DECAY WORKS (2016-2019)
Decay works is a manifestation of what is hidden in the artist and which is being expressed through his work. In these works, the psyche and the unconsciousness of the artist (as well of the spectator) take up an important position. The way in which this series comes about happens according to a process at which Herck a priori has no insight into what the result will be. Once it is there, he can reconstruct the path that led to this end. Thus, every work is independent and carries a stratification and complexity.
First, there is the physical layer. Each work begins with a golden or silver bottom layer upon which every next layer provokes a chemical reaction with the previous one. The result is unpredictable and the process requires a lot of patience. Herck reconciles shapes and ideas of violence, purity and aggression with beauty by using black, silver and golden paint and the many mediums to give the canvas texture.
His relation towards this work brings up the psychological layer: while creating these works the artist experiences a ‘comforting melancholy’. In the process of the works, Herck experiences feelings of vulnerability and impermanence: “In the creation of these works I feel vulnerable. That gives me comfort and tranquillity. The aggressiveness in my work and the battle that takes place between the materials, result in beauty; a beauty because of the process of destruction or because of the gold that is being swallowed up by the black colour. Also, the act itself, what the black colour does and what happens to the silver and gold, is something I find beautiful: I experience it as the beauty of decay.”
The process of decay is emphasized even further by the use of moulded bones, mixed with diverse media, applied to the canvas in different layers, as a reference to the Flemish masters who pulverized bone in paint pigment. Today, human body art is often controversial, though usually surprisingly poignant. Every five years since 1991, Marc Quinn has been using a mold of his head and 9.5 pints of blood drawn over a period of five months. Franco Robert’s haunting photo series ‘Stop the Violence’ uses the stark-white bones on a black background to illuminate the inhumanity of war. Andrew Krasnow’s controversial skin art -creating flags, lampshades, boots and other everyday items from human skin- can be seen as a sensitive reflection on human cruelty.
When we look at these works, when it falls on our retina, we inevitably feel that it does something to us. We ask ourselves: what feelings, thoughts, associations does this work provoke? Does it move me or does it leave me indifferent? Is it confusing or poetic? Is it ugly or beautiful? People are tended to get (more) meaning from this work on the basis of the biography of the artist: if we acknowledge something in that one history, we recognize something in ourselves. But we have to watch out for voyeurism.
The manifestation of Herck’s unconsciousness inevitably ends in the interpretation of the spectator, a psychological explanation of the explainer who always tells more about his own phantasy than about the work. Both for the artist as for the spectator, the meanings of the works ‘tableaus’ are unpublished present in the cultural conversation people have about this work. The stratification of Herck’s work causes an evocation of a deep feeling, an affection where we cannot immediately put our finger on and yet feels like we already knew it, or know it, or rather prefer not to know it. Georges Braque refers to the same impermanence and vulnerability to which Tom Herck refers and simultaneously to the beneficial effect of art in general: “l’art est une blessure qui devient lumière.” (“art is a wound that becomes a light.”)
© Text by Tom Simons.
© Photos by Tom Herck.