The truth-telling tales of artist Stef Renard

The work of Stef Renard (1991), a visiting artist at our residency for emerging Belgian artists for the past three months, pairs  neighbourhood memories with global movements in a bid to reveal superlative statements for tomorrow’s generation. Taking as starting point his early interest in the hardcore and straight edge subcultures – shaped as they are by a propensity for the promulgation of moral ideologies and radical thinking – his approach is defined by a capacity to take some distance from his subject matter and set it within a more approachable, accessible even, context.  In an extensive interview, we talk initial plans, ideas and ideals with the Limburg-born and based artist.

Join us this Saturday from 18hoo as artists Rachel Gruijters and Stef Renard will mark the end of their three-month residency by talking us through their new and on-going body of work.

What were your original ideas and intentions at the start of working on this new series?

I had a lot of plans when starting the residency, and I worked on all of them. It may not have been the best or most productive idea I’ve ever had but that was my starting point. Some of the new works I was planning to produce are part of an ongoing project and next to that I started working on a new series. The intent was to work on all this at the same time to try and see which connections I could make between them, and to try and find new meanings and visual touching points of and between the works.

As we grow (excerpts from ‘As we grow’ by Standard Issue), Charcoal on paper, 150x200cm, 2016

As we grow (excerpts from ‘As we grow’ by Standard Issue), Charcoal on paper, 150x200cm, 2016

What would you say was its starting point?

The ongoing project ‘L.T.T.C.’ (Last Train To Cool) started with my discovery of an American band from Washington D.C., ‘The Nation of Ulysses’. Their self-proclaimed ‘anti-parent culture sound’ that they elaborately backed up with their propaganda in zines named ‘Ulysses Speaks’ proclaimed a reformation of life. Teenagers should never grow older than 18 years old. Exclude their own parents as they have taken part in a world which proclaimed the West and their capitalistic ideals as the sole truth. A futuristic view which proclaims to reject any form of nostalgia.


A new series I started working on instigated from my interest in the hardcore and straight edge music scene from the nineties. In contrast to their aggressive sound and visual language the lyrics of the bands surprisingly speak about a wide variety of things. The straight edge ideal being one of its main characteristics. Demonstrating against the use of alcohol and drugs to call on keeping a clear mind above all. In its further development it also spoke clearly against promiscuous sex and the convention of eating meat. However there is also a more general moral ideology present in the words these bands write. This sense of an underground community drawn together by positive moral ideals was something that intrigued me. In response I’m trying to create some works around this music scene and the lyrics.

Is there something very specific you’re hoping the series will express/communicate?

Next to a series of portraits of teenagers this project consists of text works containing a selection of lyrics from straight edge groups. These text works communicate in a straightforward way their specific opinions and moral values. The hardcore lyrics often speak about the struggles of growing up, maintaining friendships and the purity of their own beliefs but also about their resentment against certain political ideas, worldly problems and issues which affect their young public in a more direct way. For example the use of drugs, alcohol and the problematic construction of society. Speaking very loudly and with a certain aggression in their tone, they manage to resonate important ideals, generating positive support to young people who are drawn by these ideals and the loud music.

I’m trying to bring about a dialogue between the morals and ideals communicated in the straight edge scene and the teenagers at present.

By connecting these lyrics with portraits I made of teenagers, I’m trying to bring about a dialogue between the morals and ideals communicated in the straight edge scene and the teenagers at present. The actual presence of bigger ideals and subcultures in the life of young people growing up today is something I’m very interested in. Howver I think it is difficult to make any actual statements about this. As a visual artist it is never my goal to make a study to any extent. Even so in using the very outspoken ideology of the straight edge movement I knowingly choose to hint at a community of young people that were very much involved and connected to each other and to politics.

Can you talk to us about your approach in general?

I think my works are always born out of a close and personal view on specific themes. For example, when I’m trying to say something about youth, subcultures and growing up it is always instructed out of certain personal experiences or relationships to particular themes. A lot of my work is also centred around the area I grew up in. This is not only visible through visual elements present in my work but is more tangible in a more distant and calm view on the themes I’m working on.

Informationboard (2) 2016

Growing up as a teenager in a small town obsessed with the subculture of skateboarding I was far away from its epicentre. As all the videos and skaters I watched were mostly from the United States. The parks and spots they skated in were as far from my home as possible. Nonetheless me and my friends tried to emulate these in the setting that was common for us. I feel that the distant view I had back then serves as a metaphor for the way that most subcultures or popular culture relate to the place I grew up in. The perspective that this relationship creates to specific themes largely dictates my approach on them within my work. I feel comfortable working from this perspective as it provides me with a sort of naturally detached point of view on certain things. The gaze I portray on my subject matter is also often slow in nature. Sometimes even removed from the actual events or actions. For example I chose not to work around the actual concerts and events still organised around the straight edge scene today. It would not fit the nature of my work and maybe not even with my personality. Looking back at certain historical events and working around their remainders tilts more towards my practice. It enables me to take time to contemplate on my subject matter. And it also provides an interesting soundboard to work around and to reflect onto contemporary aspects.


How would you say this series fits in with your wider body of work?

I’m still very young so I don’t think I’ve built something that can carry the term ‘body of work’ yet. However I did notice that with working on new things that I’ve been creating and thinking of smaller projects or series. Before I was more fixated on trying to create bigger series and maybe through that I missed out on creating some works as they wouldn’t fit in my fixed mind- or outset. In the end things sometimes work together in ways I didn’t figure out before.

Can you talk to us about how you see your own work? How would you describe it?

A lot of my work is born out of very personal experiences, so for me certain things are present that a viewer may not see or feel. However I try my best to create something that speaks in a more universal way about the ideas I touch on.

In the end things sometimes work together in ways I didn’t figure out before.

If I had to describe my work in general I think it is very much grounded by the approach I take within my practice. As I said earlier my work is very much affected by the removed and calm nature correlated by the specific relationship I have to my subject matter. The work I create reflects this distant mood and is sometimes about the neighbourhoods that I grew up in as well. Connecting these with bigger ideals and ideas about youth culture and subcultures I try to portray a unique and approachable viewpoint on these aspects. Maybe even making them accessible for young people not directly involved in the arts.

What is your preferred medium for exhibiting your work? Book? Solo show? Group exhibition?

I don’t think I truly prefer one over the other. As an artist I try to build up a practice of works that communicate to each other, that tell a bigger story. So the controlled setting and attention to detail I can maintain in setting up a solo show or a book is the preferred medium for doing this.

With a small collective I’ve set up together with friends called ‘Pikaia’ we have been organizing small group shows during the last couple of years. Working around themes that interest us, it has become an engaging extension of our own practice. The themes sometimes range far beyond elements we would work around in our own personal work. Creating a second way to reflect on certain themes and on building up shows, creating a different outlook.


Who would you say was instrumental in shaping your work?

There are few people I trust when I’m ready to have some feedback on new work or ideas I’ve been working on. And a few personal friends who are also artists that know my practice and approach well enough to be able to give feedback to work when it’s still in an early stage. These may have some influence in the final creation of the work. Personally I believe that my work is very much shaped by the person that I am. Of course this is inspired by certain artists, contemporary or older, which I’m truly inspired by.
To have your work considered for the residency, visit our website