For ceramic artist Rik Delrue, it is important that everyone is able to enjoy art. That’s why this April, plaster lambs invaded Ghent.
Raise your eyebrows with eagerness, take a few steps and grab it! It’s so easy to take a plaster lamb. But unlike its role model in the Ghent Altarpiece, a large 15th century Flemish panel painting (also known as the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb), these plaster lambs are meant to be stolen.
“The Just Judges,” the left panel of the Ghent Altarpiece, was stolen on April 10, 1934. To mark the 80th anniversary of the theft, 50-year-old ceramic artist Rik Delrue, along with Storm Calle and STAM Stadsmuseum Gent (the Ghent city museum) carried out a project. They placed plaster lambs in places that had a role in the theft. The result was 800 lambs scattered on the streets, along parks and even in the main train station of Ghent.
It was an impressive sight.
“I am used to it,” says Delrue, who has participated in similar projects before. Over the past few years, Delrue has scattered 13,000 gnomes around Ghent and other cities like Amsterdam and Maastricht. He is also the man behind about 10 lamb, gnome and bear invasions in Belgium and The Netherlands.
High and Low Class
Delrue started working with art when he was 16. He began taking evening classes at the Kunstacademi of Kortrijk (Kortrijk School of Art), while attending secondary school during the day.
“I was not so good at school, so I think it was the only thing I could do,” he chuckles.
Artistically, Delrue is interested in projects that combine elements from low class — those that everybody knows, like gnomes or piggy banks — with elements from high class, like intellectual texts. He says this way of art is not only a way of communicating and connecting with people of all classes, but also a way of questioning the way some people pretend to know what art is.
It all began 15 years ago, when Delrue was traveling to Vrotslav, Poland as a guest artist. At the German-Polish border, he says he saw a lot of people selling garden gnomes.
“Lots of people look at gnomes as low culture and kitsch. I thought that it can be a good thing to make an installation with gnomes but I made an intellectual one.”
Delrue’s gnomes are made from porcelain with texts on them.
“For me, the text the gnomes are carrying symbolizes pseudo-intellectual people,” he says. “I do not have anything against intellectual art or intellectual people but sometimes I think that people who pretend to know what art is laugh more at gnomes and the people who want them in their garden.”
He began producing his gnomes at a small porcelain factory In Vrotslav. It was the first time he ever worked with porcelain. Previously, he had mainly worked with brick. As for the lambs in Ghent, they were made of plaster for cost reasons.
Delrue shares a picture of broken pieces of porcelain from his Piggy Boards book. In the porcelain pieces, there are texts, figures and numbers. It all resembles a map.
“I visited a man in a jail in Maastricht, The Netherlands and next to his bed there were things like this,” Delrue explains.
“He was trying to save the walks he did every year in his trips to Portugal with his brother. All those walks in nature he did now again in his head and tried to write them down. For this piggy bank project, I spoke with a lot of people about what saving means to them. You can save money but also feelings and memories.”
The pieces of porcelain were first a piggy bank, but Delrue saw a broken man so he broke the pig too.
There was also a woman from Iraq who was kept in an asylum centre close to Delrue’s home. When Delrue asked her what she would like to save from her home country, the only thing was a cooking recipe so she wrote the recipe on the pig.
People’s stories serve as an inspiration to Delrue, as he is now working with social artistic projects like the piggy banks. He is not yet finished with the Lamb of God either. In the future, he plans to do some kind of social artistic project about it with Storm Calle.
In case you missed the lamb invasion in Ghent in April, you still have an opportunity to see a plaster lamb. Just go to St. Bavo’s Cathedral in Ghent, which is the home of the original Ghent Altarpiece, and look up. Delrue placed one of the lambs very high up — it is still there.