Wim Bals is a Belgian artist whose work is absolutely delightful.  When I first looked at his website http://www.wimbals.com/, I cracked up with laughter.  His work is so free, fresh and funny.  However, don’t be fooled.  Wim is dead on with his technique which builds on the greatness of the old masters.  Here’s our cool chat…  

“… I use some of the older techniques developed in the 17th century. I create paintings that are contemporary by choosing subjects that are 21th century. Maybe that’s why my paintings can be seen in baroque and classic interiors as well as contemporary minimalistic interiors ...”

MICHAEL: Wim! I am so glad to be chatting with you.  Your work is crazy!  I look at it and it makes me smile and laugh because it's hyperreal, surreal, fun and so imaginative.  I see Vermeer in your work and your approach is so fresh. What's going through your mind when you're painting?  Why do you paint these things in this way? 

WIM: Hi Michael, thanks. Vermeer and also Rembrandt have really inspired me for using light in a painting. I've visited a lot of museums during my childhood because my father was, and is, also a painter.

I saw paintings of Rembrandt, Vermeer, Rubens and Van Eyck., Vermeer, Rubens and Van Eyck I was “art-spoiled.” People often ask me why I paint these funny things. Guess what? I really have a lot of fun doing this crazy stuff. Each time, I when see something that inspires me, my brain begins to work and a new painting is born. It’s strange, but the theme of animals and situations that I paint are rare in art. Also humor is hard to find in the art world. I really can’t tell why. It’s a niche.

During my education, I was overwhelmed by the paintings made by Hiëronymus Bosch. I still am. That was the beginning of my surreal world. At the same time, I was always a fan of hyperrealism art. Those two ideas came together in my work. For me, it's also important to have “positive” art on the wall. If I want some negatively, I'll watch the news. Suffering and cruelty I don't like in art at all, but that's my personal point of view.

MICHAEL: You know Wim, it’s interesting because a lot of people, especially in the art world, don't take fun, whimsical art seriously. They think that only dark and brooding subjects and approaches are real art.  What do you think about this?

WIM: Well, first of all, I think it’s a kind of snobbishness to like dark and brooding subjects. You see that also with movies; there’s a lot of exposure for “serious” themes, but not much for comedy. I guess it’s “not done” to like comedy. On the other hand, because many people like humor (check the number of funny videos on Facebook), the “critics” think it doesn’t fit into art. Dark subjects and misery are themes that many people don’t like and therefore the snobbish think its fit into art because it’s controversial.

That said, it’s not that easy to make whimsical, humoristic art. It may not look silly and that’s a thin line you know. Maybe therefore there aren’t many artists in this genre.

MICHAEL: I'm finding more and more artists like you who don't want to work in single genres, but prefer using elements of various genres in their work. Do you think that doing this could eventually end all genres or will new genres naturally come from this? 

WIM: It’s hard to tell, Michael. Personally, I’m not really busy with categorizing my style, but you can call it a fusion of many styles indeed. Collectors and art dealers love to categorize an artist, but an artist is more concerned with creating his own style and niche, rather than saying he is a surrealist or photorealist, etc. It’s a fact that, not only in art, there’s a fusion of ideas, styles and behavior. For example, these days, people visit rock concerts and also classical concerts and ballet as well. Could you imagine that in the past? The same thing happens in art somehow. It’s a kind of searching your way through styles.

Will this eventually lead to an end of all genres? I guess not. There are still many artists positioned in certain genres. Mixing styles can also lead to getting lost in your art, so it can also be a trap. Creating your own style as an artist is a process of years. It is almost impossible to speed up this process.

MICHAEL: I feel the same way about writing.  I think I’m just now entering into my own writing style. Creating your own style. It's like finding yourself and discovering who you are, isn't it? I just looked at your website again and what's amazing me and cracking me up at the same time is how you're using Rembrandt and Vermeer techniques of lighting and placement on these whimsical subjects.  It's like you're paying tribute to these artists in a subversive way and I do not think they would be offended. I think they would smile to themselves and then look at you and say, "Very funny Wim!" What do you think?

WIM: Hmm, I would love to see those two painters looking at my works. I use of some of the techniques used by Vermeer and Rembrandt. For example, the use of thick layers of paint in the highlights in a painting. By using this technique, the light touches the surface of paintings and the whites get even brighter. The painting has got a skin or a landscape of paint that way. Of course, this cannot be seen on screen or on art prints. That’s also the reason why I don’t like giclees, art prints, merchandised stuff, because they are way too flat and they haven’t got a skin of paint. A painting is more 3D than you think. That would be clear if you rub the painting, which of course you may not…


WIM: I use some of the older techniques developed in the 17th century. I create paintings that are contemporary by choosing subjects that are 21th century. Maybe that’s why my paintings can be seen in baroque and classic interiors as well as contemporary minimalistic interiors.

MICHAEL: When did you actually start painting?  How old were you?  Why did you decide to be an artist?

