Billboard Series #08:
Nel Aerts

The Studio
10/08/2017 — 08/10/2017

The works of Nel Aerts’ (° 1987, Turnhout) move freely and intuitively between different media, such as painting, collage, video, performance, drawing, sculpture, and textile work. Within Nel Aerts’ organic and layered practice – where elements from older works often return to new work – the theme of the portrait has become more and more important in recent years. Her previous series of portraits show expressive characters, in simple colours and shapes. They are anonymous characters inhabiting undefined spaces – apparently naive, colourful shapes on carved wooden panels or canvas.

A 2015 residence in the Van Gogh house in Zundert (NL) heralded a new phase in this series of portraits. Where the previous characters of Nel Aerts implicitly embodied the artist’s feelings and characteristics, the artist explicitly takes centre stage in these 100 drawings. In the drawings – made with a black ballpoint pen during this stay in Zundert – Nel Aerts draws herself in different situations during her residence: working in her studio while smoking a cigarette, drinking wine in a bar, walking around Zundert or lying on the bed. These drawings are full of references – both to moments from art history (like Vincent Van Gogh’s famous bedroom, or Marcel Duchamp’s Nue en descendant l’escalier), as to Nel Aerts’ own previous work, which she integrates into the interiors or which her painted persona is drawing in different settings. Of course, these 100 drawings are not all autobiographical – the artist makes an alter-ego of herself, a figure that can stage in all conceivable situations.

Over the years that followed the residence in Zundert, the 100 drawings further developed as large textiles and paintings on canvas. In these new works, Nel Aerts plays with materials and media, and with the simplicity of the simple black and white ballpoint drawings. The works become bigger and more abstract, simpler in line, but also more colourful and more expressive. In one of the works from this series, the character (originally a self-portrait of the artist’s work in her studio) is abstracted to such an extent, that it almost resembles one of Nel Aerts’ older expressive, colourful figures.

The work Nel Aerts made especially for this Billboard Series is based on this last painting. It’s a small watercolour of a similar figure, drawing at a desk. Because the billboard hangs on the outside of 019, the work seems to give a glimpse of what’s happening inside the building. In this way, Nel Aerts plays on the pre-modernist idea of painting as a window into the world.





All images courtesy of the artist
Installation photography: Michiel De Cleene

Billboard Series is a long-term art project in public space, for which every three months an artist is invited to create a new, site-specific work for a 50 m2 billboard on Dok Noord, Ghent. Through changing presentations, Billboard Series wants to build a sustainable and productive dialogue with the surrounding neighbourhood and urban landscape, reflect on the changes that this neighbourhood is currently undergoing, and introduce a broad audience to different visual languages and ways of looking at the world.

Billboard Series is a project of artlead, together with 019. Billboard Series is curated by Thomas Caron, takes place within a scenography by architect Olivier Goethals, and is being developed with the support of the City of Ghent and the Flemish Community.

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