21st Apr 2018
Over the last twenty five years Van Empel has kept the art-world’s attention with recurring, probing themes. He elegantly questions our preconceptions of childhood and innocence. Van Empel uses Photoshop to blend thousands of his own photographs into the landscapes, figures, and textures that make up his pictures – they are staggering achievements in digital collage. In the same way that his 17th century Dutch predecessors painted cabinet pictures with virtuoso displays of detail, Van Empel makes a similar virtue out of Photoshop, spending months and months lovingly building each piece. ‘Photoshopped’ is usually a pejorative term, often implying that the original wasn’t good enough, but Van Empel redefines it as an art form in its own right. It is as impressive as the work of the earlier painters, and as skilful, but it also has a psychological impact that turns it from painstaking method into meaningful art.
Van Empel’s work is pioneering both in terms of the technology employed, and the way that he uses that technology as an artistic tool. In many ways, he has created a new kind of photography that links his Dutch artistic heritage to the modern world. Van Empel gathers his imagery from a wide range of sources including his own personal childhood memories. The artist meticulously chooses clothing that echo the formal Sunday dress that he and his siblings would wear to church as a child. This is intended as a comment on the mixed feelings of both oppression and pride that such clothes instilled. So integral is the accuracy of such clothing to his work that Van Empel often digitally constructs garments from memory by photographing specific materials and patterns and then ‘stitching’ them together.
His 2016 series Mood, continues this exploration of lost childhood innocence set against a backdrop of cultural conservatism. The images refer to stiflingly upright and formal early photographic portraits, but are given the close-up intimacy of the portrait miniature. Works from the Mood series are master works of pattern, texture and light effects. The dark, earthy tones and strong chiaroscuro give this series, more than any other of Van Empels, an atmospheric and dramatic tone.