WIM: I was born into an artistic family. My father was a professional artist too.  That means pencils and paper were always around me. By the age of 10, it was clear that I had talent to draw. When I was 13 years old, I went to the academy on Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings to learn drawing. That was very basic like drawing shoeboxes, cans, bottles… Actually, you learned all about drawing shapes and shadows. For me, it was a good starting point. At 15, I chose to learn graphic design at school. That means I would be a professional designer of ads, books, web design, but there were too many limitations in creativity in that world. During the free hours, I was still drawing and painting in the studio of my father.  When I started to work, I began at a museum as an assistant to curate contemporary exhibitions. In the meantime, I was selling a lot of my paintings through galleries and after several years, it was possible to switch to be a professional artist and quit my job at the museum. The best decision I’ve ever made!

MICHAEL: Your story really reminds me that the best way to keep the art world strong and help artists is by keeping arts education in schools.  If kids are exposed to art - like soccer - early in schools, they'll appreciate it and understand it later in life. This will help the entire art world.  No?

WIM: I total agree with you Michael. I think it’s not only good for the art world and artists. It would help kids in their lives when they grow up being more creative in solving problems - when they have more chances to know more about art. School is the way to educate children about art. Probably there are a lot of creative minds wasted because they grew up in a difficult situation and therefore never had a change to explore and develop their art skills.

It would be the duty of parents and schools to teach them appreciating and understanding art. If they then grew up, they would experience that art can spice up their life.

MICHAEL: How much problem solving is involved in the painting process? And when you're painting, can it really be problem solving when you are the one who created the problem by starting to paint in the first place?  Haha!

WIM: When you are professional artist and you’re painting over 25 years, there aren’t many problems in the painting process. This doesn’t mean it’s easy starting from zero each time!

Most of the problems I’ve had in the past have been with commissioned works. Clients already have their painting in mind when they ask to make a work on demand. Most of the time, there are so many adjustments to make before they are satisfied that it isn’t fun anymore. You know, that’s the reason why I don’t make commissioned works anymore.

MICHAEL: Are you concerned at all about photography maybe making painting obsolete? There are a lot great photographic artists out there and many more cameras!

WIM: Around ca. 1850 when photography started to be popular, the same issue occurred. A lot of painters thought that this would be the end of painting. However, we know now that photography has found a place alongside painting. You’re right when you say there are a zillion cameras and everything has to be photographed. But what happens to those images? They find their resting place on an external hard drive and only a few make it to print.

Some artists find their way in photography, others in painting or sculpting. Photography has grown up, but it’s a total other medium than painting. Art collectors appreciating both the different techniques and there will always be a place for good photographs and good paintings as well. I’m not concerned at all.

MICHAEL: Where are you exactly?  

WIM: I live in Belgium. Belgium is a small country where they speak Dutch, French and German. My paintings are represented in Belgium and in The Netherlands as well by galleries. We have here in Belgium an art scene with art galleries, art fairs and auctions. Of course, this isn’t the London or New York art scene, but it’s alive. Due the fact that Belgium (with Brussels as capital) is centrally placed in Europe, there are a lot of foreign companies here with their representatives. That’s also the reason why many of my paintings leave Belgium to art collectors in other countries like Singapore, Dubai, England, Canada - although I have solid customer base here too.

MICHAEL: Most artists in America don't have solid customer bases!  So many gifted artists all over the world are struggling while dead, famous artists continue to sell out museum exhibitions. What do you think can or should be done to help emerging artists?

WIM: That’s a difficult question. As an artist, you have to realize that you are an entrepreneur. This does not mean that you should work too commercial and everything should be “merchandised,” but you have to be aware of all the possible ways of marketing. There are plenty of tips and videos about these issues on the internet. Just search for “artist and marketing.”

I don’t really like the many artists who practice self-pity. An old gallery owner once said to me, if someone sells too little, you must work harder and better. It's a bit short-sighted, but there is a certain amount of truth in it.

Perhaps the government should in one way or another, be more interested in emerging artists. Museums, for example, they buy renowned artists who demand huge prices. That way, they can just buy some artwork and make just a few artists happy (at least when they are still alive). And with a good purchasing policy, they can buy much more unknown contemporary art. And if it appears that the artist is famous later, they were able to purchase a piece of art of that “star” very cheaply. If it appears that it would have been wrong purchases, they could organize a stock sale. In that way, there is also money returned for the museum.

MICHAEL: Finally Wim, What is the point of art?  Most people in the world will never visit an art gallery and art is not curing cancer.  Why should people care about art?

WIM: Even in primitive cultures, there was the urge to make art - sometimes simple decorations on utensils. From this, you can conclude that art and aesthetics has always been a part of man.

Art cannot cure cancer indeed, but he who has been engaged with positive beauty has little room for dreariness. Art surprises and always will continue to amaze people because it stimulates the mind of whoever looks at it and who makes it.

MICHAEL: Thanks Wim.  This chat has been as delightful as your paintings.

WIM: Thank you, Michael. I really enjoyed our chat.

Check out Wim Bals at http://www.wimbals.com/