Interview with Alice Zucca : XIBT Magazine

Belgian artist Stijn Cole draws inspiration from

the environment to express concepts like time,

perception, light and color, and how people see

and experience reality. In his works Cole employs

a wide range of mediums, combining abstract and

figurative media to produce a cohesive whole in

which content and form complement one another,

demonstrating a profoundly creative understanding

of the world around us.

Stijn Cole’s art explores the relationship between

colors and forms and how they are perceived in

different light and temporal conditions. As a result,

he has developed his own creative techniques,

committing to a variety of genres and forms.

It doesn’t matter whether he’s working in two or

three dimensions, in color or monochrome, on

film or digital, Cole is a multidisciplinary artist who

paints, sketches, photographs, prints, sculpts, and

produces installations. In his work, he often focuses

on a specific environment, such as a mountain

range, a section of the ocean, the sky or the horizon

motif; he is conscious that time and light impact the

landscape, and the viewer’s location determines

the appearance of the work. His recurring motifs,

including the horizon, are employed as a subjective

measure of our seeing. The scenery is not the point

for Cole, rather, he wants to immerse us in it and

change our perspective and perception.

Stijn Cole’s art revolves on the relationship between

the subject and the environment around it, It’s the

intensity of the light that counts here, not the kind

of material used, since how we perceive color and

shape is heavily influenced by it.

His installations and other projects continuously

draw on this body of knowledge, he strives to

capture just the essence of his subjects. In his

work, the ideas of time and landscape painting

have a revitalized beauty, resulting in a modern

impressionism – the artist’s work is often tied to

a certain time period, a walk, or travel and has a

documentary feel to it.

Cole sees his contribution as minimal, consisting

of nothing more than a lens through which he

views the world. While doing so, he subtly and

precisely calls on the audience to participate and

in this deceptive game, he tempts viewers into an

intense, spatial, and geometric encounter that will

continually surprise them, In fact, Stijn Cole’s most

recent works are increasingly taking the form of

installations, environments that he builds for the

public to explore.


Light is the most important mechanism by which the world reveals itself

to our eye, you very much take this into account in your research. What

fascinates you about this aspect in general and in relation to the theme of

the landscape?


The very first work I made after graduating was a timeline on which you

could read the light intensity of a day from left to right. I was fascinated

by the conceptual photography of Jan Dibbets and the works of Stanley

Brouwn, and at the time was looking for ways to capture a period of time

in a two-dimensional image. It is from this same search that several works

have emerged since then. The time aspect that becomes visible in an image

because of the evolution of the light condition on a subject, became the

subject of my first landscapes. Where in the first works I pointed my camera

(obscura) at the sky, I tilted it downwards bringing a horizon into view. This

subjective line that corresponds to your eye level, and by extension the

position of yourself in relation to a subject, determines, together with the

light condition of the moment, how you see the environment/objects. My

works are about looking and continuing to look. At first I limited myself to

an abstract language of forms, afterwards the depiction of the landscape

was added. I see the landscape as an inexhaustible carrier of images and

stories on which I can hang my ideas, moreover it is a subject that appeals

to everyone.


One of the elements that fascinates me the most in your work is when a

minimalistic digital “reduction to a minimum” occurs which, however, is

almost immediately able to recompose itself on a mental level in the eye

of the observer as a totalizing image that is suggested by the minimal

component. There is a moment in which the “object”, the landscape,

becomes subjective and universal at the same time and therefore it is

recognizable through the shapes, the concept of horizon, the color, the

light just as we mentioned and while they’re not representing the “object”

in a realistic sense they tell us about the Real. Can you tell me about this

process through your works?


This process sometimes overwhelms me as well; I suspect you’re referring

here mainly to my “Colorcapes”. In those works I start from a landscape

photograph and abstract it by listing the colors present in the image in a

grid of 16×16 squares from light to dark. The often lighter colors of the sky

are situated at the top of the image, the more earthy ones at the bottom,

creating a kind of accidental horizon. I think this reaction is due to what I

also said above, everyone is addressed by the landscape and everyone

therefore has such baggage and frame of reference that viewers are able

to see through the abstract image. A viewer already knows the ingredients

of my works, they are just presented in a different order in my abstract

works. When people see my colorscapes they spontaneously start telling

about the time that there was exactly the same light in their garden or

somewhere on vacation, they create at that moment a mental image of a

color sum that is actually very mathematically ordered and that is the result

of a photograph of a totally different moment in a totally different place.


