Here, Strook confronts his new works with classical ceremonial portraits from the Groeninge Museum’s permanent collection. For the first time, he has crafted a large section of a portrait in marble. This material refers to the formal pomp and pageantry of the ceremonial paintings. Like weathered wood, marble also reveals the marks of time. But it is millions of years old. This puts the ‘eternal value’ of the sitters into perspective. The material questions our human existence in the light of history.
Strook first makes preparatory drawings. He does not mix his paint like a conventional artist. His ‘colour palette’ is derived from the planks that he has been collecting for years. Some have such an important provenance or expressive patina that he keeps them for ages, until he finds the perfect use for the material. He therefore needs to be selective. The weathered planks are so unique in colour, texture and origin that he will never find the same ones again. Strook’s overriding concern is the visual power inherent within this wood. Recycling is not an end in itself, but a way of experimenting with materials that tell a story.
Strook’s ‘heads’ are more than the sum of their parts. But you could dissect each individual element. Every piece of wood has its own identity or place of origin. Sometimes they will come from desolate, indeterminable locations. These have a strange beauty for Strook. They seem arrested in time but, thanks to their decay, are in the throes of metamorphosis.
At other times, the material hails from places with a unique history, such as the old Die Keure printers in Bruges, St Bavo’s Cathedral in Ghent or a shipyard in Gdansk. In his assemblages, Strook mixes bits of scrap wood from very different locations. From the cradle of the Solidarność [Solidarity] movement in Poland to the floor of an old-fashioned bar in Kortrijk. They are ‘compressions’ of histories both great and small.
Strook does not find usable material for his sculptures in all of the ‘non-places’ that he visits. But occasionally the sites are so expressive that he searches for a way to preserve their unique texture. He has developed a technique for casting surface patinas – from tiles or a floor, for example – using a mould. From these casts he makes stamps, which he uses in various ways. They enable him to make ceramics that have the same surface textures as the original locations. The cast replicas of places that nobody cares about, but which are replete with history. Strook wants to capture the invisible histories of these places in his work. For this reason, he has cast sections of the floor at the three exhibition venues. In this way, he has ‘sampled’ the patina and soul of these locations, which thousands of people walk heedlessly through every day. These casts allowed the age-old stories of these sites to be fired, quite literally, into a portrait.
The material that Strook collects has become ‘abject’: it has lost its function and is sitting in the waiting room of time. Strook transforms that material into a ‘subject’. It becomes a new artistic creation with its own identity and raison d’être.