“I don’t like weight; literally and figuratively. I’ve never really had a place of which I thought: ‘That is my studio.' I can run away from it. I’ve always been uncomfortable owning things. I see beauty in the fact that everything is transient and might disappear.” That fleeting power of time is ever-present in Thomas Lerooy’s (1981) bronze sculptures and drawings. The artistic world he constructs displays a sensual fusion of life and death, birth and transience, multiplicity and unity, the iconic and the fragmentary. It is a space for reflection created by the clash of ideas, a labyrinthine mental space where an acute fascination with the macabre is channelled into lively iconography and representation of the vanitas motif that makes (art) history emerge in a new, transformed light.
The viewer can penetrate his ruptured images through the multiple chinks and cracks, the literal and figurative holes he burns in his iconographic tableaux. “It is a kind of search for a place, an identity, a zero point. I often think that I keep drawing a circle, and though I describe all the things on the circle’s edge, I would actually like to be in the middle. That is my work: getting into the middle of that circle. That’s what the world is like: the black hole, the anus, the vagina. They contain numerous associations: death, life, sex, etc. This conversation really got off to a deep start.” (Laughs)
Thomas Lerooy has a stimulating, jittery mind that doesn’t shy away from paradox – that vital locus of reflection. The dream of weightlessness is paired with heavy sculptures, the dark heaviness of his subjects to the lightness of grotesque imagery. The search for an identity is allied to the will to disappear. “When I started drawing, I really wanted to work with images; I wanted to be an image maker. But I found it very hard to start working figuratively. Until I had the idea of countering the purely figurative aspect by using a lot of images, by conceiving of the drawing as a kind of sculpture. Because that’s exactly what our lives are made of: the multiplicity and the abundance of information.” Thomas Lerooy makes that multiplicity overwhelmingly visible. His viewers get sucked into a swirling vortex of images that threatens to consume them. “It’s like a book: you open it, study it, and take it with you as stored information. I took that very literally and started depicting the things we take with us; I started using them as building blocks."
Not that Thomas Lerooy hides behind multiplicity, commentary, and quotation to develop an ironic, superior perspective. He practices a type of universal craniometry, frisking humanity’s skull in order to make invisible, inherent characteristics visible. His work is a fellow-sufferer’s reflection on humanity and time. “In art, you always look for your place. At a museum, there are always some things you like and others you dislike; there are pieces you identify with. The same thing applies to the historical images I use. They are etched on our memory and have thus acquired normality, so that you almost get the sense that they are perfection itself. And people want to be perfect; they want to be able to identify with perfection."
The tradition Thomas Lerooy employs is not an adversary, but an environment. “Yes, I also feel like I am a part of it, that I continue down the demarcated path.” The idea of predecessors also recurs in a very different, practical way: “When I started drawing, I was terrified of the blank page. Every line you draw has a story. I didn’t want that. At a certain point, I started collecting old catalogues, cutting out and making collages of all the yellowed and thumb-marked paper. I find that I can draw on those pages because I’m drawing on someone else’s story. That involves the idea of layers, and that is my true starting point."
Thomas Lerooy was eleven when he drew his first 3D car. At school, his notes always turned into doodles and drawings. At the beginning of the year, he was warned to keep his atlas spotless, but by the end of the year, the paper world was covered in drawings. It is as though – consciously or subconsciously – he was fleeing from pattern-bound thought, escaping from the grid of ready-made structures. Captivity is an element that regularly recurs in his work, in a variety of forms: sculptures of a man with a torso for a head (Need In Me), drawings of shackled people (Don’t Speak), animals tied in knots (The Great Bagpipe, Symphony of Destruction – lots of giraffes!), two images cramped into one another (Controversy), colossal heads that immobilise the bodies of bronze sculptures (from the exhibition Braindance, Galerie Rodolphe Janssen, 2009), etc.
His work steps beyond the boundaries of an immediately cognizable world, on the cusp of a fantastic universe where the metaphysical might express itself physically. And where art places itself in the balance. This pregnancy gives his work a fathomless whimsicality and sustained appeal, both visually and narratively.
We visited Thomas Lerooy at his apartment in Elsene, where his office is and where he works on his designs and drawings, and on a catalogue of his work to be published in spring 2013. His studio on the Boondaalsesteenweg/chaussée de Boondael will soon be renovated and expanded. “I bought my studio in Brussels four or five years ago. It’s a project that takes time, it takes a long time for me to get to that personal space. But there was only one place I really wanted to live in Belgium. I can work quietly here. You can get lost in Brussels – it's a place where you can really disappear.” Become weightless...