Hortus Conclusus
The Shore

PETER DEPELCHIN

(1985)

Belgium


Hortus Conclusus I (Enclosed Garden I)


172 x 323 cm

Pen, Chinese Ink and Bistre on Silk Paper

2014




I chose Hortus Conclusus I (2014) to confront the monumental painting De Ziekte van P (K.von S.) of Het Tragische Einde van de Stilte (met Reinier naar de Paarden van Knokke) of Belgian artist Pjeroo Roobjee. Roobjee’s 1988-1989 composition was made after a memorable day with the Dutch painter Reinier Lucassen spent in Knokke. It appeared to have been a journey full of spleen and sadness, the end of an era. Their farewell seemed for good (thus time has proven), especially when Reinier and Roobjee shook hands and kissed goodbye. The used iconography in Roobjee’s painting evokes a lost Arcadia. He included symbols of a desired universe.


Providentially, my monumental drawing is all about a lost Arcadia. However, I turn this mythical wood into a horrendous enclosed garden where one doesn’t wish to get in, nor to get out. I wish to attract and repel at the same time. And so does Roobjee. His central figure stands for all the Moirai (the Fates in Greek mythology) and is inspired by a bourgeois lady of the beau monde of Knokke. My virgin is originally a “Maria Lactans”, but likewise she is represented in a far more decadent way.


Next to these comparisons of content, there are lots of visible parallels between both our works; their strong expressionist style, for example. I manipulate space to evoke this expressionist effect (as Robert Wiene did in his all-time classic Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (1920)), whereas Roobjee paints in an expressive, almost modernist way. Consequently, we both strongly refer to the past, use iconography and sample art-historical imagery. Not to speak of our passion for small iconographic details as for example, the crucifix in Roobjee’s painting, the gallipot, the still life, the snake around the lady’s neck (Garden of Eden) or the skulls she speaks of. All kinds of similar visual elements are to be discovered in my Hortus Conclusus I.




Peter Depelchin (1985)


Peter Depelchin grew up at the Western Flemish sea side, spent some years in Italy and New York City and nowadays lives in Brussels. His artwork witnesses of each of these places and unstoppably evokes new places Peter wishes to discover and to interpret through art. This cultural gourmandize is the motor behind his mentality, art and work.


 

Depelchin’s artistic practice is articulated in two main steps: first, a research phase, for which he develops an amount of studies and small writings. These preliminary examinations result in series of sketches or collages. In a second movement, after having studied his subject at length and after having set-up the outlines of the intended artworks, he starts drawing, printmaking, filming or creating installations. The initial sketches are clearly put to use either as a stable point of departure for later artwork, or as autonomous artworks in their own right. Notwithstanding his interest and experience with a variety of media, drawing makes up the core of his artistic practice. The materials he uses to develop allegoric drawings are pen, Chinese ink, bistre and silk paper. This combination justly evokes visionary images with both Eastern and Western cultural influences. Likewise does his grip on several ancient printmaking techniques such as woodcut and intaglio.


 

Peter’s recognizable artistic universe comes into being thanks to an intense art-historical and literary observation followed by a personal interpretation. As a matter of fact, he wants to create a new intercultural imagery containing a symbiosis of art history and topicality and avoiding cultural appropriation. To this end he explores art-historical characteristics of aesthetics and the power originating from an image when reversing its beauty or toying with the significance of artistic subjects, themes, archetypes and symbols: de-contextualization and neo-contextualization. As the recycled images are part of our enormous visual culture, their reinterpretations consequently have a strong effect on the spectator. He wants to break open the collective cross-cultural consciousness, starting from the concept of the “human identity”. Hence, he searches for the “human being” and the “being human” exploring humanity. Finally, he accomplishes step by step a new, more universal imagery that draws from the past and reflects on the present.


 

Peter has been very active on the international art scene, with residencies in The Netherlands (Vlissingen 2008-2009), in Italy (Rome 2014-2015) and in the USA (New York, 2015-2016), exhibitions in Rome (MAXXI), Brussels (Kasteel van Gaasbeek) New York (Brilliant Champions Gallery) and London (Young Masters). He is involved in an artistic P.hD. program and plans several new exhibitions and residencies in its framework.


