Willem Oorebeek

Year and place of birth: 1953, Pernis, the Netherlands Location: Brussels, Belgium

Willem Oorebeek studied graphics and painting and drawing in Rotterdam from 1970 to 1975. He started teaching at the Jan van Eyck Academy in Maastricht in 1989 and later taught in Amsterdam, Hamburg and Vienna. Oorebeek represented the Netherlands at the Venice Biennale In 1997, together with Aernout Mik. In 2008, he initiated the artist-in-residence programme at WIELS, of which he is one of the artistic mentors.

Oorebeek’s work is primarily based on printed matter that he freely appropriates from the public domain and adapts graphically: including advertising, election posters, magazine covers, postcards and newspapers. In addition, he also makes his own artist books, (video) installations and public artworks, e.g., tapestries for the Flemish Government’s ‘Ellipse’ building. With his partner, the Austrian artist Alaia Konrad, he made the film ‘Angertal’ in 2011. He is occasionally active as an exhibition maker.

Oorebeek’s work is recognisable by the grids of dots and the ‘black-out’. ‘Blackout’ is a series of works the artist has been making since the 1990s on the basis of found printed matter that he overprints with (usually) black ink. The ink allows – in contrast to censorship – the original image to shine through, so that we look at it even more consciously and carefully. Oorebeek calls this the ‘choreography of looking’. Moreover, through our reflection in the glass behind which the works are framed, a temporary connection is established between the original image and the viewer. At times, the ‘black-out’ in Oorebeek’s oeuvre also stands for a temporary inability to access the memory.

The graphic grid of dots that we know from newspaper pictures, comic strips and Roy Lichtenstein’s pop art paintings, is a second visual element in Oorebeek’s work. He covers entire building facades with grids of dots, sometimes with blank zones for projections or texts. He also reduces magazine covers to black-and-white or prints several enlarged versions one on top of the other. We automatically try to analyse the composite image until we recognise the original covers, through which we also discover the artistic rules to which Oorebeek has subjected them.

Oorebeek reflects on the status of printed images in the media. By appropriating these mass-produced pictures and manipulating them so that we inevitably look at them more consciously, the artist returns their autonomy and expressiveness. Oorebeek pronounces a silent but certain judgement on such images while simultaneously investigating our powers of perception.

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