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Strook at Onze-Lieve-Vrouwe Kerk

Human fragility is the theme of the ‘head’ that Strook has created for the Church of Our Lady. He depicts ordinary people on a monumental scale. The portrait’s stillness and attitude are in keeping with the sacredness of the site. Strook has taken the insignificance and fragility of humankind and enlarged it into a 3.4-metre-high relief. This is unusual in a Catholic church. Here, this kind of scale is normally reserved for biblical paintings or statues of saints. Some people feel there is a sacred aura to Strook’s heads. Through his work, he wants to make the viewer stop and think about time and the insignificance of humankind.

For his portraits, Strook uses materials that have been altered by time. In so doing, he touches upon the essence of what it means to be human: as a person, you are shaped by time. By what you experience, what you carry with you and what you eventually forget. In his work, Strook tries to arrest time, which nevertheless keeps on ticking and fading away. He quotes the past, to which everything and everyone will one day belong. Including both himself and his art. In this sense, his work fits within the tradition of the memento mori. It is a reminder of the finite nature of humanity, the fragility of our existence and the transience of life.

Strook would not be able to achieve this kind of layering with new wood. The material he uses is a metaphor for how we, as people, are scratched, splintered, broken or scarred. We all have our scars, wrinkles and cracks. Normally we hide our furrows, but in Strook’s work they are on the outside.

His work is extremely contemporary, but his starting point is the past. Strook makes contemporary art with an old soul. Whoever looks at his work, looks at the past and sees how it is dealt with by an artist. His assemblages in wood are literally a passé composé, or composite past. Strook combines materials that he has found in various places. He remixes ruins into portraits.

Strook does not make portraits of specific people. He only portrays an emotion or attitude. By dehumanising his figures, he leaves the interpretation open. Some find comfort in them, while others recognise a feeling of grief or melancholy. Strook’s ‘heads’ have a universal expression. Everyone can ascribe their own meaning to the work.

His figures speak directly to the viewer, even though they are not recognisable. Their identity is indeterminate; the emphasis is on attitude and emotion. That anonymity only leads to greater empathy. Strook’s figures are emotionally broken. But the craquelure, the tiny fissures, betray the traces of life.