Babs Decruyenaere | Interview
Exploring Art and Nature: A Q&A with Babs Decruyenaere
In this insightful Q&A session, we delve into the artistic world of Babs Decruyenaere, a gifted artist whose work is deeply inspired by the subtle wonders of nature. From collecting stones along picturesque coastlines to her unique approach to analog photography, Babs shares how her creative journey has evolved over time and what drives her to capture the extraordinary in the ordinary. Join us as we explore the intricate layers of her artistry and gain a deeper understanding of her latest project, "Understanding the Landscape" a book that invites readers to immerse themselves in the beauty of the natural world through her unique lens.
Q: Can you tell us more about your process of collecting stones and how they inspire your work?
Babs Decruyenaere: My process of collecting stones is a repetitive ritual, often taking place during walks along the Opal Coast in France or by the Scheldt in Antwerp. Picking up these stones is more than just a physical act—it’s also about making an invisible connection with the objects themselves. I collect stones that I’m drawn to because of their shape, structure, or morphology. The stones I choose become a part of me and serve as a foundation for the stories I create.
Q: How do stones and their structures and textures influence your art?
BD: The stones I collect serve as the starting point of my creative journey. Once I’m back in my studio, I analyse and transform them. I’m particularly drawn to limestone due to its rough structure which, I believe, mirrors the duality of strength and fragility that I see within myself.
The textures of the stones also inspire me; the lines within some stones—which are formed by embedded minerals—often remind me of intricate sketches and add to my fascination.
Q: Can you describe your approach to analogue black-and-white photography without a camera?
BD: When I encounter a captivating natural object, I eschew the use of negatives and instead use the object itself to create photograms in the darkroom. It’s a play of light and shadow, a dance between black and white. The placement of the object on photographic paper, the interplay between light and darkness, and the unique characteristics of the paper itself—whether matte or glossy—all contribute to this evocative process.
Q: What aspects of nature do you usually photograph and why?
BD: Most of the natural artefacts I collect are photographed in my studio. Removing them from their habitats allows me to view them in isolation, which serves to reveal their pure and pristine forms. These images then serve as catalysts for my sculptural works. Photography, in this context, is a means to an end—a vital part of my creative process rather than the sole purpose.
Q: How have your childhood experiences, especially your stay in a sanatorium by the sea, influenced your artistic work?
BD: My childhood experiences, while not directly linked to my work, have undeniably left an imprint. A memory that stands out is finding pebbles in my coat pocket after visits to the sanatorium. This and other experiences have shaped my sensitivity and resilience, which are recurring themes in my creations.
Q: What do you hope to convey to your audience through your work?
BD: Through my art, I strive to evoke wonder in the simplest of things. I draw inspiration from Lucebert’s words—“Everything of value is defenseless.” This sentiment reflects that the small and fragile aspects of life are the ones that hold immense value. The transformative process—where unassuming materials are fashioned into captivating works of art—is often awe-inspiring for viewers.
Q: How has your search for inspiration and artistic expression developed over time?
BD: My artistic journey has constantly evolved. During my graphic design training, I delved into analogue photography techniques and created homemade cameras. Eventually, I ventured into sculpture and began exploring the transformative process. My approach then shifted from capturing landscapes to isolating objects and exploring their forms. Overall, it has been a natural progression driven by my insatiable curiosity.
Q: What advice would you give to budding artists embarking on their creative journey?
BD: Stay true to yourselves and your passions. It’s important to follow your heart and surround yourselves with people who support your growth. Mistakes are an integral part of the journey, so don’t be afraid to make them. The path to artistic fulfilment is uniquely yours to navigate.
Q: What inspired you to make your book, Understanding the Landscape?
BD: "Understanding the Landscape" is a culmination of my journey, a manifestation of my quest to decipher the enigmatic intricacies of the natural world. The title itself reflects my artistic philosophy - to embrace the challenge of unravelling the subtle narratives that nature weaves. The collaboration with 1605 Collective has been serendipitous; their aesthetic resonates deeply with my vision, making the partnership an organic extension of my creative exploration.
But there's an additional layer to this collaboration that has truly enriched the process. The talented designer Janneke Schrey played a pivotal role. Not only did she help me find the perfect paper that captured the exact tone and essence I was looking for, but she also brought an element of continuity to the project. Having always been a collector of vintage paper, treating it as an artefact to be incorporated into my art, it felt like coming full circle to incorporate this practice into the book.
Janneke's design, which seamlessly juxtaposes my images, adds an element of deconstruction to the familiar landscape, dismantling its mundane aspects to reveal a deeper understanding. Her artistry elevates my work and allows the viewer to escape the frenetic pace of urban life. It's an invitation to take a deep breath, immerse yourself in nature, and journey beyond the noise of the city.
The book itself is a multi-layered creation, much like the landscapes I am trying to understand. It's made from three different types of paper: thick uncoated paper, thin uncoated paper and tracing paper. In a way that mirrors my own artistic process with stones, Janneke deconstructs the landscape anew through these different paper textures. This fusion of different papers becomes a tool, a means to reconstruct and reimagine what may have been lost.
As you turn each page of Understanding the Landscape, you'll experience not only the visual narrative, but also the tactile journey - the textures and tones that guide you through a story of rediscovery. This intricate collaboration between art and design adds a dimension that resonates with my philosophy - finding the extraordinary in the ordinary and inviting viewers to explore the world with fresh eyes.
Q: How important is a published book to you and how do you think it can enhance an artistic career?
BD: A published book is a form of reflection that allows me to view my work holistically. It’s also a way for me to share my creative journey and connect with a broader audience. Books endure through time, providing inspiration and comfort; at an art and architecture bookshop, I witnessed the impact of art books, which allowed people to discover new artists and architects. It is a profound way to introduce people to your world.
With each answer, Babs Decruyenaere peeled away the layers of her artistic universe, demonstrating how she incorporates simple natural elements in her transformative works to evoke both awe and introspection. Her journey is a testament to the powers of creativity, authenticity, and the delicate beauty of life’s most unassuming parts.