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lime Exhibitions Interview: Ruud van Empel

Lime interview - Exhibitions

Ruud van Empel

words by

Adelaide Damoah

Reporter: Adelaide Damoah
Adelaid Damoah’s work can be found here

I came across Ruud van Empel's work on Facebook because someone posted one of his stunning images from the “World” series. 

I was dumb struck and fell in love with his work. Born in 1958 in Breda, the Netherlands, Rudolph Franciscus Maria van Empel studied graphic design at the Academie St. Joost, Breda between 1976 and 1981. After some time working in the fields of graphic design, film, television and interior design, van Empel purchased his first Apple Mac and began to learn about the wonders of photo manipulation using photoshop. This was a turning point and van Empel went on to pursue a successful career as a fine art photographer. Utilizing a complex technique of photo montage, van Empel produces stunningly beautiful, yet strange and captivating photography. His work has been exhibited globally and exists in many public and private collections, including the art collection of superstar Elton John. Ruud van Empel was kind enough to take time out of his hectic schedule to discuss his career and his views on success in the field of fine art. 



What was the process of transitioning from graphic design, film and television to fine art.


In 1994, I bought my first Apple Macintosh, a power mac. I started out with a series called “The Office.” Those were ideas that I had previously for set designs and the Apple Macintosh allowed me to make them in Photoshop. After working for about three years in photoshop, I presented it to a gallery in Amsterdam and they liked it. I got an exhibition there, and I got one in Germany and in France... Suddenly, I had a big success with that work. That is how it started.


That was your very first series, the Office?




Did you teach yourself how to manipulate images in this way?


Yes, just by doing it. Somebody taught me how to work with it- all of the basic things you can do with the programme. Then after that you just have to start working. You discover all of the possibilities when you are working. That was very inspiring for me. 


Your first official solo show was the one in 1999 at the  Groninger Museum, under the title  “Waterpas of Optisch recht?” (Level or Optically straight?). Did you sell any work?


The museum bought two works at that time. I just had a big show with them last year. In 1999, they decided they wanted to do a big show with me in the future and that happened last year.


Your international breakthrough came in 2005 with the series entitled “World Moon Venus,” at the “Picturing Eden” exhibition. What was that exhibition about?


That show was curated by Deborah Klochko, a curator from New York. She saw my work on the internet and here in 2004. She sent me an email asking if I wanted to participate in her exhibition about Eden.. The image of Eden and how that is depicted in works today. This was in 2005, in the middle of George W Bush times. America was not very popular. It was a country that was kicked out of the Garden of Eden, just like the bible story where Adam and Eve were kicked out of the garden of Eden for doing wrong... That was her feeling. She thought my work would fit well with the show and she put  it on the cover of the catalogue. Immediately, I got a lot of attention. At the same time, my gallery was showing some of my work in Miami and we sold about 35 pieces of  work in four days.




Picturing Eden was in January 2006. I also had my first solo show in a gallery in New York in January 2006, so that all came together at that point. I was working on the “World” series. World, Moon, Venus.. I got internationally famous at that point. 


Would you agree that 2005 was your breakthrough?


Yes, I would agree that that is when my name got known world wide and the work was selling very fast. Prices were getting higher. Elton John saw my work and bought it. All those things happened at once.


How did you depict Eden?


There were a couple of the “World” images, like World Number 1. The image was of a black girl in a white dress. This was very popular and it worked very well for the black community in the USA, because they were not used to having a black person depicted in such a positive way in fine art.



How do you personally define success in the art world at this point in your career.


If I am able to have exhibitions in museums and public places where people can go and see it, that to me is success. They give you exhibitions because they like and are interested in your work. That is the best part of success I think. For the other part, in terms of the commercial side, if your work is selling well enough, you can live from that. I have that situation so I am very happy with that.


I would take it that from your definition, you would consider yourself successful?


Yes. I am not working for success. I am just working for my work. My work develops and I like to make work. That is why I do it. People like Damien Hirst have been working with all kinds of publicity stunts, I don’t know exactly how that works, but anyway, he got really big using a strategy. That is another way of achieving success. If you get a lot of attention put on you then automatically things will happen and people will be drawn to your work. That is not the kind of success that I am after. I just want to be able to work as an artist for as long as possible... I hope that I will be able to show it in galleries and museums. 


What would you say were some of the biggest challenges that you have had to face as an artist?


Getting a good gallery was very difficult, especially here in the Netherlands. It is a small country so, there are not many possibilities. I wanted to be treated honestly by the galleries. I was very firm in my agreements with them. The moment they did not stick to their agreement, I was out of there. That was the hardest thing for me- to get honest, good and fair treatment from galleries. There is a lot of cheating going on in the art world. 


How did you deal with that?


Well the moment they did not stick to their agreements, I dumped them! Some of them will try anything to cheat you unfortunately. I am not saying that every gallery would do that, but I had some really bad experiences and I got out of that.



What advice would you have for aspiring artists wishing to follow in your footsteps?


To work hard and to know know your goals. One has to know what one wants. Don’t let yourself be distracted and follow your heart. Following your heart is what will make you feel good in the end. Like I said before, everyone advised me not to go into art. In the beginning, everyone said that my first work was not art. They said it was ridiculous. I got very negative reviews. Everyone hated it! But I just kept going because that is what I wanted. You must have belief that you can do it.




Info: Ruud van Empel is represented by Flatland Gallery Amsterdam and Stux Gallery New York. 



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