A talk with Jane Penny, TOPS’s vocalist, at her home back in Montreal
Bram Demunter is a young painter who lives and works in Ghent. His colourful oil paintings on wood and panel draw you into a mysterious universe stuffed with all kinds of people, animals and hybrid creatures who are interacting with each other. While sipping on coffee, we discussed Christian iconography, dogs, Ferdinand Bardamu and human nature.
Interview by Isaline Raes
Photos by Tiny Geeroms shot in Ghent
Looking at your work, I spot a lot of references to Christian and medieval iconography. Where does this fascination come from?
The Middle Ages are part of my DNA. Growing up in Kortrijk and currently living in Ghent, I’ve always been surrounded by cathedrals and churches. The big themes and emotions treated in ancient Christian art are still relevant in our time. But I dode not only draw on Christian iconography. I also pick from other religions, like Hinduism, ancient Greek mythology or Judaism.
How do you build up your images?
My paintings are always the product of an interactive process between the things I read, hear, see and think. They function as a sort of collage of my impressions. Literature is an important source of inspiration: books about the brain, slavery, the animal in human history, etc. But also the environment where I live in, has a great impact on my creative process. During the period I worked in a centre for psychiatric patients, I was inspired by their way of looking upon people and experiencing emotions. Now that I live in Ghent and have a studio at HISK, the engaging conversations I have with other artists are influencing my work. However, despite the fact that my paintings arise rather spontaneously, there’s a common thread running through them.
Literature is an important source of inspiration: books about the brain, slavery, the animal in human history
The axis around which my paintings revolve, is the behaviour of people and how they cope with each other and their surroundings — nature, animals and institutions. In comparison with my early work, where the emphasis was on the symbolism of each figure, my focus shifted to the interaction between the characters, always touching the ‘rough’ human emotions, like hate, happiness, pain, lust, …. The diverse sources of inspiration I mentioned before, serve as viewpoints to approach these big themes. For instance, once I made a painting based on the Game of the Goose. The life path-like, winding form of the game and the mellow symbolism of the goose squares — the well, dead, prison — provide an interesting angle to look upon people. Same goes for the book I’ve read about how the dog is looked upon by humans through time. Then, I used the perspective of the dog to depict people. So my topics are always the same, but I like to approach them from different angles.
What’s the most recent book you’ve read?
The last book I’ve read was Journey to the End of the Night by Louis-Ferdinand Céline. The narrator in this semi-autobiographical novel is Ferdinand Bardamu, a nihilistic antihero who is involved in World War I. The way he describes what he experiences and feels when he looks upon human nature, society and life in general, is very inspiring. How he can kick one dog and pet the other, for example, or how he shows empathy for the poor souls.