Referring to the enclosed gardens associated with Muslim and Christian art of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, Depelchin’s Hortus Conclusus I is a complete theater stage mining his artistic identity in relation to themes found in religion, sexuality, and history. Depelchin’s artwork and the exhibitions he creates draw upon familiar archetypes in both Eastern and Western iconography to create a new imagery that speaks to the cross-cultural consciousness of our universal human experience. The spectacular drawing Hortus Conclusus is a witness of Depelchin’ quest for this universal imagery.


BACKGROUND


Since 2014 Peter Depelchin has explored the concept of the ‘Hortus Conclusus,’ enclosed garden, as both a compositional and metaphorical strategy. Using the empty space of a white sheet of paper as a stage, the contained space, acting like a theater, allows for an intermingling of illusion and disillusion, reality and fantasy.


Depelchin employs the artistic trope of ‘divine perspective’ to layer meaning and symbolism from various religious and mythological traditions. ‘Divine perspective’ allows for the combining of multiple perspectives within one composition and often depicts several episodes of a story in one scene. Making use of this trope, specifically as it is characterized in early Flemish and German primitive paintings, medieval and early Italian Renaissance art, as well as Persian and Rajput miniatures, Depelchin juxtaposes vantage points and symbolic characters to access the core of the human experience.


INSPIRATION


Depelchin’s interest in the enclosed garden began with his discovery of a small allegorical painting in the Städelsches Kunstinstitut of Frankfurt. The artwork, Paradiesgarten, c. 1410 (26.3 x 33.4 cm / 10.4 x 13.1 in), by an anonymous German master, shows a scene with typical elements and archetypes of the enclosed garden: a tree, a fountain, the suggestion of evil defeated (a small dragon on its back), a table with garden fruit (forbidden fruit or a pomegranate?), a gallipot, birds, and flowers (lily of the valley, iris, etc.). The virgin is depicted three times in diverse attitudes: reading, scooping water, and playing music with the infant Jesus.


This painting, likely referring to the locked garden described in Song of Songs, verses 4:12-15, and the Latin ‘Hortus Conclusus’ with baby Jesus surrounded by angels, propelled Depelchin to use the enclosed garden as a means to investigate the human experience.


METHOD


Depelchin’s artistic practice is articulated in two main phases: research and execution. During the research phase the artist sketches and writes to solidify his ideas. He then begins drawing, printmaking, sculpting, filming, or creating installations. Drawing makes up the core of his artistic practice. The materials he uses to develop large-scale allegoric drawings are pen, Chinese ink, bistre and tissue paper. With this characteristic combination, he evokes visionary images with both Eastern and Western cultural influences.


The construction of his particular universe depends strongly on an intense observation of both human history and the present-day world. He reinterprets his carefully chosen sources and makes contemporary fusions using a visionary imagery and multi-perspectival compositions: he de-contextualizes and neo-contextualizes. To this end he explores beauty in its ambiguity and primordiality, which includes cruelty, pain and suffering, monstrosity, sexuality, and irony, as life itself. Overall, he wishes to birth a new universal imagery by breaking open the collective cross-cultural consciousness, starting from the concept of ‘human identity’.


To translate ‘divine perspective’ into the contemporary visual language, Depelchin uses the panoramic picture scheme -accessible through smart phones- to conceive of his wide-view compositions, isometric perspective and oblique projection to enable combinations of different narratives, and patterns to flatten the three-dimensional illusion of the drawing. In effect, he creates a new ‘divine perspective’, a ‘divine shot’, by combining several approaches of the depiction of space gathered in a single image.


DESCRIPTION


A visionary image occurring in an enclosed garden, Depelchin’s Hortus Conclusus I manipulates and alters elements found in the depiction of a typical enclosed garden, such as that described above in Paradiesgarten.


All elements related to a traditional depiction of the enclosed garden seem present. Depelchin’s interpretation of these elements however, is far from conventional: the tree of life is stripped bare by a young obese boy; the fountain has three catfish (as a reference to the holy trinity) swimming on their backs; the virgin and child are presented in a pagan, pre-Christian state; the squirrel knits its way to the underworld; the table with a vanity still-life questions the whole scene... This artwork also shows the artist’s growing interest with Eastern cultures, in particular in his extensive pattern work. Moreover, Depelchin applies his ‘divine shot’ by using a different point of view for the table and the still-life. The left sidewall enclosing the garden is also distorted.


To realize this drawing, Depelchin studied both historical and topical imagery through the gathering of his ever-growing database of pictures.