creative chit-chat

Piet Raemdonck



It takes a while until the door opens. "I haven’t had a doorbell for 5 years. The wiring is ready, but nothing is connected yet. I haven’t seen Jehovah's Witnesses around here anymore. I kind of like it." Painter Piet Raemdonck welcomes us in his atelier with a big smile. He leads us along a wild garden, which hides another building in the back. Nature is an important source of inspiration in his life and work — and we witness it at first glance. When Piet wants to close the window, his action is impeded by a thick branch. Once closed, it opens again, and a bird finds its way inside. "My house is a fortress, surrounded by greenery, very different from my sleek white gallery in Antwerp South. The gallery space is a glass box." 

You have a beautiful home in the Jewish area of Antwerp.

It is an old diamond polishing factory built by a Jewish family. I've lived here for 17 years. After my college years I arrived here, only using the studio on the ground floor. But after a while, I started to play with spaces by tearing walls down. This way the house is constantly in motion. Now I’m working on the space above, where there is more light. Something in me refuses to be in the dark, I need light!


How important is light when you work?

Light and space are very important. More than that: they have to contribute. Everything must be practical. I think it is important that everything is on wheels (rolling tables). I paint on the table, but also on the wall and on the floor and it is important that my materials are within reach and that I don’t have anything in my way. I can be quite a maniac when I’m working and throw lots of things around me. But I also clean up regularly! (laughs)


I sense an unique atmosphere here. It's so quiet and very green!

I rarely buy any plants. I collect them and get seedlings as gifts from friends, as I’m giving them to you now. The fig tree below grows very good figs. I planted the Wisteria myself and in a couple of years time it grew to reach the third floor! When in bloom, it smells great here. On my rooftop terrace I have everything: bamboo, roses, lilacs, Accanthus, Hostas, Hydrangea, Tetrapanax, hollyhocks and Persicaria the painter's palette. The latter I bought because of the name. (laughs) I think it's great to sit between the plants and watch insects from close range. When I’m on holiday, I love painting outside as I did in the garden of Dries Van Noten for a couple of years. Nature is an important element in my work. I collect shells, stones and seed pods of plants, I inspect them carefully and then paint them.



Besides nature, color is an important element in your work.

I am very involved with color and I’ve done lot of study and research. I think it's important not to limit myself to certain colors, but to accept them all. I’m fascinated by how colors relate to each other and how they interact. I like to focus on the cyclical relationship between colors. That may sound very theoretical, but it’s really a game.


What strikes me is that your studio has a totally different atmosphere than your gallery.

My studio is my workspace. The gallery, designed by architect Fierens is an exhibition space and not a gallery in the classical sense of the word. It is neutral, white and minimal. And that's a great contrast to the romance of my paintings.


Was it a conscious choice to present your work outside the official gallery circuit ?

Don’t think I’m opposed to the gallery circuit. As a matter of fact I work together with galleries, but I’ve kept myself out of the gallery scene for a while. I was afraid of being molded into a commercial format. First I wanted to know myself artistically and develop independently. The advantage now is that I avoided the small players and have collaborations with a big name as Galerie Zwart Huis in Knokke. Such an opportunity strengthens me enormously. 


People have the image of the gallerist as the one taking the biggest piece of cake.

I understand, but it is definitely too short-sighted. A good gallerist can enrich the work of the artist and make significant efforts for his career. I have nothing against good business, as long as emotion and artistry are respected. And I think that it is difficult for an artist to focus only on that emotional world and lead it on the right track.


As a painter you’ve come a long way. You make a living out of painting and that is truly exceptional.

I live from what I paint. I bought this house with the money I earned by selling paintings. I originate from a workin class family and when I started on a freelance basis, I said to myself, mantra-wise: “I live from painting!” In the beginning I accepted all jobs that involved drawing and painting, often very applied work. I’ve learned a lot from this, both artistically and professionally. Since I've opened my exhibition space, I don't need to do that anymore.

People are familiar with your abstract landscapes while a notable step in your career was  the series of portraits you did for fashion designer Dries Van Noten.

I am always happy to spend time on portraits, but the last 10-12 years I’ve dealt more with abstraction. Still life is a very practical genre for investigating abstraction. If you paint a portrait, it remains at all times a portrait. As a matter of fact people are awfully keen on genres. After the series of portraits for Dries I was suddenly called a portrait painter! (laughs) With those paintings I wanted to obtain a certain effect: at first you see a mess of paint and only a few seconds later you discover a portrait. People knew my paintings of vases with flowers, but when they saw these portraits their reaction was: "Ah, so you can do that too!" Some individuals started to take me seriously, because apparently I’m able to paint portraits. Is that bad? Maybe yes, but it’s surely funny!


What is the true essence of your work?

I want my paintings to be worlds you enter, just by looking at them. It is a game of recognition and non-recognition. I give visual clues and from there you must continue following your own senses.


Besides collaborating with fashion designers, you are also connected to interior design with the likes of Gert Voorjans and Axel Vervoordt.

Both Gert as Axel have influenced me in their way of looking at things, because a good interior design can work as a three dimensional painting. I've learned a lot about art through them both. 

I can imagine you are faced with very wealthy clients. Do you also have less wealthy collectors?

Yes, of course. I think it's important that my work remains within reach and isn't only for the happy few. There are many friends of mine who bought my work, because they feel my intensity. I take appreciation for my work very personal. It makes me thankful and happy!


We talk a while and enjoy the soothing effect of Piet’s natural habitat. We're in the city, but we hear no traffic, only birds singing. 


Piet Raemdonck 

Galerie Zwart Huis


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