Karolien Soete


KAROLIEN SOETE (°1973) frequently expresses her outrage on Facebook when she encounters negative images of the Brugse Poort, a working-class neighbourhood in Ghent. The image the media creates of this area is very one-sided and exaggerated. She knows this as she resides in the Brugse Poort. Karolien lives in the Boerderijstraat (Farm Street) a street name that you don’t tend to expect in an urban context. Although her house may be small, she has managed to decorate it with a personal touch and of course the cat helps to provide a pleasant homely feel. She seems much younger than she is; then again estimating ages is not a strong point of mine.

“From an early age, when still in grammar school, I knew that I wanted to be an artist,” she says without pretence, “I’m now still working towards being one”. She was born and bred in Roeselare where she spent most of her childhood. When she was just nine years old she and her three siblings (one twin sister and two older brothers) lost their father. At fifteen she went to the Sisters Maricolen art school (Institute of the Holy Family) in Bruges. She sang in several choirs and was allowed to sing in front of the choir at Mass. This gave her a rather ‘grand’ privilege. She was the only one allowed to ignore the blue and white school uniform and was permitted to wear a green hem in her blue sweater. A “victory” she remembers with pleasure.


After secondary school, she decided to take a degree in teaching art. Here she was instructed by artists such as Annie Vanhoutte - in the school known as Mrs. Floré - and Adelin De Craene. These are names that I have heard among young artists who studied in Bruges. They clearly had a strong and positive influence.


However, the internships she did in three schools as a future teacher demotivated Miss Soete. After her training as a teacher, she continued her education as an artist at Sint-Lucas in Ghent. She opted for Graphic Arts. Karolien deems the last years at art school very important because you are encouraged to follow your own path. This became a very personal quest for her, which she shaped along a well-wrought, introspective exploration. She sees a psychoanalyst and undergoes several sessions according to the Jungian analysis

Her thesis was an exhibition built around the self-portrait. Almost every single day she had drawn a self portrait and also made a huge range of linocuts (also self-portraits).


At Group T of the International Hogeschool of Leuven Karolien Soete went on to study info graphics and computer graphics. At that time computers were not yet a complete taboo within the course of Free Graphics at Sint-Lucas, and Karolien wanted to explore the possibilities of the computer.


With all this baggage she began to teach a small group of students at a private school. She did this for three years. Her students joined her class in order to take an exam for the middle panel, a task she gladly fulfilled.

When she was in New York, Karolien Soete made a series of portraits of fashion designers and exhibited these in the trendy Meat packing district where you can find plenty of fashion boutiques. By doing this, a number of designers got to see her portraits; it also meant a good start for her work.


Subsequently she made a series of double portraits in which she sought to confront and confuse people. Included in this series is a portrait of a “friendly looking” Adolf Hitler, as he was known to be at times, and a portrait of Mother Theresa who comes across as a tough bitch. People are not just good or bad, there are many facets to a person. Soete opts for nuance in our judgment of each other.

She has created a sequence entitled ‘Mugshots’ from profile pictures of delinquents. Photographs of criminals tend to be shamelessly shared on the internet. She noticed that there were a lot of beautiful and young people among these delinquents. These are portraits that strike you in a different way.


Miss Soete also took the initiative to browse the archive of the Dr. Guislain institute in Ghent. It contains some valuable photographs that Brother Ebergist De Beyne took of his patients. They constitute a treasure of details on the evolution of psychiatry and are a source of inspiration for several artists including Karolien Soete. She made a series of paintings based on these pictures using a lot of varnish prior and subsequent to painting on Japanese paper, and stretches the paintings in a copper frame. This technique makes the viewer conscience of the fragile object, just like the people in the portraits were fragile subjects too.


She made her portraits in oil paint on Japanese paper as she doesn’t “like the texture of the canvas. I prefer to paint with brushes and want to keep the rubbing as minimal as possible. The Japanese paper was modified so that it became very smooth and I could paint on it without any resistance”. This mode of operation does however require the use of strong varnish that needs to be applied while wearing a mask and in her little house the fumes of the varnish remained a constant presence. She became hypersensitive to these and got something generally known as the “painter’s disease”. This would give her career a serious turn.


In 2009 she made a series of shadow images on Plexiglas, inspired by the photographs made by Dr. Ebergist. These are the ‘Reviving Souls’. She dubs them ‘light graffiti’, graffiti with light. At night she went into own with a strong flashlight and projected these portraits onto the buildings in the city. She wanted to bring a kind of homage to the people she painted, thus creating her very own modest light festival, noticed here and there by some wandering souls.


She has been given a residence in Les Ateliers Claus in Brussels, an initiative of the artist Frans Claus, in the context of the Cimatics Festival. During the concerts her portraits were projected on a wall that was covered with texts and poems.

It is at this festival that she got the idea for her first stop motion film, or at least the initial step towards it. She showed a sequence of pictures in and of spaces that evoke constriction. Her main goal was to provide viewers with an experience.

In 2010 she finally stopped using oil paint.


Chinese ink and white acrylic paint allow her to work without wearing a mask and her body only slightly reacts to it. She made her first real film at her home on a white wall. The painting process remains important. Each image is painted with the brush and is painted over to again create a new image. Of every picture she takes a photograph, thus creating an animated film. There where the traditional animation filmmakers sit hunched over a white sheet of paper of manageable size, Karolien Soete stands in the middle of the space and paints the wall. She masters the space and in addition to the walls sometimes also uses the floor. These are her ‘Talking Walls’.

