(c) Toon Aerts
Toon Aerts is a good and talented dude. He directs award winning short films, makes dope commercials and takes an amazing picture. I first got to know his work when Alice van den Abeele & Raphaël Cruyt invited me in 2007 to come see the duo exhibition he was doing with fellow photographer and director Nicolas Karakatsanis at ALICE Gallery. That's where I immediately fell hard for Toon's photographic view on the world. An eye, as he reveals in our talk, he was learning to trust thanks to encouraging words of Alice (This woman, ugh. So amazing). Years later, in the Summer of 2013, I was asked to produce and style a shoot for the Style & Interior Design Magazine KWINTESSENS using pieces of the freshly graduated Masters of the Antwerp Fashion Academy (incl. Minju Kim and Devon Halfnight Leflufy) and given carte blanche as far as choosing a photographer went. And I swear, as soon as I was being told "You choose, Dominique", Toon and Nicolas's names popped into my head. As a duo. That's also the moment I knew it was over. No other options. No plan B. I had to have them. Long story short : I thought it would never happen, but I did my work, Alice told them something, Nicolas happened to be in Belgium for a couple of days in between editing a big Hollywood movie and going on set for a new feature film, Toon started mailing me, I did not spazz out. WE. GOT. IT. DONE.
I'm grateful to this day, because I learned so much from these two and I am really proud of the result.
Now, it's my turn to extend my humble services. When Toon sent me an invite for his new exhibition called "Back To Back", this time with his girlfriend and artist Katrien Matthys, I asked him to do an interview. Due to full-on schedules on both sides I'm publishing this with only two weeks left to enjoy the exhibition, so catch it while you can.
Also Toon : I can't wait to step on set with you again, we need to work something out!
Alright, here's what we discussed.
KNOTORYUS : Tell us why you named the exhibition Back To Back?
TOON AERTS : Daan from ALLEY Gallery asked me to come up with a name for the expo, and it was the first thing that crossed my mind. It just made sense, two artists who know each other very well working together, kind of like two DJ’s playing records together, back to back…
(c) Katrien Matthys
Acrylic on cardboard
KNOTORYUS : You told me that KNOTORYUS favourite Tim Vanhamel was on your list of people to shoot for this exhibition. How come it didn't happen?
TOON AERTS : It was simply a matter of timing I guess, I took the pictures for the expo pretty last minute, and unfortunately Tim was not available. But I’m sure it will happen another time…
KNOTORYUS : What do you love most about Tim.
TOON AERTS : Gosh, where to start? I’ve known Tim since I was a little kid, and he has always been this enormously creative force. It just comes so naturally to him. I guess he’s the first real artist I’ve ever met. So yeah, his creative energy. He’s a really inspiring person…
KNOTORYUS : What is the most impressive thing you have ever seen him do?
TOON AERTS : Accompanying his father’s Jazz ensemble on guitar at the age of 15 and absolutely blowing everyone’s mind. But there are so many other great moments, it's hard to choose!
KNOTORYUS : What will make him come out of hiding? Can you tell him KNOTORYUS misses him and we still play "Welcome To The Blue House" at least once a fortnight.
TOON AERTS : (laughs) I’m sure he’ll be happy to hear that. But as for the rest, you’ll have to ask him personally.
KNOTORYUS : Katrien, you made masks for one of our friend Baloji's videos. How did that come about?
KATRIEN MATTHYS : Well, I was friends with the stylist who worked on that video and she asked me to make waterproof masks. I made the masks out of papier-mâché with a lot of varnish and I have been told Baloji was very pleased with them and even used them on stage.
KNOTORYUS : What's the best part of organizing an exhibition with your partner?
KATRIEN MATTHYS : The fact that you are both working towards the same goal and can brainstorm together. It was important to be supportive as well as critical because you want your partner to deliver great work.
TOON AERTS : We were able to brainstorm while doing the dishes, or while having a coffee in the morning… So the ideascame very naturally. No official meetings or Skype calls. It all went very smooth, intuitive and organic. The way it’s supposed to.
KNOTORYUS : What's the worst part of organizing an exhibition with your partner?
