Esprit à rebours
Stief desmet’s work first came to my attention in the time leading up to pushing the canvas, the exhibition about a young generation of belgian painters i was preparing. his paintings caught my eye because of their graphic expression and the use of colours and shapes full of fantasy. at first glance his work seems very poppy and flashy, revealing a fascination for american popular culture. but immediately after our first conversation i realised that his work is more than meets the eye.
Although the work of stief desmet displays great affinity for the history of arts, the images and motifs he uses are firmly rooted in our modern day society. as a starting point the artist often recycles iconic images from our collective memory like logos, walt disney cartoon characters or animals like wolf or deer. this figuration gives the public something to hold onto and the work appears to be very accessible at first glance. but the works of stief desmet are rarely univocal or one-dimensional.
The artistic work of stief desmet has a penchant for confusing us, even if it displays familiar images. we are being taken on a visual and mental trip, sometimes literally like in the videos easychopperbunny or lycantrophy or in his performances, but this usually in a metaphorical manner. his art that is both rich in imagination and energetic is constantly on the thin line between reality and depiction. reality and fiction are having a deceptive liaison. the artist invites the public to question the status of the figures and the places that appear in his work.
In his work and in his life stief desmet is hugely preoccupied by the often troubled relationship between man and animal, city and nature. the artist seems to be constantly caught between his actual existence in a hectic, consumption-based modern day society and a longing for a sublime, utopian natural state. at the same time he is critical in a subtle way and undermines this longing for an idyllic fantasia with a serious dose of irony. by adding words or images he counters possible meanings, adds a layer of meaning or misleads the public. when planning a work the artist however never uses a preconceived strategic plan as a starting point, he always purposefully leaves room for impulsive, ill and uncontrolled moments. the possibility of losing control and the tapping of the subconscious in combination with the obvious physical pleasure of creation results in an unruly but coherent artistic career.
Stief desmet refuses to limit himself to one style or technique, he easily switches between different ways of representation and thus undermines our expectations. his work consists of drawings, installations, videos, performances and other media and techniques. but painting and currently sculpture more than ever are and remain the basis of his art. the artist regards creating sculptures as a liberating process next to his paintings. according to stief, the three-dimensional nature of sculptures ensures that little or nothing can be changed after the process of creation. this is certainly true because stief often recycles an existing image by creating a mould of it and then changing it by cutting it or adding colour and material. in a painting this is different: the flatness of the canvas allows many layers and offers an unlimited range of possibilities in terms of image and composition. painting is much more sensitive for stief, always resulting in unmistakeable unrest.
When painting the artist is not really concerned with exploring the paint or the medium. just like other media painting and sculpting are just an aid, a language used in the search for strong images and by extension, the search for the true being of the artist and his place in modern day society. in that aspect each and every work is autobiographical: stief desmet absorbs his surroundings and all possible influences, he filters and recycles and throws it back at us through his art.
Koen Leemans, august 2010