You are a multifaceted artist and you stretch from videos, installations,

models, paintings and mixed media. In this regard, I find very interesting the

use you make of painting, most of your works are conceived in the digital

field, where does the choice of the pictorial medium come from?


Over the years I have added more and more media and I try to purify each

medium to an essence, just as I do with the works themselves. The drawings

are one type of pencil on paper, the bronze sculptures are replicas of parts

of the landscape. The photographic works are more about the medium

of photography and the support rather than the image itself. Currently, I

often work a little less rigidly and sometimes stray further from that strict

schema. I started the paintings out of necessity, I was going crazy with the

constant repititive work at the computer to assemble the timelines.I had

the “Colorscapes” in my drawer as digital prints for some time but lacked a

certain sophistication in those images. For some reason the “Timescapes”

which are also just summations of colors didn’t lack that tactility. I found

it important to leave the grid visible where the different colors are listed

because otherwise the images tended too much towards pixelated images

and that was not my intention, perhaps that was the cause. Suddenly the

idea came to me to make the colors physical with paint. I searched on top

of the prints for the exact colors in oil paint. It is the traces of the underlying

attempts, the imperfect colors, the stains that appear on the edges of

the paper that suddenly give life to those flat prints. I am using a kind of

essential painting that is all about mixing and arranging color on a support.


Can you tell me about your vision regarding the “documentary”

component and the creative process of your work in relation to your

ongoing series of “souvenirs”?


I like to refer to my own work as documentary images because each work is

a cut-out of reality to which I actually make little change. Of course, I make

selections from the photos I take, but I don’t really do more than put them

through a certain filter. I notice that people often find this a denigrating

description; documentary is associated with everyday images from the

media that have to illustrate a story and that are merely “documentation”.

I look at it differently: the images I make are not intended to illustrate a

defined story, but they are all linked to my personal life, they are the results

of the moments I experienced. This ties in with the idea of souvenirs.

Souvenirs are objects that make a memory tangible. You bring them back

from a holiday and more than in the object, their personal value lies in the

memory of the moment you found them. When my family and I decided

to move back to the city after 10 years in the countryside, I made some

works that would capture the memory of our time in Chimay. During the

spring, I went looking for trees that were standing alone in the landscape,

photographed them and had those images developed on lambda paper.

On the first day of summer, I’ve put the images outside in the sun, half-

covered, and they stayed there all summer, leaving the uncovered half

bleached. I called this series “Souvenir d’été”. Since then, I have given each

work the title or subtitle “Souvenir” because I noticed that their meaning

for me was not in the making of the works or their presentation, but in the

memory of the moment when I saw the image and recorded it on camera

or in the search for stones in the forest, in the time I’ve spent with my

daughter on our trip to Compostela.


Your work has an almost impressionistic component and it is linked to a

period in time, this is most visible in your minimalistic “timelines”.

The passage of time in the natural world, with all that it implies (changes

of lights, positions, changes of seasons, objects, subjects, etc.) is able to

define the shape of what we are faced with, but at the same time when we

interface with what is other than us, we are the creators and spectators of

what we are looking at as our imagination is an element that contributes to

the process of elaboration of the experience that we make of reality. The

landscape on the other hand is always in constant change by itself and you

seem to take all this into account since the element of the “movement” of

“change” is always present, and even when presented through your filter it

leaves room for more points of view possible (yours, that of the spectator,

the “natural” one). What is the message you intend to communicate? Can

you tell me about these works?


As I mentioned earlier, I first started to photograph the sky with a

motorized camera-obscura. For me, those images were not convincing

enough – there were all kinds of small errors and the transition needed to

get a positive image was too subjective for me, so I decided to make such

images digitally and in colour.

