Interview with Dirk De Bruycker

Quite a few years ago, I was walking out of a hotel In Santa Fe, New Mexico, and a beautiful, vibrantly hued painting stopped me in my tracks. I did not know who the artist was at the time. Now two common galleries represent that artist and me, and I have had the opportunity to see many of his works in person. His name is Dirk De Bruycker, and I am still very drawn to his work.

"Iolas" by Dirk De Bruycker, 60" x 48". Copyright © Dirk De Bruycker. Used by permission of the artist.

“Iolas” by Dirk De Bruycker, 60″ x 48″. Copyright © Dirk De Bruycker. Used by permission of the artist.

De Bruycker was born in Belgium in 1955. He lives and works in Santa Fe but spends quite a bit of time in Nicaragua. His work has been in 45 solo shows, the first one in 1981 in Belgium. His work is in numerous private and public collections including New Mexico Museum of Art, Daum Museum of Contemporary Art, Missouri, and the Ministry of Culture of the Flemish Community.

I recently interviewed him about his process, inspiration and more. Here’s what he had to say:

Brenda Hope Zappitell: Please describe your process and materials.

Dirk De Bruycker: My painting process evolved out of my background in drawing and printmaking (lithography). It is a nontraditional, non-additive process. A brush is only used in the linear underpainting; the rest of the painting process consists of pouring and staining not unlike some of the methods used by the color field painters and abstract expressionists. The underpainting is done on the wall, the rest of the painting process is done on the floor.

I use asphaltum (liquid roofing tar) for the linear underpainting applied with a brush on unprimed cotton duck canvas. The second phase starts by putting the stretched painting on the floor and dabbing a couple of small amounts of oil paint (randomly) on the canvas.

"Assembly" by Dirk De Bruycker, 84" x 72". Copyright © Dirk De Bruycker. Used by permission of the artist.

“Assembly” by Dirk De Bruycker, 84″ x 72″. Copyright © Dirk De Bruycker. Used by permission of the artist.

Then I stain certain areas of the painting with a mixture of cobalt drier and paint thinner — this dissolves some of the asphalt drawing. Then comes a pouring of a good amount of gesso, which will cover the entire canvas. The excess of gesso is swept off the painting with a squeegee or a piece of cardboard. The edges are scraped to remove excess gesso.

The painting dries overnight and the result the next morning is that I have a ghostly, delicate, light, instant painting so to speak, far removed from the explicit original asphalt drawing.

Then begins the process of selected oil paint pouring (diluted with paint thinner). I layer one color “run” at the time, as in lithography. This can take up to a week or two weeks — I typically work on two or three paintings simultaneously, because there is quite a bit of drying time between the various layers. Sometimes one action intended for one painting may end up on the next one; it adds an element of surprise.

The process is largely intuitive and allows for a measure of chance, coaxed to an extent. It is in essence a process of response and fine-tuning. Actions and decisions become more difficult and precise toward the completion of a painting.

Materials are: Asphaltum, cobalt drier, paint thinner, gesso, oil on cotton duck canvas.

BHZ: Explain the event that has inspired your work in your Nicaraguan studio.

"Pentas" by Dirk De Bruycker, 84" x 72". Copyright © Dirk De Bruycker. Used by permission of the artist.

“Pentas” by Dirk De Bruycker, 84″ x 72″. Copyright © Dirk De Bruycker. Used by permission of the artist.

DDB: A few years ago I entered my studio in Nicaragua and on the tile floor lay dead a splendid Cocoa Mort Bleu (aka Owl) butterfly, her body consumed by ants. I gasped, overwhelmed by both the beauty and the tragedy of the event. This occurrence provided me with much more than a pretext to give expression to my sentiments and preoccupations. I think I’ve been trying to capture that moment of gasping ever since in my paintings, and in a way that is consistent with the intuitive process-oriented approach to painting that I favor.

BHZ: From what I read you split your time between Nicaragua and Santa Fe, do you think the environment in each of these places influences your work?

DDB: I still travel frequently to Nicaragua but no longer maintain a studio there. It is in many ways the best of both worlds but also the starkest contrast of environments — from the arid, high-altitude contemplative space of New Mexico to the hot steamy, chaotic, loud life of the tropics teeming with life. Both places are visually stimulating. One needs solitude to paint but one needs vivid life experiences that feed and charge the paintings. I have seen a shift in my work from more melancholic colors and a more conceptual attitude to a more overtly intuitive approach with very vivid colors, charged with emotion, certainly inspired by Nicaragua.

BHZ: How do you know when a painting is finished?

"Sea Flower III" by Dirk De Bruycker, 60" x 60". Copyright © Dirk De Bruycker. Used by permission of the artist.

“Sea Flower III” by Dirk De Bruycker, 60″ x 60″. Copyright © Dirk De Bruycker. Used by permission of the artist.

DDB: It’s a bit like building a pyramid, start out broad and wide and refine, define to a precise top. Toward the completion of a painting there is more looking and thinking, less action. Actions become more deliberate.

When I see no more possibilities to add to the painting to make it a better painting, then it is pretty much finished. Sometimes I need some time and distance to reach that point.

When a painting looks larger than its actual size and when a painting presents itself as a whole with immediacy, those are good signs that it might be done.

BHZ: What do you listen to in the studio?

DDB: I do not listen to music while I work. The large door is open, and I hear the wind and dogs barking.

BHZ: Have you always known you wanted to be an artist?

"Empress" by Dirk De Bruycker, 84" x 72". Copyright © Dirk De Bruycker. Used by permission of the artist.

“Empress” by Dirk De Bruycker, 84″ x 72″. Copyright © Dirk De Bruycker. Used by permission of the artist.

DDB: Yes, I believe so. My grandfather was an artist and my gift showed early on in my childhood, so my path was pretty much mapped out for me. I made my first small oil with my grandfather at age 4, started going to the academy of fine arts at age 9, and made my first etchings and dry points at age 13 in his studio.

So yes, there was never much doubt.

BHZ: Have you always favored abstraction?

DDB: Before 1983 I made works on paper (gouaches and lithographs), mostly abstracted landscapes inspired by my two years in New Mexico when I was a student at Tamarind Institute and the printmaking department at UNM (University of New Mexico). I did not start painting till 1986.

After 1983, the imagery became completely abstract and from 1991 to 1992, when I feel I found my true voice, the paintings became non-objective — from within rather than using a process of abstraction. It is an important distinction to make.

De Bruycker is having a solo show APRIL 25 – MAY 23, 2015 at FP Contemporary in Culver City, California. The OPENING RECEPTION is APRIL 25 from 6 – 8 p.m.

BHZ: Describe a typical day.

DDB: My schedule is largely dictated by the drying time of the various color layers. In that sense there is no routine. I have to capitalize on the moment.

BHZ: What other interests do you have outside of the studio?

DDB: Family is very important to me. Music was important to me but less so now. I have a lot of books, mostly art related. I have three antique collections and spend quite a bit of time with that passion.

Nature is important to me, and I am surrounded by it here in New Mexico.

I want my paintings to be inspired by life experiences, rather than by the knowledge of art.


Brenda Hope Zappitell creates abstract expressionist works not only born out of intuition but also serendipitously influenced by nature and life experiences. She earned her B.S.W. from Florida State University in 1986 and her J.D. from University of Miami Law School in 1990. Zappitell is mostly self-taught but has attended classes and workshops in New Mexico, Mexico and Florida. She is represented at galleries around the country and has participated in solo and group exhibitions. Her work is in both private and public collections. Visit zappitellstudio.com.