From August 14 to December 5, 2021, the Vincent van Gogh House in Zundert will present an exhibition of new works by visual artist Ruud van Empel. For this project, Van Empel immersed himself in the world of Van Gogh and recomposed his paintings of flower still lifes, landscapes and portraits using photo fragments. As a result, Van Empel made Van Gogh’s art shift closer to reality, while preserving its aesthetic and dreamlike qualities, thanks to his use of form and light effects.
Inventing Van Gogh
Ruud van Empel has reinvented Van Gogh’s portrait. Nobody knows exactly what Vincent really looked like as an adult. After all, we don’t have any portrait photos of him after the age of 19. Our idea of his appearance is mainly based on his painted self-portraits, which differ greatly from one another. Van Empel has attempted to reconstruct Van Gogh’s portrait, using photos of various ‘look-a-likes’ as a starting point. He took the nose and ears of one, and used the eyes and hair of another, and placed these parts on well-known self-portraits of Van Gogh. These new Vincents were then situated in scenes that are reminiscent of places in his life, such as the Borinage, Provènce and his studio. To do so, Van Empel also simulated old photo techniques. Those who do not know any better, may think that unknown photographic portraits of Vincent van Gogh have surfaced. However, in contrast to ‘deep fakes’ of Van Gogh, Van Empel’s works are of exceptional quality thanks to his self-developed and elaborate collage technique and his unique personal style.
For this exhibition, Ruud van Empel also created a series of photographic works inspired by the landscapes and floral still lifes of Van Gogh. It contains interpretations of paintings such as ‘Sunflowers in Vase’, ‘Butterflies and Poppies’, ‘Patch of Grass’, ‘Peach Tree in Blossom’, ‘Wild Roses and Beetle’ and ‘Trunk of an Old Yew Tree’. These motifs showcase his strong affinity with Van Gogh. They are a reminder of the region of Brabant, where they both grew up. Van Gogh’s Zundert is located in the shadow of Van Empel’s hometown of Breda. And they share a love for the nature in this area: the future Van Gogh National Park.
The exhibition is located in the room with cabinet, on the first floor of the former parsonage, and former birth house of Vincent van Gogh. It will be the first new public presentation in the Van Gogh House after having been closed due to the Covid pandemic. The opening has previously been postponed, but is now scheduled for Saturday 11 September 2021 (3 p.m.) and will be performed by Hans November, curator of Het Noordbrabants Museum. By that time, the museum expects to be fully open for public again, in compliance with the 1.5 m regulations of course.
Publication & special edition
Accompanying the exhibition is a catalogue with texts by Ron Dirven and Hans November. It contains images of all Ruud van Empel’s works alongside the Van Gogh paintings that inspired them. The publication ‘Ruud van Empel – Inventing Van Gogh’ (2021, softcover, 64 pages, 25 x 20 cm) is for sale for € 22.50.
In addition, two special editions will go on sale during the exhibition: one of Van Gogh’s portrait and one of a landscape. These signed ‘artist prints’ (size 65 x 46 cm) were made in a limited edition of only 25 copies each, and are for sale for € 950.
Ruud van Empel (Breda, 1958) gained world fame with his fictional portraits of children in paradisiacal environments. His photographic works consist of carefully composed ‘computer collages’ in which man and nature are elevated to a new reality that’s highly visual and at the same time alienating.
Van Empel studied at the Academy of Visual Arts Sint Joost in Breda in the 1970s. In the 1980s, he started working as a designer for TV shows. In 2006, he acquired an international reputation in the field of photographic layout and collage with his series World, Moon and Venus, which he presented in New York. Since then, he has exhibited his works at renowned locations worldwide, including FoMu in Antwerp (BE), MoPA in San Diego (USA), the George Eastman House (USA), the Groninger Museum (NL), Het Noordbrabants Museum (NL) and Fotografiska ( SE).