The result, I think, are images that can be viewed, as you say, in different

ways. These “Timescapes” are very mathematical, they are computer-

generated images, sums of colour in the visual language of statistics. You

can look at them from a purely aesthetic point of view, the way you look

at Sol Lewitt’s drawings, for the intriguing complexity of the summary of

colours they propose. Or you can approach them conceptually (Stanley

Brouwn style), with the idea of capturing a longer period in time through a

medium that is designed to capture the immediacy of a moment .

On another hand, the horizon creates a landscape through which the

images suddenly take on an emotional charge. You let go of the image

and project its colours onto your frame of reference. The shifting tones,

from grey to orange, to blue or black suddenly become a sunset; they

become last week’s sunset or a sunset you saw in Spain…. I like the work

of the impressionists because they stir up the same emotion. I think their

anchoring to the moment, the depiction of the now is very contemporary. A

new exhibition has just opened at Bozar in Brussels with David Hockney’s

i-pad paintings. Like the impressionists who first used oil paint in tubes, he

is – and I am as well – a child of his time who uses technology to achieve

his goal.


Can you tell me more about the motif of the horizon and what it

represents for you?


In the very first works I made, there was no horizon visible yet – I

photographed the sky during certain periods of time. Philippe Van

Cauteren had just started as director of SMAK and he invited me

to create an exhibition for Kunstverein Ahlen in Germany. The space

was much too big for me, I didn’t have enough works, let alone works

with which I wanted to be seen. I painted an elementary landscape in

green-key and blue-key with the horizon at my eye level on one (32

meter long) wall of the room. The room was darkened, and 7 slide

projectors were used to project patches of light in the format of classic

landscape paintings from various museum collections on top of it.

The height of those patches was adjusted according to the position

of the horizon in each painting. In traditional presentations, paintings

are always hung with their middle at “eye level”, which usually varies

from 155 to 160 cm. I found that it became a problem when showing

landscapes with a visible infinite horizon and I adjusted the horizon of

all those landscapes to my own eye height. Since then, the horizon,

the subjective line that separates the visible from the invisible, has

been a motif that recurs in many of my works. My eye height is 158

cm, standing nicely in-between the standard 155 and 160 cm.


Can you tell me about the work that was on display at the Corsini

botanical garden and its dialogue with space in the group show



In the exhibition Endgame I am showing 2 bronze sculptures entitled

“Cancale 1:1 #4” and “Cancale 1:1 #5 », as well as a photographic

sculpture called “Souvenir 2021”. Both could be seen as

documentary sculptures: the bronze works are replicas of parts of

the Breton coast and the photograph was taken in a nature reserve

in Ghent, the city where I live. The photographic image allows

me to place what appears at first sight to be an ordinary cutout

of a disordered Belgian landscape in the context of a Botanical

Garden. This inclusion adds some less appealing species to their

collection of carefully chosen Mediterranean plants. The picture is

mainly defined by the presence of wild nettles, an invasive species

that often supplants nature in Belgium because there is too much

nitrogen in the air. Other more fragile species are disappearing and

biodiversity is under threat. The monumental photographic image

(2 x 3 meters) consists of two parts connected by hinges that give

the image a spatial dimension and allow the light to fall on the work

in two different ways. Due to the aluminum surface of the print,

the colors from the environment are reflected in different ways on

the image. This gesture of the folding the image in two gives it a

structure, the overflowing cutout of nature becomes a land-scape.

The work stands on a table making it seem like an altar in its



What are you working on at the moment?


Currently, after a Corona sabbatical year in which we moved and

renovated our new house and my studio, I am preparing 2 gallery

exhibitions. In January my first solo will open at Irène Laub Gallery

in Brussels and in September at the Mexico City based gallery

Hilario Galguera. The production for Brussels is in full progress,

the exhibition will be called “souvenirs” and I will show some new

paintings and sculptures in bronze, in Carrara marble and in Belgian

red marble. In February I am planning a road trip through Mexico.

As always, I have a list of projects in mind but the local landscape

will determine what the works will eventually look like. I am also

working on an architectural project for a neighborhood in Schoten

(Belgium) with the architect office Bart Dehaene. I have designed

a square and some facades, the delivery is only in a few years but

currently we are fine-tuning the brick pattern I designed.


This is an interview that was published in XIBT magazine (Nov 2021)