At first sight, Rik Vandewege is not one who freely gives his identity away.
Along the scales of Fine Arts, he is not afraid to deal with a variety of registers: three-dimensional sculptural work with an extensive range of morphologies, archaic pottery with self-explanatory, generous authenticity and seemingly lyrical abstract paintings.
His polymorph work is a kaleidoscope that often escapes verbal determination. Vandewege exercises three distinctive forms of arts and crafts, each of which appears to lead a life of its own. However, they share a common dimension. Rik Vandewege's work is mature; it has a background, an unobtrusive philosophical utterance.
The process of developing signs, ideographic symbols and codes-that people use to convey emotions, thoughts and language-captivates Rik Vandewege. Consequently, his art relates to communication. Every form of communication involves a code of some kind. From cuneiform script to Braille print, cultural environment and/or individuals have always conditioned sets of pictograms, sign codes or icons. Rik Vandewege unwittingly falls under the spell of semiotics, i.e. the use of pictures or signs to formulate thoughts, as in the abstract ideogrammatic systems designed by Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure or by Umberto Eco.
Nevertheless, Vandewege's interest in letters and existing linguistic signs is not confined to their quality as a medium for meaning. He also focuses on the linear quality of their graphic expression. Existing letters merely function as an onset to the awakening of one's own writing, which arises from the chaos of a scrawl, a scribble or a spontaneous mimesis of nature. Musical scores tend to show up in his semiotic approach, softly betraying his deep love of music.
Music may well be the most poignant and ecstatic medium of art, but then it is also its most abstract, mathematical and delirious expression. In his book 'Vom Musikalisch-Schönen' (1854), the Viennese musicologist Eduard Hanslick surmises that music possesses its own specific language, exclusively founded on its own means i.e. rhythm, melody, harmony etc. Music is pure art, absolute art, actually the most 'gegenstandslos' or non-representational form of art. When Rik Vandewege inserts staffs in his paintings, he may be referring to Wassily Kandinsky's work.
In his essay 'Über das Geistige in der Kunst' (1910), Kandinsky claimed that form and colour should affect human beings like a melody in music. He found that a painting should, to a certain extent, be an abstract construction where colours and shapes move the onlooker just like a musical tone would move a listener. In the light of some of Kandinsky's titles, such as "Improvisation", it is not by chance that Rik Vandewege's works occasionally bear names such as "Compositions" or "Score".
When contemplating Rik Vandewege's three-dimensional work, one is aware that the sculptor has deliberately done away with the concepts underlying traditional sculpture, notions such as 'mass' or 'volume'.
Much rather than to chisel, to reveal or carve forms out of a given material, Rik Vandewege aims to construct impenetrable models or paradigms. He radically struggles out of the grasp of anecdotal and rhetorical characteristics involved in metaphors of traditional sculpture.
First and foremost, his three-dimensional oeuvre can be described as a play with forms, an analysis and composition of abstract forms that openly challenge the casualness of our day-to-day recognition patterns.
Rik Vandewege's earliest sculptures developed from a dialogue with ceramics. He initiated his sculptor's career as a ceramist. In the late eighties and early nineties, Vandewege devoted himself almost entirely to outright linear zinc or brass sculptures.
In this line, the 2.5 metre high sculpture titled "partituur" [score], from 1987, is a three-dimensional representation of a staff. A cruciform, universal logogram in zinc (1990) alternates with zinc or brass signs that are both resilient and moveable. As of 1998, drawing inspiration from his bond with nature and from a new range of formal possibilities, Rik Vandewege purposefully chose to work with wood, a both warmer and softer material.
However, the artist relentlessly swears by a sort of itemised art in which materials are stripped of their original function. In essence, he remains a formalist or a structuralist who, through appropriation of given materials and simple forms, produces self-willed figures.
One could situate Rik Vandewege in the recent trend towards lighter "open form" sculptures, i.e. abstract compositions that wage a war against stereotypy. His keen interest for (linguistic) signs drove him to work with models, reverse models or templates, which he retrieves and recycles from the furniture industry.
He purloins prefabricated materials and semi-finished products from the wood industry, extracts them from their industrial context and changes them into autonomous sculptures. In this way, he exposes a lampshade by Barcelonian designer José Antonio Coderch, tears it apart and then glues it so as to form a fragile disc. The flawless, airy figure is suggestive, resembles a blow up of a plane shaving and summons up the monumental steel coil spirals by the Frenchman Bernar Venet. Above all, the frail and delicate form has a discrete but compelling poetic resonance.
Rik Vandewege uses veneer to shape huge, circular wheels, an archetypal form and recurring element in both his work and that of other artists such as Delaunay, Kenneth Noland or Vasarely.
