About

‘XXX’

In this new artistic venture anno 2018 Lisse Declercq takes time and space to make a personal inventory, mark a point of change, and brace for the future. By her own accord she learns these painting techniques by watching make-up tutorials on YouTube. This doesn’t take anything away from the fact that the complexity and the control are increasingly and effectively put in place in these audacious portraits where she plays out the promise of perfection, against the thin mask of nihilistic irony.

At first glance, earlier work by Declercq read into them as a monumental, fragmentary “profile page” of a group of stereotype, namely blond women, bathing in artificial light that seems to be saturated by generic Instagram filters. These models posed in ways that would portray attraction as well as discomfort and apathy. Hooking into the erotic aesthetics of ad campaigns, popular clothing lines or movies, Declercq photographs and paints people from her inner circle. Walking the thin line between shallowness and depth she construes so-called “social self portraits” (example: “Her Layout wouldn’t be right” 2017). Often it feels as like Declercq wants to give us a glimpse of what it’s like “behind-the- scenes” through the camera but at the same time she wants to collude the spontaneity of unguarded moments which in turn clash with the conscious overdone construe. The embedding in discomfort gives the viewer access to the stratification of the composition and urges continuously the re-evaluating of the sunshine and rainbows status quo.

In recent times these forbidden fruits seem to have made way for even richer constellations and with her new work she marks another milestone. Declercq’s energetic but purposeful orchestrated scenes still bulge from the playful allegorical symbolism, but the excess is now questioned in a new and clear manner.It’s weighed against consideration and mediocrity. This is how she dives deeper into the interference of classical painting but still in a joyful, gracious and seemingly effortless tone: everything dances.

The monumental painting “XXX” shows seven characters who, entangled in an unwavering choreography portray this sort of parody of a “de crucifixion”. For the first time at play here with this game with gravity: painted men. She still uses her own friends to model for her but this time she positions herself much more solid into a concrete artistic network. Through her chosen motives and image citations Declercq gives a big nudge to her historic predecessors. Think of Max Ernst’s “Das Rendezvous der Freunde” (1922), Ingres’ “Jupiter en Thetis” (1811), or the Prerrafaelitas who adapted plays of Shakespeare to Mannerism and of course to Rubens and the baroque arts. By combining these influences with an actual photographic look she models a whiff of glamour.

In real life the artist group that Declercq has been portraying for a number of years operates from the north of Amsterdam. But, in the near future they will be forced to look for other (more rural) areas to set up shop. This is the necessary departure from a city that at crucial moments in the world’s history had been the safe-haven for the open minded: a sign of the times.

The suggestive title “XXX” emphasises this story. It’s a referral to the coat of arms of Amsterdam as well as a well-known means of saying goodbye we often use for communication like a text message or a letter. She also uses this to point at the duality of censorship. Think about how sex and pornography are being advertised in the public eye especially in a city like Amsterdam. By sticking it up for the “playing man” Lisse displays a form of mistrust against normality. The artist merely shrouds the precise point where game and gravitas meet. Hereby she marks the relativity of freedom.

She doesn’t shy away from taking the risk to sublime and embrace the “big questions”. This piece wants to be universal and singular at the same time. After all there is a etymological connection between concepts like cosmetics and the cosmos. In the mythologising of the self as a rational entity Declercq shows her connectedness and involvement with current (art) events. The brilliance lies in the way she delicately develops a visual language we all think to know well and she bends it to the point that no longer denies how hard our human image and our capability to exercise empathy on a daily basis are under constant scrutiny. Her conclusion is not bittersweet but hopeful.

This is a woman who can symbolise her world (literally a merging of space and time) in a powerful way. This way she addresses the growing lack in our ever changing society. She formulates her reaction to this with the magic of potential.

