Billboards Kortrijk 03:
Nel Aerts

The Studio
07/04 — 07/07/2023

The work of Nel Aerts (b. 1987, Turnhout) moves freely and intuitively between different media. She makes paintings, collages, video, performances, drawings, sculptures and works with textiles. Her work is organic and layered – elements from older works often recur in new works – and has a strong focus on portraiture.

Initially, Aerts made simple, expressive figures in simple colours and shapes. They are nameless characters in undefined spaces: seemingly naive, colourful figures on incised wooden panels or canvases. A 2015 residency at the Van Gogh house in Zundert (NL) ushered in a new phase within Nel Aerts’ portraits. Whereas her previous characters still implicitly embodied feelings and traits of herself, in her new drawings the artist explicitly focuses on herself. In this series, which she made with black biros, Nel Aerts draws herself in various situations: drawing in her studio, having a cigarette and a pint in a café, walking in the neighbourhood around Zundert or lying in bed. These drawings are full of references – both to art-historical moments (Vincent Van Gogh’s famous bedroom or Marcel Duchamp’s Nu en descendant l’escalier), and to her own works, which she integrates here in the interiors she draws or in the drawings her own character is making.

These Zundert drawings were further developed in the following years as large works in textiles and paintings on canvas. In these new works, Nel Aerts plays with different media and with the formal language of the simple black-and-white drawings: they become larger and more abstract, simpler in line, but also more colourful and expressive. In one of the works in this series, the character (originally a self-portrait of the artist at work in her studio) has been abstracted in such a way that it almost reappears as one of her earlier expressive, colourful figures. Based on this painting, the artist created a smaller watercolour of a similar figure sitting drawing at a desk especially for  Billboard Series in Ghent. As the billboard hangs in the public space, the work seems to give a view through to what is happening inside the building. In this way, Nel Aerts plays with the premodernist idea of painting as a window to the world.





All images courtesy of the artist
Installation photography: Dirk Pauwels

Billboards Kortrijk is a long-term art project in public space at Budabrug, Kortrijk. The billboards are selected from Billboard Series’ archive and are presented here within a new narrative. The first five presentations in Kortrijk focus on the artist portrait. Billboards Kortrijk wants to build a sustainable and productive dialogue with the surrounding neighbourhood and urban landscape, and introduce a broad audience to different visual languages and ways of looking at the world.

Billboards Kortrijk is a project of artlead, together with Be-Part Center for Conteporary Art and 019. Billboards Kortrijk is curated by Thomas Caron and takes place within a scenography by architect Olivier Goethals.

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