This is once again illustrative of Vandewege's passion for ideograms or signs: the circle was described as the most beautiful of all forms by Pythagoras and Plato, it suggests dynamics and constant locomotion, the cyclic lapse of time, infinity, the orbit of celestial bodies or perpetuum mobile.
The simplicity, purity and completeness of the form evoke its sensual qualities and are most likely to appeal to Rik Vandewege, perhaps much more than the mystical or metaphysical dimensions of a circle, like in Ancient Egypt or for the Mayas (the Sun), or else the wheel of life that Buddhism refers to.
Rik Vandewege creates elastic, undetermined compositions that are springy, supple and flexible. Their brittle material may hint at common ground with arte povera, but the affinity ends where it begins. The perishable quality of arte povera is nowhere to be found in Vandewege's work.
Whether he screws or glues together cylindrical shapes or templates from laminated wood, the core of his idea remains that of an open construction in which positive and negative space are outlined, inarticulate but present.
In Rik Vandewege's view, the essence lies in disclosing the structure, in exploring a form of environmental planning in the form of a three-dimensional quest, which tallies with his lectureship "three-dimensional conceptualisation" at the Sint-Lucasinstituut in Ghent. Rik Vandewege creates intact, streamlined and original forms that in fact obey a complex structure. A pylon lying flat out, for which he actually departed from a cone, is illustrative of the experimental aspect in his work, with the emphasis on investigating complex structures.
As far as the methodical approach is concerned, Vandewege is on the same wavelength as Japanese artist Tadashi Kawamata (1947). However, the latter has a more intellectual approach of deconstructivism, in which crumbling and fragmentation into segments play an important role. Rik Vandewege is initially subdued by the complexity of a shape, and then gradually discovers its harmony. He can doubtless relate to the statement made by Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi: "The greatest diversity and complexity are to be found precisely in the simplest forms". It is obvious that, in the process of creating, Vandewege rather focuses on the form that is not there, the absent or reverse form.
At times, his work leaves the impression of a work in progress. He glues and screws the beechwood boards of a slatted base together into a composition from which the elasticity and functional nature of the material have withdrawn. He changes it into an arrangement with an enigmatic dimension. By ridding commodities of their utilitarian aspects, he approaches the crux of artistic matter, as Oscar Wilde once put it: "All art is perfectly useless". At times, the lath is scattered at random, and the result is evocative of chaos, chance and disorder. In other words, arbitrariness is invited to exercise its unconstrained rule. This tallies with the complexity and disintegration of reality.
He uses scraps of wooden furniture and doors to create a relief and hang it on a wall; or else he assembles undetermined organic forms from battered roll-down shutters and other residues. In this way, the artist constantly challenges our consistent conceptual representation, thus defying predictability.
Rik Vandewege also draws his raw material from nature or from whatever is branded by nature. He conjures up peculiar, abstract forms with an organic profile, clad in a sheathing of bamboo sticks.
At times, some of his curvilinear objects are reminiscent of Richard Deacon's organic "metaphors".
Rik Vandewege acknowledges some kinship to the 'New British Sculpture' movement which, in the early eighties, kindled a revival of sculptural aspects such as the implementation of reverse form models, recycling of industrial materials and piling. Vandewege also makes abundant use of piling techniques in his work, mainly with pallets. A geometric structure of stacked pallets, well integrated in the environing space, is a telling example of Vandewege's minute attention to integration and set-up. Once again, the casing and the reverse form are essential. The skeleton-like frame features taut lines that are determined both by the space within and the space around it.
The 'composition' element appears to be a key concept here: a regular disposition and order with respect to the position and proportion of components.
Rik Vandewege can by no means be identified with minimal art. It is too impersonal, too clean and too mechanical in its approach. However, minimal art broke a lance for three-dimensional form in its purest quality, i.e. as a naked, formal structure where positive, material components and negative, empty components are equivalent. In this way, Sol Le Witt stripped his work of all undesired masses until only a sort of 'carcasses' remained. It is difficult not to indulge in hedging an artist in or defining his approach in terms of history of art, but to do this for Rik Vandewege would unhappily lead to overlooking the subtle poetic expression in his creations.
