Project The Jane
As restaurants reopened after endless months of lockdown, The Jane didn’t just come up with a new menu. It also meant the long-awaited inauguration of four new artworks by Forwart and Guy Leclef, also known as our national paper virtuoso.
Some artworks are designed to instantly overwhelm, like a dessert soaking in sumptuous sauces and bombastic toppings. Others are meant to be savoured slowly like an amuse unravelling subtle flavours and fine layers.
The work of the Belgian paper whisperer Guy Leclef definitely falls into the latter category, precisely the reason Nick Bril commissioned him to create no less than four collages for The Jane. “The works act in symbiosis with the space. It brings added value to the interior, without throwing it out of balance,” explains Leclef as we visit him in his studio in Zoersel, where he works and lives. “I think that’s what connects my vision to Nick’s: we both appreciate simplicity and the purity of materials. And we both aim to constantly reinvent ourselves, but in an uncomplex way.
While Leclef’s collages in The Jane’s dining room Look rather abstract and cubist, others seem to refer to pop art, and his work in the wine cellar even shows a touch of dadaism. Yet all these stylistic variations share the same source of origin: paper. “I’ve always been triggered by materials that have a history. As I recycle and repurpose old newspapers, I give them a new, glorified destination,” Leclef says. His obsession has even gotten to the point where his entire cellar is stocked with all kinds of used cardboard and dated magazines. “Now some printing houses in the neighbourhood send me pictures of their waste, and before I know it my entire van is filled.
To the great amusement of my wife, as you can imagine.”
Besides a fingerspitzengefühl for interesting material, Leclef masters a wide array of techniques to treat his beloved paper. He rips it, soaks it, impregnates it, rolls it, slices it or shreds it, before rhythmically assembling the pieces. Each composition is an endurance event in craft and precision. “My work is highly labour-intensive. Some collages consist of thousands of paper scraps, which I manually cut, fold, spike and paste.
I can spend hours and hours doing this kind of work without noticing the time passing by. It’s just pure relaxation to me, almost a form of meditation.” However, while his mind flows freely during the creation process, his body is less appreciative of those folding marathons. “If I’m not maintaining a good posture, I end up at the osteopath’s office at least twice a month.
But I wouldn’t tolerate anyone helping me. My studio is my sanctuary.”
Paper wasn’t the first material that elevated Leclef to a meditative state, though. After an education in gemology, he worked for many years as a diamond cutter, which he later traded for a career in decorative painting.
He became an expert in painting stucco, faux marble and patinas, techniques that still prove useful today. “Two of my works at The Jane are made of pressed cardboard. I left one in natural shades, the other I gave a black, semi-opaque tonality similar to charcoal. It looks a bit like stone from afar people are always surprised it’s just paper.”
Nick Bril named these two collages ‘Day and Night, even though Leclef usually doesn’t name his works. “I’m very proud of the end result. The collaboration definitely opened some new doors for me.”