Rommelaere’s oeuvre reminds us of traditional ethnic tapestries that are more likely to be found in the cabinet-filled corridors of a museum. He earns this description largely because of the myriad of colours and the medium: textile. Rommelaere graduated as a fashion student in the Belgian city of Ghent and did internships at Henrik Vibskov and Raf Simons. Yet the fashion business didn’t seem right for him.
For Rommelaere, the against the grain decision to look for help at a service centre seemed a logical move. ‘They have the skills and they have the time,’ he replies drily. ‘Also, they’ve maintained a sense of purity and aren’t as influenced by the media as interns are. Interns tend to be hip and trendy. I need to steer them to make the work look more scruffy.’ A generational hiccup seems to be at work: a young intern will learn to implement Rommelaere’s style while their elderly compatriots don’t reflect on style. They just do.
Rommelaere subconsciously reflects the digital meme culture (funny photos and drawings on the internet) of today: Tumblr images, Nineties nostalgia, eclecticism and absurdism. His sketchy style refers to purposely badly drawn pictures often done by internet trolls, found on the darker pages of social media and geeky platforms. Yet the intention is opposite. The artist is sincere.
It might seem odd to think that the elderly would appreciate the chaotic textiles of Rommelaere, let alone find their own signature within that language – but the old are not alien. ‘They might have had trouble understanding it in the beginning but they do now. They especially appreciate the craft and the amount of work behind every piece.’ The extensive labour of embroidering, crocheting and knitting by hand forms an important parameter.
Ore et labore: pray while you work. The monk’s adage. Rommelaere doesn’t mumble to the gods but does work slow and long hours. It’s a reaction to the speed of today’s production. ‘I don’t want to link my work to slow fashion; it holds on to a certain trendy and earthy aesthetic that I don’t want to be part of. But I find the effort important. There’s a lot of (internet) art I just find too easy to make.’ While contemporary art is often about the intention of the artist and not the actual object, Rommelaere believes in the opposite.
‘All my idols are craftsmen who believe in working regularly and working hard,’ he continues. ‘Handwork is a form of therapy. It calms me. Working alone allows me to think. If I have to collaborate with other people intensely then you can find me the next day at the cinema – the entire day.’
Klaas Rommelaere is represented by Zink Gallery, zink-waldkirchen.de
Soft? Textile Dialogues, Maurice Verbaet Center, Antwerp, until 24 February, momu.be
This article originally appeared in DAMNº71.
DAMNº71: A Woman’s Work / Saskia de Brauw & Vincent van de Wijngaard / Wendy Andreu / Broken Nature / Cyber-urbanism / ecoLogicStudio / Geo-Design / Alexandre Humbert / Navine G. Khan-Dossos / Leonard Koren / Movie interiors / Radical Cut-Up / Miko Revereza / Klaas Rommelaere / SAVVY Contemporary / Shapereader / Thonik / Andrew Waugh