In conversation with Brussels-born Stephanie Herremans.
Can you talk about your journey into or interest the arts?
I am self-taught and have not followed any artistic course. I was raised in a family of artistic men. My father was a painter, a student of Paul Delvaux (1897-1994) at the National School of Visual Arts of La Cambre in Brussels. It was no coincidence that I started collage. I have always had images running around in my mind but I did not feel the need to exploit them. It was only a few years ago that the need to express myself became apparent. So I searched for a medium that would allow me to represent my emotions. I had always known collage as an art form in its own right but never felt ready for the exercise. The real click happened during my first creation. I knew then and there that my scissors would never leave me.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal within your process?
No. Sometimes I take pictures of the images I want to work with. For a few days, I immerse myself in it and imagine different combinations.
Your work often references or uses constructivist or Dada like elements, can you talk about your influences and interests?
What inspires me in Dadaism and surrealism is the ability to divert images from their original meaning and the opportunity given to random chance. Artists such as Hausmann or Ernst, for whom I have a real admiration, are for me the masters in this matter. The elements recalling constructivism are for me a way of playing in space with the different elements, of giving them more depth and an impression of continuity. For this, László Moholy-Nagy and his photomontages clearly influenced me.
Can you talk about your process of working. How do you work, how often?
I am a mother and I have a day job. I only work once or twice a week, if I can, always in the evening and often until late at night. I work on the table in my dining room, and my ‘workshop’ is stored in the buffet, which is starting to look awfully small! My images, mainly in black and white, come from old beautiful books. These are books I find or are given to me. Sometimes I buy them in flea markets or second-hand stores. When I find the image I’m working on, I let it soak in my mind for a few days. I reflect on the different possibilities. These first drafts in my mind are rarely realized, because I am always dependent on the other material at hand. But as I search and assemble, if I rekindle the atmosphere in which this image bathed me, then I have achieved my goal. When I cut an image, I like to make it loose its original meaning, either by blending it into the composition or by cutting it so that it is no longer recognisable.
Do you find the process of creating work relaxing or therapeutic?
For the relaxing aspect, yes and no. Sometimes it’s easy and fluid. Sometimes, the way images need to be added to one another is obvious. Sometimes, I know where I want to go, but I can’t. The metaphor with childbirth is perfectly appropriate in this case: I suffer during the process and once I am finished I am happy with the result. Also, the time I am able to create is limited to me. If I don’t finish a collage, I won’t be able to work on it again right away. I find it hard to stop, and it puts me under a lot of pressure. I think this is one of the reasons why I mainly work on small formats. Regarding the therapeutic aspect, I would say that it is much more than that. In fact, collage has allowed me to discover an entire second part of myself.