The Leuven Hundreds

Portraits of a city's people, today

We’ve joined forces with Leuven to highlight 100 local people, places and projects that contribute towards making the city what it is today. From artists and architects to producers and professors, these are the driving forces powering Leuven forward one ingenious initiative at a time.

Sarah De Vos

Sarah De Vos

Contemporary artist and co-founder, Batiment A (1985)

Can you describe what you do?

I’m a painter, using snapshots primarily as my starting point in my work. I seek to explore the deceptions of observation. A clear view on my paintings is often obstructed by the manipulation of framing, reflection and contrast. I spend a lot of my time painting and listening to music; and I love watching movies, which influences my work a lot. Directors who deal with questions of time and bring an alienating view on everyday reality like Werner Herzog, Tarkovski, Chris Marker, Lars von Trier, David Lynch all help me conceive painting as a moving image. I also like visiting exhibitions in Belgium and abroad. I live near the Leuven ring-road, next to Paul van Ostaijen Park in the Matadi neighbourhood, while my studio is located in Batiment A, next to the Renaat Braem tower. I work mostly isolated in my studio, but I’m also lucky to share the building with a variety of creative professionals and very fascinating artists like Ief Spincemaille and Bram Kerkhofs, with whom we founded Batiment A five years ago. This initiative provides me with the opportunity and space to discuss and collaborate intensively with fellow artists.

How do you perceive Leuven?

Leuven is a beautifully green, open-minded and international student city with 45,000 scholars. It’s a very pleasant environment to live in with my husband and my two children. I enjoy stepping out of the house to go for a run at the university sports facilities Sportkot or the Abbey Park – you’re surrounded by nature within minutes. Moreover, Leuven is also a central location allowing me to reach Brussels, Antwerp and Ghent easily by train, whilst simultaneously offering me the peace of mind necessary to work and focus in my studio.

What would you say is Leuven’s main appeal as a city? What gives it its edge?

Leuven is a small town, “the size of men” – the main advantage being that you’re able to interact quickly with all parties and scenes involved. For example, great creative cross-overs have been created, such as with Batiment A and Cas-co. Places like STUK, Het Depot, Cinema ZED and M-Museum should all be celebrated too for their excellent programs. The city vibrates during the week thanks to the students, and comes to rest on weekends or holiday seasons. The City slogan Eeuwenoud, springlevend (or “Centuries old, alive and kicking”) suits me completely. I resolutely choose painting as my prime medium for its tradition and history, whilst simultaneously trying to connect with my generation and our contemporary point of view. This symbiosis is also beautifully represented in M-Museum: their combination of contemporary art and old masters makes it a highly unique institution in Flanders.

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

I attended St.-Albertus College near Leuven; surrounded by nature, with the possibility to play sports or work creatively during lunch break, or enjoy the nearby Oude Markt for a drink. I then studied visual arts at Sint Lucas in Antwerp for five years. After graduation, I took on a postgraduate position at De Ateliers, an independent artists’ institute based in Amsterdam which focuses on the artistic development of young artists both within the Netherlands and abroad; with weekly studio visits by Marlene Dumas, Didier Vermeire and many other international artists or curators. This intense working period really formed the basis for my work and career as a creative visual artist. I returned to Leuven to be surrounded by friends and family, and to further concentrate on my work. My friends in and around Leuven are very important to me. Moreover, Leuven offered me the opportunity to co-work and collaborate – something I strongly believe in ever since my time at De Ateliers. Thanks to the support here in Leuven from art lovers, patrons who graciously made part of their houses available for me to work in, projects like OPEN M, and sponsors who helped me organise exhibitions, I am now able to work full-time as an artist.

This old university city – embedded in a spirit of development and educating its young – is a source of tremendous opportunities.

On a personal level, what would you like to see more of in the city? What could it do better?

I miss good nightclubs where you can dance. Professional contemporary art galleries would also be most welcome – we only have the beautiful White House Gallery in Lovenjoel for the time being. I’m also hoping that areas with enormous potential, such as the Vaartkom are not just being filled with student residence blocks, but that authentic buildings are being maintained too, providing opportunities for initiatives like Batiment A.

If you had to take out-of-towners to one place that truly symbolises the city, what would it be?

I would take them for a stroll around the ponds of Abbey Park, have breakfast at Bar Stan, visit M-Museum and finish off with a few pints on the Oude Markt square.

A local legend, neighbourhood anecdote or urban myth that, to you, encapsulates the spirit of the city?

I attended drawing classes at the academy as a kid, from ages six to eighteen in Guido Gezelle Park, now Paul van Ostaijen Park. 26 years later, my husband and I bought a home situated right next to it. I somehow felt a strong attraction to this place, where I first started developing my artistic skills from an early age. This old university city – embedded in a spirit of development and educating its young – is a source of tremendous opportunities.

eglomise series portrait, 2017 installatiezicht olieverf op glas © Paul De Malsche