, but I can't." Van Empel is unpacking his own personal baggage. Nevertheless, the works have a larger meaning. The way he channels his personal history though Dutch still-lifes is not just the normal fun with art history -- Dutch still-lifes, of course, had their own function as catalogues of the riches of the Empire at its height. The "Souvenir" series is about how the most intimate mental spaces are shaped by symbols that are at once personal and social, sensuously concrete and portals opening onto history. These photos are about how the histories we tell ourselves -- or fail to tell ourselves -- trouble the utopias we dream up. For a man obsessed with innocence, it is note of welcome maturity.’
‘The work of Ruud van Empel is a classic example of what a work of art should be. A black girl in a botanical-garden-like environment, with a white dress on and a white flower in her hand: here, a long-denied innocence meanders into Western art history. An ideal of beauty is presented that is contrary to the Western Lolita syndrome in every aspect, and nevertheless, you still feel that you cannot stop at that interpretation. You have no interpretation whatsoever ready. No opinion can ever compete with that clear look in the girl’s eyes. You have to approach art without opinions, you must not think that you know anything, that there is a way you should follow. You have to go into the landscape with that girl.’
Daily Art, on World#1/2005 by Ruud van Empel
By Alex de Vries 2007 www.Galeries.nl