Servaas Van Belle Interview - The Hopper Prize

Servaas Van Belle

Servaas Van Belle on a keen interest in architecture, transience and the influence of time, and a palpable vernacular.

How did you get into making art?

As a teenager I followed my big brother to the Art school. After a difficult start, they became the most important years of my life. With the right people in the right place at the right time, my life path took an artistic direction.

What are you currently working on?

Currently I am continuing to work on the series STAL. There is no deadline but it may remain a common thread in my life. I am also starting on a new project but, as always, I am keeping my pursuits under the radar until they are almost finished.

Transience and the influence of time are key concepts here.

Servaas Van Belle

What inspired you to get started on this body of work?

Looking at my series over the years, one can see a clear common thread.

Besides the fascination with monographs, there is a keen interest in architecture and constructions that seem banal at first glance, such as utility buildings, old sheds, beach huts, naked billboards, small religious buildings, hunting and observation towers. Transience and the influence of time are key concepts here. The vernacular is palpable.

A stable, for example, is so banal in the Belgian landscape that I myself overlooked it for years until I suddenly realised its beauty. But to valorise such a structure, something was needed to isolate it and that ‘something’ turned out to be fog. Discovering how the fog took the monograph to the next level was the final link to shift up a gear. Because of all the sleuthing and the unpredictability of the fog, it took five years to publish a first result in a book.

Do you work on distinct projects or do you take a broader approach to your practice?

Once I focus my goal on one project it’s difficult for me to combine it with other projects. I do try, but I don’t always succeed.

I see this strong focus on just one project as both a weakness and a strength.

What’s a typical day like in your studio?

While making STAL, my days mainly consisted of checking the weather apps and keeping my prospecting neatly ordered. Being prepared to head out is essential. Especially with the unpredictable fog.

But alongside my series, I also work on commission for interior designers.

Both worlds meander together, making it difficult to describe a typical day.

Who are your favorite artists?

My most obvious inspirations are Bernd and Hilla Becher. Their consistent way of working and perseverance are a great source of inspiration. I also admire that same perseverance in the painter Paul Cézanne. The way he kept exploring Mont Saint-Victoire while painting evokes nothing but admiration in me.

Closer to home and the present, there is also the Belgian photographer Stephan Vanfleteren. An example who eventually became a friend and where I also saw that perseverance again. He taught me, without words, that photography can be very hard work.

Where do you go to discover new artists?

Of course, social media, museums and photo festivals are important places of discovery.

But I must confess that I limit my searches. Especially in the flow of a project, I try to keep all external impulses as far away from me as possible. At that point, I want to keep my vision and goal clear.

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