The devil is in the details

Duivel by Hans Verhaegen
↳ Duivel, Wood, plastic and bullet, pre 1986

One of the more hidden things I am continuously preoccupied with is the management of all the works of art I have been creating since the day I decided to come out as an artist. I guess every artist has her or his own way of dealing with it. Some simply do not care at all. Other only keep the 'successful' work. Some have other people dealing with it.

Continuous selection is my thing. I keep lists and maps and boxes where I try to keep everything together. I also try to reduce used space as much as possible. Paintings for instance are separated from their frames (sold ridiculously cheap to another painter) and rolled up. However I can't keep holding on to everything I have produced over the years. Luckily a large part of my working method is digital. It means that I can keep a lot of possible art in a digital form. Digital files and maps don't take much space. It's easier to keep listings or simply trash stuff after a while when no longer needed.

Destroying physical stuff is much more difficult. How to decide to destroy something physical you once adored deeply? Killing your darlings is only possible with the help of time passing by. Only time gives you the capability to look at your own work with different eyes. Suddenly you seem be able to see crystal clear what is ok and what's not. Well, sometimes, in theory.

So time is not enough. That is why I need to use fire. For some weird reasons I am able to burn my most dearest works of art before my own eyes. Giving away a bunch of drawings to be recycled as old paper? Impossible. Burning the same drawings? I did it several times. Paintings on wood, paper sculptures and everything I can lit with a simple match. Burning works of art feels like releasing the energy they contain. It's also the peacefulness of concentrated looking at the flames consuming ideas and dreams of the past.

But recently there was that incident. Like so many times before, I was going through some boxes and found three sculptures I made 30 years ago. The first reaction is always wondering. Why on earth did I make these? How cute, how awkward, look at those details, the clumsiness, the refinement, … And then suddenly the voice of time: you do not need to keep these.

Next day when using my fire place to heat my place, I decided to burn the smallest one. A black wooden figure, cut out of the wood of a broomstick. 10 centimetres tall, with two white eyes made of plastic and something metal in its mouth. The small thing first started to smoke, then its legs and arms caught fire. I was quietly looking at it, while thinking about all the drawings (also destroyed) I made of it. And the fact that at the Academy in Ghent I used to keep it in my pocket. And suddenly, just when I was thinking why it took so long to catch fire completely, it exploded in my face. My ear was peeping. Pieces where flying all over the place. I did not understand immediately what happened. Why this little piece of wood could explode like a bullet? Was it the black paint, the type of wood, the white eyes? Or was it raging anger of the thing because I was destroying it? It definitely had a got shot at me.

If it would have lasted a little longer in the fire, I might have remembered just in time that the metal thing in its mouth was in fact a real bullet. We used to have an alarm pistol. And apparently I used one bullet as a mouth for this little devil.

Author: Hans Verhaegen, 2015