KATRIEN MATTHYS : Nothing really. Toon’s opinion is very important to me and I’m used to him being very honest about my work –whether positive or not- and an honest opinion is what I need. Of course, in the end, it always gets stressy but overall it went really well.
TOON AERTS : Well, sharing a deadline is kind of killing… We both work in our apartment, so the last weeks before the expo were pretty nerve wrecking, especially since I was working very last minute. Luckily Katrien was a lot more disciplined and organized, so her work was already done while I was still running around like a madman trying to fix everything.
KNOTORYUS : Sappy question! What do you admire most in each other?
KATRIEN MATTHYS : Toon can tell a stupid anecdote with so much joy and so many juicy details that it becomes a fantastic larger-than-life story. Sometimes it's hard for me to believe that I was actually there when it happened. But that’s why he’s the director and storyteller, I guess. (laughs)
TOON AERTS : Katrien works so much from the gut, so intuitively. She has a big imagination, crazy ideas. When it comes to her work: she can let go of the details and realize when a work is finished, when it doesn’t need any more touching up. I’m more of a control freak, continuously trying to make something perfect.
KNOTORYUS : Toon, you did a duo exhibition before with Nicolas Karakatsanis called "Industries For The Blind" at ALICE Gallery. What was the difference in setting up this exhibition? What did you learn from that period?
TOON AERTS : Hmmm, that’s sure seems like a long time ago! I have evolved a lot as a photographer since the last expo, so this time the pictures came along pretty fast, once I had made up my mind on the subject. Back then, I was not sure which side as a photographer I wanted to show. But Alice really helped me make that choice. She convinced me that I shouldn’t be afraid to show pictures in a more mature and classical style. Since then, I’ve become more at ease with this style. I love taking classical pictures. Funny enough, I see a real challenge in obtaining that classic touch…
(Nicolas Karakatsanis (l) and Toon Aerts (r) during our "I AM A GOD" shoot for Kwintessens)
KNOTORYUS : You also did us the honour of collaborating on a shoot last Summer. What did you like about doing it and what was your favourite image of that series?
TOON AERTS : It was just a lot of fun to work together with Nicolas in such a relaxed way, just like in the good old days. He’s a pretty busy man nowadays, so I don’t get to see him that often any more. When we are working on a film together, it’s a different vibe, more intense. This shoot was very relaxed and laidback, with a lot of room for improvising. I think I like the picture of the girl laying underneath the chair the most. Because it’s a good mix between both of our styles. It’s really a picture that could have been his or mine.
(C) 2013 Toon Aerts x Nicolas Karakatsanis with KNOTORYUS for KWINTESSENS
KNOTORYUS : What is your partner's favourite piece in the exhibition and why?
KATRIEN MATTHYS : The portrait of Jon Spencer because the way he's looking into the camera is a bit mystical to me. And because it’s Jon Spencer of course.
TOON AERTS : “The Crowd”, because it has all the elements that I like about Katrien’s work: it’s colourful. It’s kind of eerie and cute at the same time. It tells a story, but in a very subtle way, it’s still open for interpretation. And most importantly, it has a picture of a cat…
KNOTORYUS : One of our mottos here at KNOTORYUS is : never trust anyone who doesn't like Mauro Pawlowski and/or is over 27 and has never seen him play live. Toon, tell us about the image you created with him and how you relate to him humanly and musically.
TOON AERTS : I’ve known Mauro for quite a long time. Being from Limburg myself, he was always a bit of the “local legend”. I’ve been a fan from the very start, and although his musical path is sometimes hard to follow -since he’s got such a diverse taste and so many projects- he still surprises me to this day. We first worked together when he made the soundtrack of my short film “Dialing The Devil” and that was a real treat. I just think Mauro is simply one of the “originals”, the real ones. I really respect him for the fact that he works so hard, never stops, never quits, and isn’t afraid to experiment. And he’s just a very sweet and respectful guy to work with.
(c) Toon Aerts
KNOTORYUS : Did Mauro come to the opening? What did he say?
TOON AERTS : Unfortunately, he was not able to come to the opening, but he had a damn good excuse. He was busy recording an album with Gruppo Pawlowski in Chicago with Steve Albini, so that’s definitely an album I’m looking forward to.
