Wednesday Art Idol
Known for his high-profile collaborations with the likes of Raf Simons and Kanye West, Belgian mixed-media artist Peter de Potter is a fashion world favourite with a unique approach to image-making. Mining the internet for his source material, De Potter’s composite visuals are assembled from the maelstrom of visual culture that typifies the zeitgeist.
Having grown up in a small provincial town in Belgium, De Potter moved to the country’s cultural capital of Antwerp aged 18 to attend the prestigious Royal Academy. The move would turn out to be a permanent one (De Potter is still based in the city), and his time at the Academy demonstrated that De Potter’s, “almost religious love for images” yielded some practical application.
It was here that he began to establish his signature deconstructed composition, a blend of graphic design, collage and photography that doesn’t fall neatly into either category but is nonetheless instantly recognisable as his own. De Potter finds value in images that are either ignored or overlooked, and using a combination of found, archive or discarded visuals, he stitches together multimedia graphics with text to create a post-internet aesthetic rooted in Tumblr and Instagram.
De Potter’s success is closely tied to both platforms, where he has established a strong following over the last decade. Bypassing traditional channels, much of De Potter’s work is released directly onto the internet, an immediate pipeline into the swirling mass of visual culture and one the artist now considers his main platform.
Key early examples include Angelic Starts, a black and white series of images picturing adolescent men, appropriated from social media profiles and posted via Tumblr, scrawled over with words like ‘Self-Love’, ‘Instinct’ and ‘Your Approval’. In spite of his open embrace of the digital world, among De Potter’s best known works are a number of books that he produced over the last twenty years, both independently and in collaboration.
After graduating in 1992, De Potter began a decade-long partnership with Raf Simons in 2001, when the renowned designer’s eponymous label was barely five years old. De Potter acted as consultant and collaborator, providing his own art and found imagery for Simons to use, distilling mood, emotion and visceral experience in images he excavated from popular youth culture.
The visuals helped contextualise Simons’ vision, from his designs to the runway shows (see his AW01 show, Riot, Riot, Riot) and corporate releases, De Potter’s burgeoning influence led to his involvement in The Fourth Sex: Adolescent Extremes, an exhibition (and later a book) co-curated by Simons and then director of the Venice Biennale, Francesco Bonami. The exhibition was a multi-disciplinary meditation on adolescence and youth subculture, where the work of Andreas Gursky, Larry Clark and Gilbert & George accompanied words by David Foster Wallace and Philip Roth and designs from Comme Des Garçons and Malcolm MacLaren.
The trio would collaborate again in 2005 on Redux, released as a retrospective look at the creative evolution of Raf Simons’ brand ten years after its inception. In addition to De Potter, the book – now widely considered one of fashion’s most coveted tomes – features photographs from Stef Driesen, Pieter Mulier, Olivier Rizzo, Collier Schorr and Willy Vanderperre.
The idea of mapping coordinates of the Raf Simons brand was turned into moving image later that year, when De Potter helped shoot Repeat, a specially commissioned film for Pitti Immagine 2005. More recently, De Potter has release three books of his work, The Vanity of Certain Flowers (2016), All Statues Sing Protest Songs (2017) and VAPE SHOP OLYMPIA (2018)
A quick scroll through one of De Potter’s several Tumblr feeds, it might seem safe to assume that nudity, homoeroticsim and queer identity are all key themes. De Potter is reluctant to be drawn into any sort of profound statement however, preferring his art to be seen not in terms of the contents of the image, rather the emotion or feeling that it invokes. In this sense, his works are like Rorschach tests, representative of whatever theme they might invoke in the viewer.
“More than anything else, my work is about the image,” De Potter told Husk in 2016. “The image as an event, much more than the image as a summary of content. What it is exactly what you see on a picture I’m less interested in. I care more about what you feel and experience when you see an image.”
“My work is not about masculinity. It’s not the subject. I mean I would tell you if it was, but it isn’t. All the images, all the people in my work, all the pieces and samples are tools to construct a new visual story. Or a specific feeling. Or a state of mind. Or a moral statement. Masculinity, at least the visual side of it, is a very interesting tool to convey new emotion or meaning.”