In 2011 she made her first film ‘Prolegomena’. The film became the décor for a dance performance in New York. The premise is what happens to you, what is going on inside of you, when you are trapped in a completely dark room where you have no clues. From this notion a both haunting and poetic film poem arose that is appropriately accompanied by the music of Alexander Berne, someone with whom she maintains regular contact. Her film got noticed and is frequently shown at festivals. Her production was selected as the only Belgian film for the latest international short film festival of Leuven in the category of experimental short film. After Prolegomena more films followed, each time scoring well at short film festivals around the world.


Usually she makes her films in a space that is accessible for the public. She did this at the last exhibition of the Canvas Collection at Bozar, but also in Bruges at the Gallery Pinsart, a gallery that usually exhibits her work. In these cases she made a stop motion film about the relevant city or town.

Meanwhile she has found a studio in her neighbourhood where a former factory building is being transformed into a lively alternative cultural centre for the district. She wants to work on a new film, which already evokes my curiosity.


Daan Rau




KAROLIEN SOETE werkt in reeksen portretten waar ze soms flarden tekst, letters of andere beelden aan toevoegt. Zo schilderde ze een reeks gebaseerd op oude zogenaamde mugshots, foto’s die de politie van gearresteerde criminelen neemt. Ze werkte heel intens met foto’s van psychiatrische patiënten uit de collectie van het Museum Guislain in Gent. Ze tonen een beeld van de mensheid in zijn zieke, verwrongen en pijnlijke hoedanigheid. Het is tekenend voor de kracht van de schilderkunst dat de schilderijen van die foto’s nog aangrijpender zijn dan de foto’s zelf. De foto’s zijn ooit getrokken om ziektebeelden te documenteren. Karolien voegt daar met haar werk mededogen en een onverwachte schoonheid aan toe. Ze geeft die sukkelaars uit een vorige eeuw een nieuwe waardigheid.

De laatste jaren nam de artistieke loopbaan van Karolien een onverwachte wending. Ze ontwikkelde een allergie voor olieverf wat redelijk dramatisch is voor een kunstenaar die net zo uitblinkt in dit medium. De dokter raadde haar aan om verder te schilderen met behulp van een beschermend masker. Uit die periode dateren portretten waarop dergelijke maskers zijn te zien en een andere reeks met aangezichten waaruit frustratie en woede af te lezen is. Achteraf gezien is deze periode slechts een tussenstap geweest naar een nieuwe fase in haar creatief leven.

Karolien besloot om de olieverf en beschermende maskers te laten voor wat ze waren en om nu vooral te werken met een mengeling van gesso en Chinese inkt. Die techniek lijkt een beetje op olieverf qua textuur maar is uiteraard veel meer beperkt in kleuren. Enkel grijstinten zijn mogelijk. In plaats van verder schilderijen te maken met deze beperkingen ging ze zich meer toeleggen op een heel apart genre: de ‘stop motion’ schilderijen. Dat bestaat erin dat Karolien in grijstinten een beeld tekent op een wit vlak, bij voorkeur een wand, en dat ze een foto neemt van dit beeld. Dit beeld wordt dan overschilderd of gewijzigd, dikwijls slechts heel subtiel. Daar wordt dan een nieuwe foto van gemaakt en dat gaat zo door. Het resultaat zijn honderden foto’s van honderden verschillende beelden die na elkaar worden gemonteerd. Wanneer je die montage afspeelt aan 12 beelden per seconde krijg je een animatiefilm.

Het is de oude techniek die ook vroeger werd gebruikt voor animatiefilms, voor de periode van digitalisering. Het verschil met klassieke animatie films zijn de sporen die je ziet van vroegere beelden. Dit is uiteraard niet het resultaat van slordigheid maar is een bewuste artistieke keuze. Ze maakt dat het verleden van het beeld, van de figuur of de beweging altijd in het huidige beeld vaag zichtbaar blijft. Soms lijkt het alsof het verleden in het heden spookt.

De animatiefilmpjes die van deze beelden worden gemaakt, zijn de enige tastbare resultaten van dit proces. Doordat alles overschilderd wordt is het vluchtig en heeft het werk het karakter van een performance. Maar in tegenstelling tot de klassieke animatiefilmpjes is er geen vooraf uitgeschreven storyboard. De beelden getuigen van een grote verbeeldingskracht. In verschillende beelden zie je vogels, lichamen, takken, bloedvaten. Karolien vertelde me dat dit zeer intuïtief gebeurt en dat dit meer te maken heeft met associaties en sfeer dan met een vooraf bepaald verhaal. De plaats waarin ze haar performance doet, is al even bepalend. Ze start dikwijls met een grondplan van de locatie of de stad en verwerkt situaties uit de omgeving in het werk. Achteraf, wanneer de beelden tot een filmpje zijn gemonteerd, kun je er als bezoeker wel een verhaal bij denken.

Ook die bezoeker intrigeert Karolien Soete. Zo fotografeerde ze tientallen niets vermoedende bezoekers in Bozar in Brussel die keken naar haar werk. Van deze foto’s maakte ze kleine schilderijtjes op papier. Individueel zijn ze al knap, in combinatie met elkaar krijgen ze een heel apart effect. Dit project toont aan dat ook Karolien een kunstenaar is die zichzelf steeds vernieuwt.


Filip Strobbe

copyright © Karolien Soete