From te publication
BEHIND THE EYE AND WINDOW
It was about five years ago that Ruud van Empel opted for a further development of his career as a visual artist and a subordination of his activities as a graphic designer to that aim. So far he had chiefly been involved in designing posters and scenery for television and theatre productions. During the period he was responsible for the design of various VPRO television programmes he was given full scope in using his creativity in accordance with his own ideas. When opportunities became less, the step towards becoming an autonomous artist was to Van Empel self-evident. As a designer he had given ample evidence of his talents and he was unwilling to let go of the freedom he had got used to over the years. “I did not want to become dependent upon clients who make all sorts of conditions and demands on a design.” The designs and photo works he has made since 1996 are in fact rooted in the same mentality and view of reality. The main difference consists in the fact that his design is subordinate in function and forms part of larger productions while his photoworks are wholly autonomous. So far Ruud van Empel’s photo works consist of four series: The Office, Frame Story, Photo Portraits and Study for 4 women (parts 1 and 2). In the series The Office various persons are represented posing behind desks amidst all sorts of attributes. Apparently, the objects are closely related to the positions of these impeccably dressed ladies and gentlemen, but they do not seem quite relevant. The image is dominated by the surreal atmosphere created by means of the strange lighting and spatial effects, the relation between the forms and especially the mysterious presentations of objects in the background. In later versions of this theme Van Empel made use of colour and carries the abstraction in the images further. The persons appear to lose themselves in the backgrounds, which are conceived as rhythmical patterns. Unlike his earlier work, more recent versions of The Office use motifs derived from contemporary culture, but the atmosphere remains the same, evoking sentiments that are difficult to interpret, but are undoubtedly related to underlying fears. In the series Frame Story, too, the images give rise to a vague sense of oppression. They all show window views of opposite houses or flats and are contained within a very sober composition scheme. Under each window there is a radiator, and a stray object on the wall or the window-sill emphasizes the sense of icy emptiness and desolation. Van Empel’s window images are almost frozen hallucinations of modern everyday life.
In 2000 Frame Story got a cinematic sequel in the leaders he composed for the series of television documentaries Ons genoegen by Michiel van Erp. The short introductory films are characterized by the same focal point, but unlike his photo works they provide us with a view into the opposite living rooms. They show people in off-guard, highly familiar situations of almost poignant domestic bliss while the evening clouds ominously chase time. By means of the camera we peep at the humdrum life evolving behind these other windows and this way Van Empel has got us where he wants us. The consciousness of voyeurism, but especially the very consciousness of being part of the Dutch living room world comes home like a boomerang ….
As in The Office, Van Empel uses in Photo Portraits all sorts of motifs referring to the occupations of the people portrayed. In the latest series, however, he refers to the way explanatory motifs were used in late medieval and renaissance art. It is the fragmentary construction of his images, too, that Van Empel has in common with the medieval masters of the school of Flanders. Those portrayed and the spaces around them are not conceived from their whole and their coherence, but have been composed on thebasis of separate parts. Each motif and fragment of the image was photographed by the artist with meticulous care to be included in the overall image at a later stage.
In Photo Portraits this method produces images in which anatomy, space and light effects appear to obey laws only slightly connected with the here and now. In fact, it is illustrative of Van Empel’s approach. He searches, selects, cuts, pastes and with the help of his computer construes wholly new images, or rather new worlds. In his most recent series, Study for 4 women, he applies these techniques to figures of women. The idea of composing imaginary female figures by means of computer editing may not be new, but the final portraits of Van Empel are wholly original and are connected with his personal themes. The aim of the series is not the creation of ideal female images, but the evocation of an atmosphere in which desire is slumbering. The women all look beyond the image and appear to be in search of direct visual contact. Van Empel’s Study for 4 Women focuses on looking and tempting, on being watched and being tempted and appeals to secret phantasies.
In Ruud van Empel’s photo works two approaches may be distinguished. In The Office and Photo Portraits he indulges in experiments with forms and visual elements, whereas in Frame Story and Study for 4 women he aims at the greatest self-restraint. In doing so he succeeds in penetrating into the sentiments that make up his essence as an artist. Defying any clear definition, they move between melancholy and discomfort, between desire and threat. Because his work has a slightly naive streak and is pervaded by a mild irony and humour, it never inclines towards gloom or weightiness. The elements he uses to put matters into perspective and the original visual inventions make for exciting experiences. Van Empel uses them in order to invite us to watch and participate in his images, until finally we find ourselves caught in his worlds.