Book texts

Fiona van Schendel: Sunday Chapter 2012

The fame of Dutch artist Ruud van Empel (Breda, 1958)
has developed across the globe. His photographic images, digital collages made out from fragments of hundreds of photographs he made himself, have a sense of permanence and are very inspiring. His subjects seem to have time to stand and stare. Time to evaluate, to be part of nature, to watch their dreams. There is beauty, tranquility, nature and pureness. Yet although his tone seems soft it doesn’t make his work less sharp. There is a sort of present pressure: an invisible complication. Something that has a great impact on these idyllic sceneries.

In a way Van Empel’s incredible skill in contemporary digital techniques stem from the tradition of artists who are interested more generally in photography as an art form, an idea that origi-nates from the days of the Cubists; the collages of Kurt Schwitters; the photomontages of Man Ray. Some may argue that this line dates even further back to the days of the nineteenth century when collaging – the combining of several images to form a new whole – existed not only out of technical necessity but also out of an artistic desire or need.

What distinguishes Van Empel from his antecedents is what he creates with his photographic ‘collage-technique’. His fixed artistic canon of nearly no perspective, a certain ‘flatness’ of image, combined with his chief concern with light, space and (non) movement, as with photography do not generate merely beautiful strong images. His often real-life-like children, just as their paradisiacal emerald surroundings are disturbed and interrupted; the more you look, the more dominant the harsh side of reality comes in. Something that has a great impact on what seemed to be just a pretty picture. It isn’t. If you get it right, you notice Van Empel’s underlying concept of genuine concern over the uncomfortability of reality.

The idea of creating this special portfolio was made because Van Empel’s photographic works are worth sharing. The admiration for him as an exceptional artist has been there from the beginning when he graduated in 1981 from the Academy of Fine Arts Sint Joost in Breda, the Netherlands. Van Empel, always anxious to materialize his concept, navigated with success the artistic fields of interior, graphic and theatre design, film and television.Since the 1990’s he plunged himself with international acclaim in the unrestricted landscape of photography. Already in 1981 he was awarded the St. Joost prize which was followed by the prestigious Charlotte Köhlerprize in 1993 and the H.N. Werkmanprize in 2001. His earliest work dates back to 1995 when he started his surreal-istic series entitled The Office. Among the major series that Van Empel created here on after is his famous series World (2005 until 2008/2011), the extraordinary hallucinatory world in which often, wide-eyed black children pose amid lush leafiness settings, and Moon (2005) as the nocturnal counterpart of this.  The series Venus (2006-2008) – with gracefully posing female nudes – are partly inspired by the German painter Lucas Cranach (1472-1553). Van Empel’s art historical knowledge is attested as well in other works and series, like in Sophisticated (2011) where the harmonious pictorial idiom in the arrangements of faces remembers of the faces of medieval saints. The Souvenir-series (2008) are Van Empel’s more personal works, they allow a glimpse into his own youth. Their look is deliberately austere and thus consistent with his other work, like Theatre (2010-2011). Van Empel’s work is not political, but in Generation (2010-2011), the formal class portraits, there is a sharp division of culture (Caucasian, black and Jewish) per class so one can say these works are more socially charged. In 2012 Van Empel has added a new chapter to his oeuvre. In a way he composed these “French Gardens” with their character-istic symmetrical lines as a true background for his subjects, boys and girls to wonder in. With “SUNDAY#” Van Empel uses a horizontal line now separating the earth and the sky, establishing a different perspective with the emphasis on the face, as if he decided to change his angle.