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Hans Op de Beeck's Monochrome Life

Words:

Edd Norval
April 10, 2019

Artists often give us a fresh perspective using (in part) colour, creating a technicolour dreamscape or using muted colours for mood. Belgian artist Hans Op de Beeck does neither. In his world, all colour is gone, to the very last detail. His worlds are immersive challenges to our perception, ones that take us back to a time when film was black and white and our idea of the world was similar.

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There's no use in pretending. When we see documentation of life before colour film and photography, it's hard to imagine that it was in colour at all. Of course it was, but since we haven't seen it, our brains are forced to fill in too much of the blanks. It's a puzzle without enough clues. Instead of trying to fill those in, de Beeck transports us slap bang into a scene and gives us that odd experience of being the only thing in colour there.


It's hard to imagine anything that strains our senses more than this shift. Even life upside down is something we've all seen before. His world's are monochromatic, but, as with real life, it's essentially just shades of grey. When we experience colour in our daily lives, usually through the media, it's a battle for the key cortex of our mind. Taking that away gives us a strange break from our normal lives - both the ones we choose and the ones that choose us.

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De Beeck is predominantly an installation artist. Even his sculptural works are deeply connected with their environment and the way we perceive them. It's when he creates larger pieces that he is at his most immersive though. These pieces (some as large as 2,600 square feet) absorb the world of its context and give us a clean slate upon which to bestow our own.


Taking away is one aspect, but these environments do as much giving as removing. They're introspective and meditative spaces, but the audience also become the 'life', in that any colour comes from their presence. This same audience uniquely also becomes the artist, understanding the world through their own palette.


A certain melancholy looms over the figures, as if the world being stripped of colour has removed something from them. There's certain ironic features, part of his world that exist in a tragi-comedic way. In a sense, above all, it seems staged, cinematic and theatrical. As such, his worlds are dreamworlds.

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An official statement on de Beeck reads, "Above all, Op de Beeck is keen to stimulate the viewers’ senses, and invite them to really experience the image. He seeks to create a form of visual fiction that delivers a moment of wonder, silence and introspection."


Clearly, his art is more experience than just seeing. It's about being in it more than just being around it. They exist within our world, certainly, but the theatrical elements push our senses to new frontiers.


The texture and substance behind the pieces challenge us to believe they're real, although the monochromatic palette keep the pieces at a distance. We see the figures that inhabit his world as people that we can place our own psyche onto, characters in an imaginary realm who can tell their story, even if just for ourselves.


Op De Beeck is a storyteller that leaves some parts missing, so much so that we must colour in his world and in doing so, tell our own story. His artworks, devoid of colour are there to be coloured by us, they're templates for a new way of seeing the world.

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