Wim Van der Celen, March 2018, Antwerp

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Three cheers for the future, it looks bright. It has gotten pink linings and is chromy blue in the shadows to be precise. Beautiful pastel green pearl and saturated yellow also appears to be in there as well. And what’s even better this painted world, apparently provided by a permanent instant Instagram filter is teeming with ostentatiously female beauty. The world that Lisse Declercq depicts seems to smell like raspberries and strawberries. Not the real ones but rather the artificial chemically enhanced additives that are being used in candy and sleazy energy drinks and there is also a hint of stale beer.
Lisse Declercq shows pictures as well as life-size paintings. Both are being populated by her scarcely dressed friends. We could consider this a form of social self-portraits. The pictures and the paintings are two strategies within the same story. On the one hand the photographic side of things provides footage for the paintings. On the other hand they are autonomous works of a photographic study in which she records things that we do not see the paintings. In the paintings Declercq uses the medium inherent ambiguity to formulate a battle between lust and satiation. Also colours are being saturated and exist somewhere inbetween the temptations of sexy advertising and sickening poison. In the autonomous pictures we see Declercq looking at this with a different eye, and the struggle between attraction and repulsion is conducted in a different manner. Here we see the same women depicted but the pace is different, playful even and the color palette is different.
In the pictures as well as in the paintings the women play a major role and almost always bathe in blue and pink lighting. This in a sense is reminiscent of the central figures from the painting ‘Levensvreugde’ by Henry Matisse. Although these are quite different styled, they also received outlines of reds and blues. Also in Declercq’s case the ladies embody the mysterious atmosphere of the orgy, bathing in sensuality and decadence. With Declercq however the saturation and sensory overstimulation prevail. These are certainly not the fêtes galantes that take place in a timeless Arcadia. The women lie there like a pack of lionesses in a nature documentary lying to digest after the meal, and musingly staring into the plains. The environment, in which they are exhibitioned like on a platter, is no beige savannah but exists mostly out of ambiguous utensils. Often these are props which we can read as stereotypes of the opposite sex. The objects are explicitly reduced to a supporting role, a direct object, as a pedestal for a piece of art. In the pictures, the focus is often on textures of glossy packaging materials with which the area is filled. The shining surfaces of empty glass beverage bottles and plastic packaging refer to another way of emptiness and our urge to dispose, both literally and metaphorically.
With the apathetic dominance in which Declercq lets her scantily clad girlfriends dominate the environment you can surely make up that the lionesses are on the prowl and are potentially dangerous themselves. Here lies the true moral paradox which Declercq’s work describes. The assumed vulnerability of the ladies becomes an accurate weapon. However, because of the intense, direct and shameless seduction we want to believe the contrary. The flesh is weak, we are like insects drawn to the beautiful carnivorous flower. Because of the distinct focus on the facial expression of the depicted, it is confirmed that her depicted girlfriends are in fact hyper self-conscious carnivores themselves. The look on the faces of men, with the eyes on the foreside of the head is after all the face of a predator. Also Declercq’s painted representation of Mary, the immaculate conceive, is saying that she is aware of the inherent unreliability of the ultimate display of the goodness of the woman. What is the mother of God after all but a fascinating but strange thought construct of man.
The game or the interaction between the documentary and the creative side is momentarily crucial to place the work of Declercq. In this interaction we see analogies with how people create characters of themselves in social media. In the use of color and lighting of the characters she refers repeatedly to sugary color codes that are reminiscent of the generic photo filter apps like Instagram. Declercq, who in her stagings made very clear that this is not a harmless, escapist intoxication as it is imposed on us by the media and advertising. She reminds us precisely that the sociological mechanisms that we appoint aloof as for example advertising and media are often euphemisms to disguise how we treat another. Because she knows only too well that we see ourselves through the other, referring to The Looking Glass Self by Charles Cooley, Declercq shows us a powerful mirror in a refined way. The main reflection is how mercilessly we are ourselves to ourselves. This is how Lisse Declercq stages her “social selfies” the self-poisoning of the selfieculture. She is fully aware of the moral codes she is challenging but never does this in a moralizing way. She arms herself against the world as Mithrades, the Greek king who daily took a watered down dose of poison so that he might be immune to the poison delivered to him by another.

 

Wim Van Der Celen, April 2016, Antwerp