Last night I went to the opening of Ruud Van Empel’s ‘Portraits’ at Beetles + Huxley, which turned out to be quite an interesting evening. Having no knowledge of the artist or the exhibition, I accepted the invitation hoping for a nice surprise, which thankfully I got.
I walked into the gallery and was immediately intrigued by the large portraits of perfectly imperfect doll faced black children. There was an initial feeling of discomfort because as real as they seemed at first, the photos were simply just odd.
Ruud Van Empel, is a contemporary artist who to me, is a digital genius. He uses Photoshop to blend hundreds of photographs together to create his own beautiful pictures. His digital collages creates a state of confusion for the viewers because subconsciously, we know something is just not right. His portraits are also clearly influenced by 17th century Dutch portraits especially with his unrealistic approach to detail. The process of creating one portrait starts off with Van Empel taking his own photos, which he then cuts up to build the picture and that takes several weeks, sometimes months.
There was a talk with the artist which helped me understand him and his process a bit more. As someone who has also spent hours and hours on photoshop trying to create the perfect image, I have a lot of respect for Van Empel. One of the questions asked was if he was ever emotionally connected to the images he created, his response was that he definitely wasn’t which I think is because he is a technician with a creative mind rather than an artist with really great technical skills (just my opinion). Another question asked, was why he chose black children as his subjects (which was what most of us there were probably wondering) and his response was that when he initially did his portraits with white children (blue eyes and blonde hair), he got a lot of backlash for it, especially in America. Apparently a lot of people thought his work was culturally/morally inappropriate, some people actually thought he was racist..??.. so he decided to use black children to show that race had nothing to do with what he was trying to achieve.
The exhibition is on till the 18th March so if you are in London, you should definitely check it out.