Damien De Lepeleire

“Let me take a look at the inside of your home and I will tell you who you are.” This statement could have been found in a psychology textbook. On entering Damien De Lepeleire’s studio, the visitor is liable to trip over a dozen or so watercolours, oil paintings, collages, flattened cans of beer in bronze, house plants and old art books. Clearly, this is the habitat of a carefree, open-minded, generous, and eccentric creature. Compelled to collect objects, this free-spirited artist gives as freely as he takes.

It is de Lepeleire’s fascination with photographic reproductions that most jumps out at the visitor. “Old art books captivate me almost more than the original works of art,” he says. Reproductions of works of art have a special value and meaning for this artist.

The visitor’s attention is drawn to a number of key works in the history of art: for example, 16 Jackies by Andy Warhol, and International Klein Blue by Yves Klein – which de injects with new life. A true iconoclast, he tears photographic reproductions out of old luxury auction catalogues, to make new and imposing Arte Povera installations. He also makes small, playful versions of artworks, allowing the buyer to enjoy a Picasso for just €85!

“I like the tension that occurs when looking at a reproduction of a painting. The reproduction betrays the original painting, reducing the image to just one aspect – the image, while denying its material aspects, its size and colours. As the cultural philosopher Walter Benjamin suggested in the 1930s, the status of a work of art has been fundamentally altered by photographic reproduction. The reproduction of a work of art eliminates it’s aura.” Hence de Lepeleire’s preference for reproductions that do not aim to accurately represent the original work. He says: “Black and white reproductions of colour paintings are somehow more true to life. Because they are so different, such reproductions don’t claim absolute fidelity to the original work. I am interested in the way reproductions acquire their own autonomy as a result of their flaws and weaknesses.” De Lepeleire’s installations often generate a sense of fragility, and childlike playfulness. He is well aware of the ephemeral nature of his activity – approaching it with conscious irony. In his museum of Pop-up Art, he rescues numerous sculptures from oblivion; the black-and-white photographs of Italian, Greek, African and Chinese sculptures have been retrieved from poorly-printed, second-hand books which would otherwise have just been left to gather dust. The carefully cut-out pictures have been mounted on cardboard and aluminium supports – giving them a general air of kitsch, before being arranged in upright positions. By breathing new and almost three-dimensional life into these pieces, the artist brings us back to the origins of the work. What is there to see here? What is the difference between the original and the copy? In fact, through the transformative power of his art, he revives the original character of the work.

De Lepeleire’s tiny Tang tables are probably his most delicate work. These transport the viewer back to the Tang Dynasty (618-908), one of the most culturally significant periods in Chinese history. The artist has cut a dozen colourful tables from cardboard boxes, and these appear to be engaged in a delicate dance – on clumsy little feet. The work is bursting with poetry and humour – the defining characteristics of de Lepeliere’s œuvre.

Whether he uses a tiny, ancient Chinese table or an allusion to Picasso, De Lepeleire’s intention is to spark the imagination. What would the original of this work have been like? His tactile, sensitive reproductions raise questions about the experience of art, as well as authenticity in visual representation. De Lepeleire is an artist whose enthusiasm and generosity generate  a powerful sense of physical and spiritual excitement.