KOCHI: When Anubhuti art gallery owner Helga Peeters of Belgium invited compatriot Nico Vaerewijck to showcase his work at Jew Town, the latter was zapped. “I could not believe it,” says Nico. “An exhibition in India is not something that I ever imagined. I have been showing mostly in Germany, France and Belgium.”
And when Helga spoke about the Kochi Muziris Biennale, Nico was even more puzzled. He had never heard about it. So he immediately googled the art festival and checked out some images from the 2014 edition. He liked what he saw. What was heartening for Nico was the fact that fellow Belgian artist Hans Op de Beeck had taken part.
When Nico eventually visited the Biennale, recently, he was much impressed. “It’s very professional and similar to the Biennale Interieur in Belgium,” he says. “But the Kochi Biennale is larger. The quality of the art works is so good. We don’t see a lot of Indian and Pakistani artists in Europe, so it was an eye-opener to see their works.”
Nico also had a revelation at the Biennale. “I realised that art is universal,” he says. “At Kochi, I saw the European style, but it was done by an Indian artist, in an unique way.”
Nico has also produced something unique in his exhibition, too. His inspiration is viewing footage from old 8 or 16 mm films. Then he takes a printout of an image he likes. Using it as the start, he starts painting. Usually it ends up as an abstract or a figurative image, an oil on linen or canvas.
“I always do a series,” he says. “The last series was called Reminiscences. As a middle-aged person, I began thinking about the past.”
One who served as a creative spur was his wife’s 92-year-old grandfather, who lived in a house all by himself in a town called Sint-Niklaas. When Nico went visiting, he found the interiors very interesting. There were old artifacts, like a statue of a Chinese girl, and a small carpet on the floor.
“People don’t see these hand-made carpets in Belgium anymore,” says Nico. “Everything is machine-made. Unfortunately, the craftsmanship is no longer there. Products lack soul these days. It’s always too perfect.”
So, Nico decided to do a six feet high painting, an oil on linen, of the carpet, which is displayed at Anubhuti. “You experience another dimension when you see a carpet on a wall,” says Nico. “When it is laid on the floor, people don’t notice it all that much.”
Another painting is that of the German artist Martin Kippenberger (1953-97), playing the drums. “In America, he has a big reputation,” says Nico. “He was a musician, as well as a painter, who made large installations. This is a tribute. Even though Martin was a member of a punk band, he would always wear a tie and a suit. I saw this image in a small catalogue and enlarged it.”
Surprisingly, even though he is based in wealthy Europe, Nico is a part-time artist. During the day, he works at the Antwerp port as a supervisor, but he ensures that he works on his art from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m.
“Yes, it is difficult to be a full-time artist,” says Nico. “Out of 100 artistes in Belgium, only 10 can live only by art. I have three children, a house to maintain, and many bills to pay.”
Nevertheless, Nico’s works are selling steadily. “One day, I hope to be full-time artist,” he says.