Peter De Potter is a Belgian artist, working and living in Antwerp. His artworks explore the male body and sexuality in a contemporary way. He talks to DRECK about his collaboration with Raf Simons, his inspirations and his future projects.
You started working with Raf Simons in 2001. How did this collaboration influence your evolution as an artist?
Well, his office had a Xerox machine and I didn’t, so I guess I took great advantage of that! No, joking aside: Raf always gave me complete freedom to do my thing because he liked my style and he always considered me an artistic entity in itself, even though it was maybe less defined back in those days. So a certain part of my work used to be presented in a fashion context which is still very fine by me. To this day, I can’t see the difference in an art image hanging on a wall in a nice frame or being printed on a hooded sweatshirt. Both are valid ways to express something that in essence is about the message, not about the context. I have the feeling that people have become more open-minded nowadays when it comes to things like that. People don’t think in terms of art-versus-fashion-versus-media anymore, they accept it all as part of a contemporary visual culture that is able to reflect all aspects of their own lives.
Are you working on a project right now?
I guess I’m never not working on something…
Were you always interested in exploring the male body and male sexuality?
It’s important to understand that my work has always been about the image first and foremost. Before anything else, it’s the intrinsic nature of the image – the image as a notion – that I’m exploring. The way we are producing and consuming these things called images in an age where the virtual is in perfect sync with the real. The way the narrative of an image is able to control our minds and our souls. The way we relate to an image in an emotional way. The way we fall in love with an image. The way we want to believe that an image tells us some kind of truth, even though we know we’re being fooled. Images truly are our mirrors. I’m also constantly thinking about images being objects and illusions at the same time – it’s a permanent mindfuck. So my approach is mainly conceptual even though I want my work to maintain an immediate and natural feeling. I think that’s important because I don’t want the viewer to get lost or distracted. There are no loopholes in my work.
The male element is exactly that: an element. Apart from it being a classical theme, it’s also the perfect tool to address certain subjects. When you look at the arts and especially when you compare it to the way femininity is visualised, the notion of masculinity is usually depicted in a rigid, one-dimensional way. It’s mostly about power, authority and accomplishment. In my work I’m not particularly reacting against that. In fact, I take these so-called male-associated concepts like rivalry, tribalism or control and try to make the underlying factors a bit more visible and accepted. Things like insecurity, confusion and this basic everyday quest for romance and deliverance. It’s not so much about getting the balance right, I think that would be boring. It’s more about finding out how all these things interact and mutate. Ideally I want this investigation of all these aspects to primarily communicate on the emotional level. To go for the emotional punch. Because I’m a firm believer that a good visual work should go from the eye to the heart primarily and not so much to the mind.
When you ask me about male sexuality it feels like there’s an implication that it’s somehow separated from female sexuality. But I think sexuality in general is the most important element of life, since sexuality is about life. All these emotions I’m talking about here have been spurred on by sexuality and in their turn have their own particular effect on sexuality. So in that sense it would be impossible for me to make work that wouldn’t include sexuality. But it’s a different thing from eroticism I think. A lot of imagery that’s produced nowadays is highly erotic but it stays safely within the realm of eye candy. It’s got to do with moral standards but also with the mediocre quality of such imagery. And I think that’s a shame because I value this force called eroticism too much to have it neutered and diluted. My work completely and very willfully embraces the sexual and the erotic precisely because it’s such a very normal and integral part of existing as a human being. I never think about titillation or seduction. My work is not about showing my idea of beauty or some ideal. That would be too polite a conversation with the viewer. I’d like it to be something more all-encompassing. Well, that’s the goal anyway.
The nudity or undress in my work for instance is actually more a state of mind than a factuality, if that makes any sense. I always like to think that the bodies in my work are transmitters. Like words. All in place to convey the message.
You are working across different media, such as photography, text and collage. What do you want a viewer to walk away with after experiencing your work?
My focus is not so much on technique. Well, not in the apparent way. But I’m always thinking about the viewer when I do my work. Because in the end it has to communicate and resonate with the viewer. And in order to do so, all these technical aspects should never be over-present or cloud the eye. I can’t say exactly what people should get from seeing my work. In fact, the need to ‘understand’ art is such a nasty heritage from the previous century. It did so much harm, all these theories that art is this riddle that only the clever ones can solve. For me, the best thing that can happen is when the visual becomes spiritual. An art image becomes truly worthwhile when the viewer not only finds connection with it, but also gets a more profound significance from it. Often that’s on a pretty sentimental level, but that’s how I prefer it.
Where do you get inspiration from? Tell us a few artists that you admire.
The artists that inspire me are the ones that have a very particular voice. I think one of the most important things in art is intent. Not in the calculated sense. But in the sense that the pure intent to create comes from the soul. Something raw and inevitable from deep within but expressed with determination and intelligence. That combination is very important. Quite often I get more inspiration from someone’s attitude and point of view than from his or her actual work. But when it all comes together it’s obviously a very special thing. When it’s dangerously close to perfection. At that point, the only thing you can do is admire and try to learn from it. I make little distinction between visual artists or writers or whatever. People like Adriaen Brouwer, Frans Masereel, Richey Edwards, Peter Christopherson, Albert Camus, Cady Noland, Georges Bataille, Astrid Lindgren, Derek Jarman, Bernard Faucon, Rudolf Schwarzkogler. There are many more. It depends on the mood, I guess.
You’ ve mentioned that “art belongs on the internet, for everyone to look at”. Do you prefer showing your work in galleries or online?
It’s still a surprise to me that so very few established artists are using the internet to communicate their art in a hands-on way. When I decided to predominately show my work online I did it because I wanted my work to be injected, almost literally, into contemporary visual culture in a very direct and untampered way. I felt it was the most honest thing to do. On the internet everything is free of context. Images appear out of nowhere with nothing and no-one to guide you or inform you. Most of the time you’re not even sure of what you’re looking at or if an image is real or not.
For as long as I can remember I’ve been more interested and touched by the feeling of an image rather then by its actual content. And nowadays that’s how more and more people look at images. I think that’s because of the internet. Television has been useful to show the flipside of imagery, trickery and all, but the internet has simultaneously deconstructed and reset the notion of an image. The feeling is what matters most. Authorship, history, content, context: all out of the window so to speak. You can deplore that or applaud that. I’m not even sure what my opinion is. I think the most important thing is not to analyze it too much but take it from here and start doing new things with it.
I have done a few small shows on my own and I thought it was as enjoyable as curating my work online. It’s not such a big difference. People just respond differently to it. Which got everything to do with the setting, obviously. Some people prefer the physicality of an art work. I partly agree with that because I also make framed pieces and I also do prints in very limited editions. I’m not on a crusade being online. The platform is not the most important thing. And especially when all these different platforms are readily available, then I see no reason to turn your back on one of them. Mind you, despite being a mass medium, the internet itself doesn’t make your work go around the world. It’s the work that has to be strong enough to be picked up.
Do you spend a lot of time on Tumblr, or in other social media?
It depends. It’s still good to see what the blogging community is doing, especially on Tumblr which is about the only place left where there is no censorship.
Any future plans/ projects?
Sure. I’m preparing to do a book or publication of some sort, which is why I’m currently looking for publishing houses to see if there’s a possibility to get something going. I’m also looking to put up a show of the still life photographs I’ve been doing over the last couple of years.
Interview by Yannis Skarakis