KNOTORYUS : So are we! Katrien, what went through your mind the last time you saw Toon play bass in his band The Sha-La-Lee's?
KATRIEN MATTHYS : I’m always very proud to see him play, especially when he’s really going for it. The Sha-La-Lee’s have a really good raw live energy and are always fun to look at.
KNOTORYUS : Katrien, on your website you are pictured with a mic. Are you a singer? What is your favourite song to perform live?
KATRIEN MATTHYS : That photo was taken at the Sun Studio in Memphis and I was posing for the camera. So no, I’m not really a singer but I do play drums in Nightwitches, an all female tribute to Black Sabbath.
LGF loves his metal, so I made him watch this with me and his review was : "I ain't gonna lie, this is kinda hot. Also, the band is good and playing Black Sabbath ain't easy." I agree 100%.
KNOTORYUS : Toon, who is on your ultimate wish list of people to photograph?
TOON AERTS : David Lynch, Keith Richards, Martin Scorsese, Bill Murray, Andre Williams, Jim Jarmush, Chuck Berry, Jack Nicholson, Neil Young, the list goes on and on…
KNOTORYUS : Katrien, who would you like to have commission you with an artwork?
KATRIEN MATTHYS : Mmmm… I would be delighted if Mark Everett asked me to draw the cover for the next Eels album.
KNOTORYUS : When was the last time you were really pleased with yourself? What just happened?
KATRIEN MATTHYS : When I'm playing a Nightwitches gig and I can really enjoy the playing on stage then I ‘m kind of pleased with myself. Also when a drawing is really working out or I get a good idea for a painting I can be happy.
(c) Toon Aerts - Nightwitches (Katrien on the right)
TOON AERTS : The moment I took the photograph of Mauro was pretty satisfying, I looked into the viewer of my Mamiya camera and it was exactly the picture I had envisioned a few weeks before.
KNOTORYUS : What are you hoping to achieve in 2014?
KATRIEN MATTHYS : Doing more exhibitions and maybe make a book. Actually doing the things I love to do.
TOON AERTS : A successful release of the first album of The Sha-La-Lee’s.
KNOTORYUS : Whom have you talked to or worked with in the last 5 years that 14-year-old Toon/Katrien would've been like "wow!"?
KATRIEN MATTHYS : When I was 15 the Belgian author Bart Moeyaert came to our all-girls school to talk about his work, which was a big event at that time and we all admired him. When I was 26 he asked me to illustrate his book ‘The Boss of Everything”. My school back then was very traditional and teachers would almost never encourage your creative side. The 15-year-old-me would have never believed that I would do something with Bart Moeyaert someday or that I would even be making illustrations at all…
TOON AERTS : That’s an easy one : Jon Spencer. He was my ultimate rock hero when I was 14, and I still think the man kicks ass. And he was such a sweet person to work with. Completely dedicated and very demanding, but with such class…
KNOTORYUS : What is the weirdest thing anyone ever said about one of your works? And what were the biggest compliments you ever got?
KATRIEN MATTHYS : I’m already used to hearing that I make bizarre, dark or morbid work while I think it’s light and dark at the same time and with a bit of -black- humour. When people tell me that they were feeling happy when they walked out of the gallery, I’m very pleased. Or when they can see the humour in my work.
(c) Katrien Matthys
Acrylic on canvas
TOON AERTS : The biggest compliments are the spontaneous reaction when people see my films for the first time. Because those are just natural, raw emotions, you can’t fake that stuff. For instance, I’ll never forget Cedric’s face (the singer/guitarist of The Sha-La-Lee’s) when he saw the first music video I made for El Guapo Stunt Team back in the days. The expression on his face during that first projection was just priceless… So yeah, I really enjoy standing in the isle of a cinema and checking the reactions of my audience.
A weird thing that happened was when I was in a conversation with a guy who is pretty known for selling illegal substances, and he happened to know my work pretty well. He simply couldn’t believe I was able to come up with all these crazy ideas without taking any drugs. He was so puzzled and amazed that he promised me that the moment he would ever see me take any drugs whatsoever, he would punch me in the face. I will never forget that.
BACK TO BACK Untill 15.03.14
Alley Art Gallery
More info HERE