For me, painting is essential, it’s my life. I’ve been into painting all my life since my earliest years thanks to my mum, Irene, who was herself a painter and a poet.
She was very beautiful and posed for numerous artists like the great painter Pringels, a teacher at the Brussels Royal Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture, who painted several portraits of her.
At a very early age, I fell in love with the works of the artist Pieter Brueghel. I had a lot of help from my primary school teacher, Agnes Dekrom, with whom I studied the work of the artist for three years. We often went right out into the country to Vlaesendaal, to the places where the artist himself used to go, and we used to compare the landscapes in his pictures with the way those places looked in our time. And on Sundays, if it was raining, I’d spend my time in the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, since at that time you could get in free of charge on Sundays and bank holidays. And there I patiently gazed at many works. On each visit, I spent a lot of time in front of the canvases by Pieter Brueghel, trying to discover new secrets.
Later, I entered the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. I was in Marianne Dock’s class.
One day I happened to go and see a ballet at the Theatre de la Monnaie in Brussels, and it was love at first sight! I was drawn to join Mudra, Maurice Bejart’s school, drawn into a fascinating artistic world. That’s where I was lucky enough to rub shoulders with a load of artists who have now become great masters of our times. It’s where I discovered the third dimension. Ballet, music and painting were all one.
In 1983, I went to spend a few months in Japan, with no clear idea of the country I was going to or what I might find there. Maybe I’d meet some samurai! It was amazing! I immediately became interested by this world, which was so strangely different from my own. It was like going through the looking glass. I was finally able to stand back and take a proper look at my own country and my own culture, to see them with new eyes.
So this boy from Brussels has now been familiar with the pulsating life of Tokyo for more than 30 years. And for 12 years my home has been in Kamakura, a pretty, traditional village in the country, on the outskirts of Tokyo, and I make a living from my painting. And I never planned any of this. I just followed my heart and let my own feelings guide me.
So there we are. I think that’s much the best way to give you a brief idea of the artistic path I’ve followed.
My painting is based on nature and on the light which comes from nature, which has been my inspiration on a fabulous quest to capture its shapes and colours, opening up the path to inspiration, to life itself. To capture the atmosphere and the humidity that surround me. To learn to listen to the birds and to feel the wind caressing my face. To paint with your heart and soul. To paint a landscape the same way you feel it. To try not to let yourself be influenced by fashions or by the big artistic movements which, all too often, are manipulated by the commercial side of the art world. I honestly think that the art which was part of the past has a future. Today’s art exists for the moment only, and disappears when that moment ends. There was a time when artists were craftsmen and when they couldn’t cheat. When a landscape or a portrait had been completed, the result had to be there. Nowadays, the art world very frequently tries to make us believe that art is hard to understand. But when you look at a landscape, you can decide for yourself whether it’s beautiful or not. When you eat some food, you can decide for yourself whether it tastes good or not. Well, it’s just the same with art. It’s something you feel with your own heart and your own senses. You like something or you don’t.
Now I’d like to tell you something about how I work.
I make my paints myself, basing them on pure pigments which I mix with a resin. This gives a unique transparency and a strength and vitality to my colours.
This is actually one of the most ancient techniques there is. It was used by the first people on the planet in their caves.
The colours were based on a mixture of clay, plants and natural products.
The walls were damp and they dried their pictures with torches.
This was the origin of the “al fresco” technique.
This technique had disappeared completely because it was difficult to create paintings this way.
Moreover, the colours have to be created when you actually need to use them. And they’re temperamental, they change with the seasons.
Nevertheless, some Italian art schools did rediscover this technique and began to use it once more. My brother, Jean-Marie, who is eight years older than I am, is a painter too, and he taught me how to do it.
I’ve also been influenced by Caravaggio, an Italian painter from the same period as Michelangelo. He’s famous for his “chiaroscuro” technique. He painted at night by candlelight, with very little illumination, so that he could keep better control of the colours.
Today’s studios, which are flooded with artificial light, yield only sad and sombre colours. By contrast, working in shadow, with very little light, generates colours which are much more luminous.
In my picture “Creation”, you can observe a landscape which represents a field of orange flowers lit by the rays of the sun. You can feel the heat and the vitality of each flower. On the horizon, a cobalt blue sky merges into the sea. There’s a feeling of freedom and hope. Each flower sings and dances, borne up on a concerto of music. Some of the lines represent violins. Some represent bayonets, which are disappearing into the distance.
In “Moonlight”, you can see the same landscape in the light available at night. The flowers are blue and with the setting of the sun the whole sky turns bright red.
The colours of a single landscape can change with each instant. There are changes caused by tricks of the light. Colours wouldn’t exist without light.
I have music to keep me company while I’m painting. Each picture represents a drama, a spectacle.
For me, colour helps to put life right. It’s like food. If you eat good food, you’re more likely to stay healthy. Nowadays, with the modern world and the stress of the big cities, we have less and less time to contemplate nature.
Every time I exhibit my paintings, I get many letters of thanks, from people I’ve met at the exhibition who’d never been interested in paintings before. But I then learn that now they feel the need to discover more works of art and that they often go to exhibitions. What better thanks could an artist receive?
Painting is also a big responsibility. You’re a creator, and you’re projecting your energy and your own feelings into other peoples’ lives. That’s why I think you have to be very vigilant and be completely at one with yourself. A painting can convey happiness or serenity, but it can also transmit the sickness of its creator. That’s why those involved in modern contemporary art have taken two different roads. One trend is to create solidly-based works firmly secured in tradition, and another is to leave the conventions behind and search for ideas without concerning yourself with shapes and colours. This also led to great changes and to fierce debates in the last century. Nowadays, we confuse imagination with artistic sensibility.
I think it’s important to be honest with yourself. If you do good to others, you will be rewarded. If you harm others, evil will take control of you. I believe that understanding this is one of the keys to success.
I’ve chosen to do paintings of the Manneken Pis, which I think of as lively paintings, attractive and popular images of my country. I remember meeting many Japanese people who were happy to discover the Manneken Pis in Brussels and surprised to find that he was only 62 cm tall. I’ve chosen to give these people something they can enjoy by creating my own images of the Manneken Pis, which are 2.20 m tall.