Vandewege may indeed cruise in the waters of abstract constructivism, Bauhaus etc.-or at least follow the same streams of thought. However, it is by no means true that he slakes his creative thirst with Bauhaus; nor that he is in any way indebted to Russian constructivism. It occurs to him as overly simplistic to summarise his own vision of art as a process of reducing everything to geometric forms. At best, he would acknowledge certain affinities with what the 20th century produced within that framework.
geheimen, 2000 cederhout, 400 x 400 x 100 cm
zonder titel, 1999, fineerhout, 35 x 35 x 44,5 cmzonder titel, 1999, kastanjehout, 182 x 80 x 80 cm
zonder titel, 1999, eik, 180 x 44 x 48 cm
kompositie, 1999, staal, 97 x 318 x 120 cmzonder titel, 1999, hout, 77 x 259 x 77cm
zonder titel, 1999, hout, 3delig a.92 x 133 x 95, 5cm -b. 96, 5 x 94,5 x 91cm -c.96,5 x 100 x 46 cmzonder titel , 1999, hout,36 x 98, 5 x 43 cm zonder titel, 2002, hout 600 x 600 x 120 cm
After a breather from 1989 to 1991, Rik Vandewege took up his inborn passion for ceramics again.
As a matter of fact, the main features of his overall plastic vision strikingly come to the fore in his ceramics. His eye for reverse models (plaster moulds) and the idea of carving graphic script on the clay surface are recurring elements.
As for his three-dimensional sculptures, Vandewege remains consistent in his principle of "formal simplicity with complex elaboration".
In the eighties, his approach was still explicitly sculptural, and his 'compositions' were assembled of clay sheets that did not join seamlessly.
After 1992, the flawless pot in its quality as an 'objet d'art' or object gained the upper hand again. His pots are not turned on the potter's wheel; they are assembled with clay sheets (sheeting technique). Rik Vandewege rolls out, kneads and moulds sheets of clay, then cuts them up and shapes them into a larger form. The processing of clay spontaneously gives rise to graphic expression, but he also adds new signs on the clay surfaces. He then resorts to a reverse plaster mould to obtain a positive clay model. He presses the scratched sheets of clay in the plaster mould.
Rik Vandewege clearly dissociates himself from functional ceramics by deliberately leaving the holes and cuts that occur in the clay sheets. The firing technique-using a double-walled gas kiln-is based on the actual processing of clay. Vandewege placed a muffle in his kiln, a sort of refractory casing used to avoid contact between the product and the flames or fumes while heating it up. In this way, he can use a low-firing technique at a very high temperature (1,200° Celsius). In the muffle, the pottery is coated with tainted silt and wrapped in hay. As a result of this muffled firing in a low-oxygen atmosphere, a spellbinding spectrum of subtle mud colours and shades appear on the rough surface of the pots, ranging from brownish to light grey and dark, black hues. On the sides, faint traces of musical signs or scores can be identified. As a ceramist, Rik Vandewege does not depart from his principle of closely monitoring harmonious set-up and disposition. It is not without reason that he gives the name of "still life" to his ceramics' compositions. In an ascetic of ethereal environment, his creations are conducive to meditation and contemplation. His archetypes, his primitive forms radiate originality and reflect a trend towards asceticism. In essence, this work thrives on its ethnic or primitive dimension, which echoes the authenticity of archaeological relics.
stilleven 2002, hoogte 48-50 cm
stilleven 2002, hoogte 35-38 cm
stilleven 2002, hoogte 27-30 cm
stilleven 2002, hoogte 16-22 cm
stilleven 2002, hoogte 52-53 cm
stilleven 2002, hoogte 39-41 cm
As a painter, Rik Vandewege was reluctant to give in to figurative Neo-expressionism in the eighties or identify with the intimate School of Antwerp in the nineties. He is not trendy, much rather an Einzelgänger who pursues his own abstract-oriented quest. Since he rather defines himself as a draughtsman-aquarellist than as a painter, he quite consistently resorts to acryl on paper. The keynote still consists of sign notation and music script, which underlie the subdued tone of his style. Shreds of scores and staffs, traces of graphic design and abstract clues are barely concealed behind a thin veil of delicate, transparent layers of paint. Not only do titles such as "Score" or "Compositions" produce a melodic undertone: at times, Vandewege actually paints directly on scores. He freely admits his kinship with the Lyrical Abstraction that asserted itself in post-war Belgium. He is overtly appreciative of Louis Van Lint's overpowering, intuitive idiom, of the forceful signs in Antoine Mortier's action painting or the pictorial, graphical style of Informal Art. The spirit of Vandewege's paintings is deeply rooted in the creator's Dionysian character. At the same time, his works extend and evolve in the realms of possible interpretations to be deciphered and decoded by the onlooker. They can be characterised as 'open works' or, as Umberto Eco worded it once, as 'opera aperta'.
zonder titel, 2001, acrylverf op papier, 49,5 x 49,5 cm . kompositie, 1999, acrylverf op papier, 29,5 x 29,5 cm
zonder titel, 2001, acrylverf op papier, 49,5x49,5 cm
zonder titel, 2001, acrylverf op papier, 29,5 x 29,5 cm
zonder titel, 2001, acrylverf op papier, 49,5 x 49,5 cm