ESSAYS, INTERVIEWS & REVIEWS
Panamarenko - 2012 - Irrefutable [EN, interview],
Panamarenko about his student years at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts
Panamarenko: You ask me about how I experienced my study days at the Academy. For me, that is like asking about the usefulness or uselessness of an art school. For me, the Academy was certainly useful, because I learned there how to look. It wasn’t the teachers who taught me, it was just being busy with art. The teachers didn’t think much of Vincent Van Gogh and Picasso was called a fraud. They considered Duchamp worthless, but still they used him as an argument to claim that he had already done everything one could possibly do. Their case was irrefutable: creating something new was simply impossible. Yet the sound barrier was being broken and Sputniks were being sent into space. Everything seemed on the move, except art.
Our teachers themselves painted landscapes and views of the river Scheldt. Rather dark paintings, they were. Quite suitable to hang in medieval houses, next to copper flower pots with sansevierias. I didn’t have a particular problem with that. Their paintings were okay, but they wanted us to do the same thing.
I started studying at the Academy when I was fourteen and I left when I was nineteen (1954-1959). In the morning I painted, in the afternoon I learnt how to make posters. The first year we had to learn how to draw spheres, cubes and pyramids. The second year I had to draw a herring on a towel. The third year we also had to draw nudes from live models. That continued till the last year. If you bought a tube of skin-coloured paint in the beginning of the school year, it would last till the end of the year. To make the skin colour darker, I used charcoal—that way I didn’t have to buy a tube of ochre, which was very expensive. One of the things that made it difficult, was that you weren’t allowed to draw the model how you saw her. The teachers had their own style. You had to use elegant lines, because the women had to have a Rubenesque touch. The teachers had their own studio, where the students weren’t allowed.
Yet going to the Academy was useful, because you tried out all sorts of things and thus you discovered that you could make things that looked all right. Our teachers hated Van Gogh and Picasso, but I thought I could manage the same thing. And because I tried, I started to see something. My attempts produced a certain effect. I noticed that if I used a black brushstroke here and a red circle there, a magical composition could result. Learning to see things is really important. Later I discovered that there were really few people who can see anything at all. Without the academy or intense contact with an artist, you can’t learn what it means to see. That’s why there are so few writers or poets who can see something.
Once I made a painting together with Fred Bervoets that looked splendid, but the next day we overpainted it. I also met Wilfried Pas at the academy, who later made works with spider webs. They didn’t look bad at all.
I graduated with paintings from women on a background of black and white squares. For the women I used enamel paint. I thought it looked nice, but my teachers called it kitsch. They didn’t like my straining for effect. Yet what is art but an attempt to call forth an effect?
While I was at the academy, everything became more and more serious. It turned into a sort of state school. Suddenly it was full of know-alls who had been catapulted into their jobs, teachers who came to check exams and who considered our posters to be too painterly. Those were people who were really blind. There’s one teacher of whom I have a fond memory: Marstboom. He allowed us a lot of freedom. He made abstract paintings himself.
What else is there to be said? You’ll never make money with it, or you’ll have to cheat. The more expensive the art, the better. That’s how it works. There’s a short lesson!
Montagne de Miel, October 10th 2012