The pertinent eclecticism of Dieter Ravyts

The most recent exhibition of Dendermonde-born, Ghent-based Dieter Ravyts (1988), entitled A Major Disappointment, is on display until Sunday 11th of June in Ghent’s Tatjana Pieters art gallery. With the show coming to a close, we had a brief get-together with Ravyts in which he shares the vision, motivation and working process behind his vivid paintings and artworks, and why contemporary art should take up a disruptive place in today’s society.

Photography by We Document Art, all images courtesy of Tatjana Pieters.

At its core, what is your work about? What is its starting point and statement?

I like the fact that painting is a very direct and human way of making images, using your body to create an image in this material called paint. But painting as we know it is becoming less and less relevant in the realm of imagery. I’m afraid it won’t be around as a form that is of any artistic value in about hundred years. It seems to be losing its functions, and is drawing its last breath. What I want to do is give it a final goodbye – even if it is a little bit of a cynical one. For instance by painting a poster, instead of designing it on a computer and then printing it. In a way, it’s a really idiotic thing to do because it’s so time-consuming. Painting is basically a guy in his fifties’ trying to be relevant but constantly failing.

Can you talk to us about your approach in general? What characterizes your work? How do you actually work on a piece, from start to finish?

It depends on the work, but I generally start with an idea. For me, it’s important to have a concept at the core of an artwork, even if it’s a rather simple one. It’s the “raison d’être” of the work. Without it, art can appear pretty “soul-less”. I also make it a point to not start from an already existing image, for instance I would never take a photo and then turn it into a painting. Nor would I start painting and see where the act of painting itself takes me. Perhaps that will change someday – but for now, I always need an idea as my starting point. Then, it’s all just a matter of finding the appropriate form for it.

What I want to do is give [painting] a final goodbye – even if it is a little bit of a cynical one.

Who would you say was instrumental in shaping your artistic practice?

It’s hard to say – I really enjoy works by Picasso, especially his cubistic stuff; and these clearly had some influence on my own work. I’m generally drawn to the whole modernist period: the movement where they shattered all existing conventions – even if we are still bizarrely subjected to them. Cubist paintings are like laboratories of experimentation, or explorations into the unknown. There’s also an inherent inquisitive struggle involved. I also like that they are ugly and don’t please the viewer – some of these painting are still quite shocking by today’s standards.

What are the challenges you face as an artist working in Belgium today?

Dutch art critic Anna Tilroe published a pamphlet entitled De ja-sprong in 2010, in which she poignantly describes how the global art market is gaining more and more power. Because of the diminishment of grants for the arts by Western governments – including Belgium’s – museums are forced to find funding elsewhere. Or in order to draw in larger crowds, they’ll show more accessible (and often not that interesting) art, and in turn try to get funding from private investors. This sadly makes art more sensitive to economic and political interests, taking away power from museum directors and placing them in the hands of private collectors.

[Contemporary art] should be a disruptive force in society, confronting society with new ideas and different perspectives.

An artist also has to take a stance: either he can concede to the market and become an entrepreneur, or he can try and undermine it as a subversive artist with political and social topics, whilst thriving as an alternative in obligatory intellectual debates and progressive discourse. How to respond to this conundrum is a challenge for all Western artists today.

Talk to us about the people around you, your local scene. To what extent does it inspire and influence you?

I mostly hang out with other fellow painters, such as Wim De Pauw, Michiel Ceulers, Dieter Durinck and Pieter Van Troos to name a few. I find our discussions quite inspiring; exchanging our favourite artists, literature, music and so on. I also have a kind of friendly rivalry with them which is quite motivating. I also founded an artist collective called We Don’t Entertain Much, mostly consisting of artists working across different media – as opposed to just painting. We get together about once a month to discuss each other’s works. Also, Julien Meert, Michael Vanden Abeele and Walter Swennen are some Belgian contemporary artists I admire a lot.

To you, what role should contemporary art occupy in the community?

It should be a disruptive force in society, confronting society with new ideas and different perspectives. It should also be a free haven for taboos and the darker parts of human life; a place for the absurd and marginal. It should be able to question the foundations of society.