Bart Kok’s paintings are grounded on the belief that the main concept of painting should always be the act of painting itself. Borrowing from different styles and techniques, such as pointillism, expressionism and art brut, he applies numerous layers of colorful paint onto the canvas. Poetic brushstrokes and drawn lines alternate with filthy globs and smudges. But even though his work is full of different layers and variations, the end result always seems to be perfectly balanced out.
His recent work focuses on general existing romantic ideas about “the artist”. It forms an exploration into artist clichés such as the tragic, the heroic, the lonely soul, the drunk and the philosopher. Even though these romantic notions are mostly highly exaggerated, they play a big role in the way that the artist is presented to, and is perceived by, the main public. In a way, the autobiography of “the” artist, has become so much intertwined with the work that we cannot see the work without seeing the artist within it. In a humorist way Kok plays with the notion of the dead artist being a transcendental entity who is suspended between life and death. These apparitions of skeletons and skulls serve as a way to put artistic endeavors into perspective and jab at the tradition of Memento mori and Vanitas painting. Within the tradition of painting, the painter, when deceased, becomes part of tradition and serves as a form of reference to other painters. They become immortal via their paintings and the works of the artists they influence. Within the tradition of painting there is always a conversation going on between the dead and the living.
BART KOK – THE IDEOLOGY OF PIPE SMOKING
(excerpt from the publication ‘Notes and anecdotes on painting(s)’)
During my time as an Art student, a teacher once said to me that the problem most painters have is that they are too much in love with their materials. To prove his point he told me that during his time as an Art student, most of the painters he knew were just sitting around in their studios all day, smoking pipe and looking at their own work. He exclaimed that this was laziness and cockiness from their part. In his opinion they where so self-fulfilled with their own paintings that they lingered on them for too long and forgot to move on. I thought that this anecdote was really funny and it stuck with me. I kept thinking about this imagery of the painter sitting in the studio, smoking pipe and looking at their work, was their anything to it? Then I started thinking that maybe what he perceived as painters being cocky and lazy about their work was a misconception on his part. Maybe he got caught up in a Fordist way of thinking about the act of working, that because they weren’t producing they where not working. What he perceived as them doing nothing but being lazy and acting cocky about their work, was perhaps a critical moment of reflection on that which was painted. The role of the pipe for him just added to the notion of doing nothing because of the fact that smoking a pipe is mostly considered leisure.
This moment of reflection is as, or maybe even more, important than the physical work itself. It’s the process within painting that requires the most time and dedication. It can be a tedious job, sitting in your studio looking or maybe not even looking directly at the work. Being present in the studio without constantly looking at the work can be just as important. One right glimpse at the work while just being around can make the right connection and give a new insight into the work. It can look ridiculous or even arrogant to others if they see you just sitting around in your studio. They might think that you are doing nothing and, in a way, they’re correct- this method doesn’t fit with a general understanding of doing “work”, where the act of thinking is not seen as work and valued as such. This act can be compared with the act of walking. With walking I don’t mean traveling to get from point A to point B, but walking in the sense of having a stroll around without a destination. One does just wander around to stumble on things he accidentally encounters. This approach is not about searching or trying to find something. It’s about opening up to things, about looking as objectively as one can be at the things that surround you, in order to really think, to let the mind wander and to empty everything out. This way of looking can make a painter forget that the work is his. It opens up a possibility for him to see the individual qualities of the different parts within the work and how they all function as a whole. I think it has to do with training your senses. Change the way you deal with “doing nothing”. Turn “doing nothing” into an important factor within the process of painting. I don’t think that I can come up with something new by thinking really hard about it, but eventually I can get to new ideas and approaches by just wandering about. This is because it’s a different mode of thinking, an unforced mode of thought. As I think of it now, this mode is also applied within the physical act of painting. When I’m painting, I just try to wander about on the canvas to find new things. When I do, I try to counter these things and compare them to the things I already know, as to give them a place within my world of painting and painterly ideology. By following this approach of dealing with the act of painting, the ideology of Pipe smoking is a big contribution to painting in general. (Bart Kok, 2017)
Jury report Royal Award for Modern Painting 2016
Kok’s submission took the jury by surprise. Because he studied in Antwerp his recent work was unknown. Kok’s paintings deal with the art of painting and bear witness to courage, self-confidence and a sense of humour. The paintings are modest in size and subject matter. This modesty reveals maturity: the artist does not lose himself in over-ambitious flexing of muscles. Whit a humourous outlook Kok reflects on the various movements in art history. In brush technique he cites extensively from the rich stylistic repertoire of art history. Moreover, in an intelligent manner, he succeeds in combining such references with todays’ digital visual culture.