Meet the Artist Combining Abstract Art, Collage and Portraiture

Stefaan de Croock, Belgian artist based in Bruges better known by the name Strook, has found a new way of combining abstract art, collage and portraiture. Working predominantly with wood, Strook’s artworks exist in homes, in galleries and on the side of buildings.

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Strook has become known and respected for his figurative artwork, fashioned from abandoned wood. The materials Stefaan uses make each of his works unique, embodying the codes of time and decay through which nature continually reaffirms its ultimate dominance over the human life.

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“The components that make up my work tell a story of their purpose, past, location, and reusability. I try to capture the beauty of an abandoned place on the verge of collapse or extinction. For me these places and materials are a metaphor of time and the fact that everything will disappear on certain moment, in a few years or in a couple of thousand years.”
- Strook (Stefaan de Croock)

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We took a seat with the artist to get more of an insight into his work.

THE PLUS: What do you aim to communicate with your collage portraits?
Stefaan de Croock:
I like to bring different stories together to form a new narrative. Time is always a crucial part in my work. Every piece of wood tells its own story. I re-use items otherwise abandoned by time and decay. The materials embody subtle metaphors for the scars every human being carries along with them. Things decay with time and eventually meet their end. Everyone gets scars, it defines a person or an object. We have a tendency to hide or cover up these scars. But they play a crucial part in my work.

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TP: Are your works based on specific people?
SdC:
No. It all starts with a drawing. I then re-draw and re-draw until I’m happy with the composition. I don’t want to base my work on specific people. If it was be based on a specific person, it would narrow down the narrative too much I think.

TP: How do you source your wood?
SdC:
I always keep an eye open for finding wood, which has become as important as the making of the artwork itself. Some wood comes from open construction sites, some from deserted factories or houses just before they are getting demolished and some from friends who tell me where I can find some old floors, planks or doors. I always want to use it exactly as I found it.

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TP: What’s the next process in the creation of an artwork?
SdC:
Every artwork starts with line drawings in my sketchbook or on a piece of paper. My work is a constant search into the possible outcomes with that line, it’s a kind of automatic working of my hand. Most of the time I choose the scale and materials I will use afterwards, but sometimes I already have a specific piece of wood or concrete in my head when I’m working on a composition. I spend a lot of time to get the composition just right.

Then I usually go to my workshop and I decide which materials I will use. Sometimes I gaze for a really long time at a specific piece of wood, wondering if it will work in the composition. I treat the old materials with a lot of respect. Some pieces of the weathered wood are a lot older than me and were dragged into my studio from different locations. Contrary to paint, you can’t make or buy an old piece of wood again! The wood then gets carefully cleaned, treated and cut into the right form. Besides the initial sketch and the cutting of the wood, the collecting of the materials is also very time-consuming and a very important part of the process.

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TP: How does emotion come into the works, with each work being faceless?
SdC:
I really like that you ask me this; it’s a very important part of my work. I work really hard on the initial sketch of each work and try to capture an emotion or an atmosphere with as little lines as possible. Then I try to intensify this emotion by choosing the right pieces of wood.

TP: Tell us about your approach to colour in your artwork.
SdC:
I love to experiment with colour on my paintings; but with the recycled wood sculptures I don’t completely control the colour as I use the wood exactly as I found it. But I never add any paint to it. I love the fact that time always has its influence on the wood and the colour.

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TP: Your works don’t just feature in galleries, they can also be found on the side of buildings – where did the idea come from to present the works in this way?
SdC:
The enormous scale gives an extra dimension to the work. It has a different impact. It’s a big challenge and it requires a lot of preparation to create an installation like that. And what is the most compelling for me is the fact that I try to find stories and wood in the city where it is installed. For the sculpture in Ostend for the Crystal Ship I used only wood that I have found in the city of Ostend. I like that the city also has an influence on the colour and texture. For example. I used wood from the Mercator a 78m long by 40 metres wide Barquentine sailing ship. Arctic traveller Adrien de Gerlache designed this three-master which was built (1932) in Scotland. It is now a museum (inside the ship) in Ostend and it had to be renovated last year and I could use some wood that had to be replaced. I like the fact that I can collect wood and stories in a city to create a new story.

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