In conversation with Piet Raemdonck

OTOMYS: Piet, Congratulations on this new body of work! We know that you have a strong connection to nature and the land.  What has been your inspiration for this series and how has it evolved?


Piet Raemdonck: This series is about the surrounding landscape where I live.  I returned to this countryside location on the border between Belgium and the Netherlands and where I spent my childhood, 3 years ago. I wake up and go to sleep with nature.  I have come to observe nature in a more intense way for certain, and it feels like a privilege to be sitting in the front seat to see seasons evolve. The area I live in is rather specific: this is the estuary where the river Schelde meets the North Sea, a land with traditionally low fields (polders) surrounded by dykes to protect them from the sea. There are several creeks strewn in the landscape that are remains of medieval flooding. Belgium is densely built, but this is a very open landscape. I love the perspectives you get here. These very new works are embedded in a practice of landscape painting that started in my early teens..and so I thought it made sense to include a few older landscapes. DETIFOSS is a big panoramic scene from my trip to Iceland back in 2019, and there’s the painting VELD going back as far as 2008, which has come out of a private collection.


OTOMYS: Your work is permeated by a sense of ‘wanderlust’.  Without the freedom to travel this year, how have you captured that sense of escapism in your work?


Piet Raemdonck: Connecting with nature is and has always been very important to me. When I was living in Antwerp, experiencing nature involved traveling and was not a daily routine in my life. That has changed now. Here going for walks is almost a daily practice and during the pandemic was bliss. When friends visit, I often hear them say that they feel like they’re on vacation; something I love to hear. I definitely think that painting can be a place to escape and a way to travel.  I tend not to paint in a very ‘realistic’ way, but rather try to keep the image ‘open to interpretation’. If someone sees a rock where I painted a tree, I ‘m ok with that. I do find it important to recall an atmosphere I experienced but try to do it in the loosest way possible. I like the image to appear ‘somewhere in between’.


OTOMYS: How has the theory of colour influenced your landscape paintings?  There appears to be a feeling of optimism in your colour selection for this series.


Piet Raemdonck: I think ideas from the colour theory permeate all of my work, but the landscape is of course a great way to observe how colours interact. I like to pick specific ideas from the colour theory; trying to work as much as possible with only a complimentary colour-pair for example, or paint with only RGB (RedGreenBlue). Or paint a CMY(CyanMagentaYellow) under-layer that shines through the painting like mother of pearl. You say optimism… Well…nature can have this quality of ecstatic rejoice. Or be like a balm on the spirit. We all know that. I’m not afraid to come close to kitsch in my landscapes. I like to study the painterly approach of amateur painters, or the work of other artists. The honesty in their artistic solutions inspire me.  Being fashionably cool is not what I want.


OTOMYS: The layering of colour and texture is integral to your practice.  What effect does this have on the overall composition?


Piet Raemdonck: You should know that I greatly admire the work of Pierre Bonnard and I’m not a fan of Renoir. And a lot of that has to do with the textures in their work. Layering and texture can add a lot of depth and atmosphere to a painting. They are like chords in music. Seeing things simultaneously is a bit like hearing things simultaneously. However, using layering and texture can also be easy effect which makes them a dangerous thing. I’m cautious not to rely on the thrill of textures alone. When a painting is very rich in texture, I think it’s smart to double check the strength of its naked shapes. I think I try to work with contrast to outbalance things…when I painted something very rich, I like to add something very simple, or even silly. When I’ve been subtle, I will bring in something bold or even aggressive to oppose that.  


OTOMYS:  Piet, we know that you like to work on a very large scale when painting?  How do you decide on the finished size of an image?


Piet Raemdonck: I love both the small and the very large scale. But they have a very different character. A 40 x 40cm canvas creates an almost immediate intimacy between you and the painting. Huge scales on the other hand seem to allow one to walk right into what’s there. In the case of the LAND series, I did something ‘dramatically’ different from what I’m used to. I knew that the canvas had to be taken off the stretcher anyway for shipping, then stretched again upon arrival. I decided to use this maybe cumbersome given to my advantage. And allow myself to decide at the very end of the painting process what the size of the canvas would be. That is a very different approach. You’re painting in kind of a ‘field’ that is far less restricted on its outskirts … you are less in control of the boundaries of your composition. Then in the end comes the framing decision, which is an artistic decision in its own right. I believe it’s good to make that decision as ‘free’ as possible. Letting go of maybe ‘good parts’ of what you painted, to allow a new image and a new energy to emerge.


OTOMYS:  What has the atmosphere been like in your studio this past year?


Piet Raemdonck: My studio has undergone tremendous renovation works in the last year: roof, walls, windows, floors, you name it. So now I feel like working in a very new and fresh place. I’m painting right next to a huge window overlooking the landscape. My studio is not facing inwards but rather outwards. It creates a very special atmosphere. 


OTOMYS:  Do you listen to music whilst painting and if so what genre do you enjoy most?


Piet Raemdonck: When it comes to music… I would typically use it while organising the studio before I paint, as a way of energising the space. I might paint with music and all genres are welcome really or in silence. I switch. The painting is in a way the residue of a dance. And the dancer can dance in silence too. 


OTOMYS: As the winter months draw closer in Europe what are you most looking forward to doing? 


Piet Raemdonck: I feel very inspired I must say, and sense next levels in my art. This will be a working winter; my first winter with a state of the art heating system in my studio. We installed a geothermic installation throughout the studio and house. In Northern Europe that’s a rather nice feeling.

December 14, 2021