“I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel.” Mary Shelley, Frankenstein.
Perfection. Beauty. Purity. Innocence. Those big juicy, tangible juggernauts you might think you can hold on to, but when questioned and prodded they run through your fingers like sand. It’s these gargantuan concepts that Dutch New Media Artist, Ruud Van Empel, has been grappling with for well over a decade. Empel began his career with a background in the graphic arts and a stint at building theatre sets, before beginning as a fine artist in the 90’s. Initially using old school collage techniques, Empel’s practice has evolved to become the impeccable & complex digital process he is renowned for today. His seamless Frankensteins are comprised of thousands of photographic parts to create an immaculate hybrid. From the doll-like children, to the awkward nudes, to the luscious Edens – everything is grafted into an idealized whole.
“Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.” Immanuel Kant.
Empel’s perfection however, sits fragile on the surface. A tenuous web probed with a subtle hand. There’s a disconcerting quality to his work. Something’s a little off-centre, a touch askew. It’s like eating the most decadent looking dessert but finding out that it tastes like cardboard. This hyper artificiality keeps an illusive something just out of reach. The life has been sucked out, leaving nothing but facade. “Beauty has been a taboo in modern art for such a long time. It was seen as weak to make beautiful pictures, but in fact it is very difficult to create real beauty”. Painstakingly piecing together his Edens leaf by leaf, one can’t help but notice the snail in the corner or the slightly off proportions of his female nudes. Their porcelain quality equates to a deathly cold as they’re completely devoid of their sexuality.
Best known for his World Series, featuring a Rousseau-like idealized exotic, one can’t help but notice that most of his subjects are black. This does effect the reading of his pieces whether one likes it or not. Empel remains particularly evasive on this subject, claiming his work is not intended to be politically charged. Regardless, he has since moved on with his later works centering on decaying still lifes, the aged and the hybrid feminine. The focus has somewhat shifted. There’s some movement as his iconic timelessness is broken under a softer ephemerality. Beauty fades, life skitters by and we’re back to these concepts slipping away like sand.
By chasing a holy grail, a squeaky clean beauty, it’s hard not to feel that something is missing. Empel manages to shine a light back on our own myriad of flaws & skuff marks. We’re worn in, but he gives us a refreshing sense of warmth, a vitality and dare I say it . . . a humanity.
“It is through art and through art only, that we can realize our perfection.” Oscar Wilde.