ESSAYS, INTERVIEWS & REVIEWS
Wilfried Pas - 2012 - Eruit slepen wat je kan [NL, interview],
Drag out as much as possible
Wilfried Pas about his student years at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts
Wilfried Pas: I had studied earlier in Brussels at Saint Luke before I arrived at the Antwerp Academy. For my parents it was important that I went to a catholic school. For them, the Academy in Antwerp was a stronghold of dangers. In Antwerp, the atmosphere was more relaxed, but the teachers had more limited ideas. In Brussels you learned about all sorts painters of some importance. There was a wide range of views. A lot of cartoonists, for example Gal, but also cabaret artists have been to Saint Luke in Brussels. In Antwerp they really had ridiculous views. The height of stupidity was a teacher who claimed that Van Gogh didn’t even come up to his ankles. Picasso was only mentioned to ridicule him. The teachers really hated him.
In Antwerp I studied advertising. Actually, everyone did, with the idea to make a living later. Other students who studied advertising were Panamarenko, Walter Goossens and Fred Bervoets. In the morning we had painting classes and in the afternoon advertising classes. I had a lot of fun there. Fortunately, I had acquired some baggage in Brussels, because in Antwerp you simply had to paint in the style of person who happened to become your teacher: the senior. In Brussels I had learnt a lot from Luc Verstraete. In Antwerp I liked Olivier Strebelle: a tall man, who was a bit odd. He was French-speaking, fashionably dressed, a very jolly chap. He must be about eighty now. I believe he still practices hang-gliding. He used to teach ceramics at the Higher Institute.
As a student, I was influenced by the Italian school. They had an exhibition in the Open-air Museum Middelheim. It was a really mind-expanding event, with artists such as Marino Marini. I created work with found or cheap materials in the spirit of arte povera: wax, oil paint, pieces of string, cloth, gauze and fabric. In the end I like the primitive more than bronze, but people are afraid of these primitive things, because they think the work will fall apart. Yet some works have been hanging here for some thirty years.
When I became a teacher myself, I was appointed by the minister. That’s how it went at the time. I was actually catapulted into the job. That caused a lot of tension, including between me and the director, who was called Mark Macken. He was a real barbarian and had a lot of plaster casts sent to the rubbish dump. It was said that the young generation was a generation of iconoclasts, but actually we saved as many sculptures as possible, for example Rodin’s Dalou, which is now in the Middelheim. Once I saw a marble statue of three metres high being sawn into pieces that were to serve as practice material for the students.
But in the end the sculpture class turned into a well-functioning unit. After the first year you could opt for one of the workshops, which were led by three different teachers: myself, Guy Maclot, and a third teacher. The leitmotif remained modelling from model, working on composition and free work. We weren’t a factory that produced sculptors. In the end, it’s not about training people to become artists—it’s about making sure that in the course of four years students develop a personality and can function as human beings in society. You give them a taste of things and teach them how to discover freedom by teaching them discipline. The more you know, the more you can use and the more you can forget. I think it was Paul van Ostaijen who said that a student is like a burning museum: as a teacher, you have to drag out as much as possible. You have to rescue what’s inside and in order to do so, you must be prepared to give something.
Montagne de Miel, October 22nd 2012