Nathalie Wolberg and Tim Stokes

The Antwerp Hundreds

Portraits of a city's people, today

To mark the release of our Warriors edition, we've teamed up with This is Antwerp to bring you 100 Antwerp Warriors, a 100-strong selection of local movers and shakers setting the tone for the neighbourhood of tomorrow. From design and architecture to contemporary art and politics, these are the creatives shaping the narrative of the future.

Nathalie Wolberg and Tim Stokes

Nathalie Wolberg and Tim Stokes

Owners, Paris Texas

Can you describe what you do? Where you are based, the neighbourhood you live in, your daily routine, the people you work with, the scene you feel the closest to.

Tim: The idea of Paris Texas was originally to open a multifunctional event space to rent for all sorts of occasions, that could also serve as a gallery space. Now that we separated these two functions, it is used much more as a gallery. But not in the classical sense – we don’t represent artists or charge commission. We have a democratic approach in which we only ask an affordable rent for the use of the exhibition space. We also organise our own exhibitions and group shows here. This year we will invite our friend, Ghent artist Wouter Van Loo as a curator. Het will put together a program of approximately four exhibitions throughout the year. The first one will be during the Antwerp Art Weekend (that runs from 19th to 21st May) and will show the work of up and coming Antwerp female artists. We will also organise a second edition of ‘the really really affordable art fair’, in which we offer young artists the opportunity to show and sell their work. Prices have to stay under 1000€ to make their art accessible to a wider public. This time we selected four local and international artists each with a different approach to drawing.

Nathalie: This space and the fact that we organize our own group exhibitions here, is a great tool to meet different kinds of people and to build a network. In the beginning we didn’t have any knowledge of the local Antwerp art scene nor connections to this world. Paris Texas brought that to us. All the artists on show here bring their own network and so our reach is getting bigger. This despite our location in the old sailor’s quartier of Antwerp, a very quiet part of the city. When we arrived here, people told us this was the next area to boom, but that never really happened. Most of the Antwerp galleries are located elsewhere and we don’t have a lot passers-by, which is not good for the visibility of Paris Texas. But we like the slow easy going feel, and the mix of artists and young families that live here, which you can’t find in Borgerhout for example.

I would say the main creative appeal of this city, and of Belgium in general, is it’s strong own identity. This is very inspiring and is reflected in all disciplines.

How do you perceive Antwerp? In your view, what kind of city is it? Its people, its cultural landscape, its vibe? How does it compare to other, similarly sized cities?

Nathalie: For us, Antwerp was the only place worth leaving Paris for. We were living together in a great house in Paris, but when the lack of studio space for Tim became a problem the idea of moving out from my beloved city was great for me. Also the housing prices in Paris are crazy. By coincidence we arrived in Antwerp and immediately fell for the creativity and dynamic atmosphere that you can feel just walking through the city.

Tim: The interesting contradiction about Antwerp is that it’s a small city, but in some disciplines it reaches an international level. There’s a lot going on here, you have the whole fashion industry, the oldest art academy of Europe, a shopping district that is comparable with that of a city like Paris and much more still. And I’m not into contemporary dance, but institutions like deSingel have a great, international program. Architecture-wise it’s not the most beautiful city, but because of those things it’s a great place to live. The location of Antwerp is also fantastic. In two hours you can go anywhere, to great cities, museums and exhibitions. You don’t feel confined here, like you would in a little village in the south of France for instance.

What would you say is Antwerp’s main appeal for creatives? What gives the city its edge?

Nathalie: I would say the main creative appeal of this city, and of Belgium in general, is it’s strong own identity. This is very inspiring and is reflected in all disciplines. For example, you cannot compare Belgian design with design anywhere else in the world. I think the people here are aware of that and are very proud of it. Encouraged by the incredible entrepreneurial spirit and dynamism, people are very participative in maintaining Antwerp as an important cultural hub.

Tim: I think this country underwent an identity crisis and suffered light schizophrenia because of the historical presence of the Netherlands and France. I think the creativity and surrealism is born out of this rebellion against everything that surrounds it. If you have resentment towards certain people, you are not going to copy them. You just try to do the exact opposite. I think this tension has put that to the surface in Belgium and that’s why this small little area is so creative. Another strength of Antwerp is its diversity. There are so many people here from different sides of the world that bring their own history and ideas and incorporate that in the melting pot that is Antwerp. That also adds to the identity of Antwerp and is a plus in comparison with many other cities.

How would you say Antwerp contributed to making you who you are today? What role has the city played in shaping your outlook and career?

Tim: Living in Europe in general has had a huge impact on me and my art. I grew up in Texas, a hyper conservative place were religion is everywhere and in everything. Being an artist was not considered a legitimate existence, people would always ask you what your real job is. And so I worked all kind of jobs, teaching myself how to paint in the evenings. Art was more of an innate desire, and the older I got, I understood how much that became a priority and the less everything else mattered. Until it got to a point in which I, aged 36, called my brother and said I either had to go to art school or jump of a building. Three weeks later I moved in with him and went to Dallas to study art. In Dallas I met Nathalie, who rescued me from ‘the hell of Texas’. For the first couple of years in Europe I couldn’t believe I was still living on the same planet. Moving to Europe caused my art to transition from dark work based on my own psyche and negative experiences growing up in Texas, to lighter work, reflecting on politics and art history.

Nathalie: I’ve also changed my artistic direction since moving to Antwerp. I evolved from being an architect to being a designer, with a focus on the architectural in the broad sense. I’m currently very interested in the use of textile and recycling.

On a personal level, what would you like to see more of in the city?

Tim: Only if the Pompidou centre could be here, that would be fantastic. And I also miss Mexican restaurants.

Nathalie: For me Antwerp indeed lacks a big, international museum. But you can’t expect that from a small city as Antwerp, after all it’s not a capital. Still the city has some museums worth visiting, the FOMU for example, that never disappoints.

To you, what is the best way to spend a weekend in Antwerp? If you had to take out-of-towners to one place that truly symbolises the city, what would it be?

Tim: For me one of the most exceptional places to visit in Antwerp is the Museum Plantin Moretus. First of all because it is such a complete window on what life was like in Flanders in the sixteenth century. But it’s also one of the most important historical locations of Western Europe. When books first were printed and knowledge was available, it changed human evolution. People began to think and were exposed to ideas they didn’t know before and it all happened right there in that house.

Nathalie: I particularly love the little area in the north of the city, located near the water between the porch and the city centre. Here you can feel the typical Antwerp underground atmosphere, comparable to that of Berlin. Last summer we saw an experimental music show at Café Le Tour, a pop-up bar near the Noordkasteel. It wasn’t more than a wooden shack next to a lake, and you felt like being on the countryside. To me this is a perfect example of the unconventional events that can happen in Antwerp. The authorities just let the people use the space that is available, that in turn gives you the feeling that everything can happen. Unfortunately the area is transforming, and I hope this will not disappear.

paristexasantwerp.com
Interview Saar De Permentier
Photography Miles Fischler