“Cherish your toys, you never know what secrets they may hide,” Brecht Vandenbroucke (pronounced Van-den-broker) once told us. The Antwerp-based illustrator has been a long time favourite of ours, his hand-painted envelopes a constant delight to receive through the post. His uplifting body of work is a melting pot of biology, friendship, colour, life, children’s books, apocalypses, comics, animals, and school textbooks, all tied together by vivid colours and a devout care for his craft.
And so, like a giant blue whale, Brecht has sucked up these strange, slightly naive points of reference and has spurted them out of his magical blowhole in the form of incredible, utterly unique illustration. His bright, colourful work is infused with animals and dark takes on popular children’s characters such as Mickey Mouse or Porky Pig, often pictured peering sinisterly through bushes.
Humans on the other hand are often portrayed as rather simple creatures; getting things a bit wrong and generally struggling through life. Carrying gym equipment up an escalator, praying to vending machines and casually taking photographs of mystical ghouls; Brecht’s humans are dopey, but never portrayed without a good dose of affection. Although his images are filled with fantasy, they are still too close to real life to be true fiction. Brecht has got the rare and enviable ability to recreate the world we know and twist it with satire to the exact, trembling point just before it becomes utter nonsense.
Unlike many contemporary illustrators who opt for abstract image-making or collating internet images to mould their style, Brecht prefers to use good old-fashioned paintbrush and gouache. Subsequently, the environments he’s invented in the past few years have changed and evolved with his ever-increasing talent. His comics and paintings, previously filled with a smorgasbord of diverse characters, are often now limited to a select few.
In his latest publication White Cube, Brecht took us on comic panel journeys with two wide-eyed twins – the “Aesthetic Critics” – who react to the work on show in art galleries in an intensely naive, joyfully sarcastic manner. The way they enthusiastically approach and then systematically make a mockery of contemporary art is hilariously topical and, of course, excellently drawn. “The idea was based on how everyone has an opinion on everything these days and needs to share it,” Brecht told us. “So I decided to do something funny with that. I tried to put the importance of the art world into perspective and I also tried to create a book that is very visual. It’s completely hand-painted and there is no dialogue, just a few words here and there.”
For this issue of Printed Pages, we asked Brecht to share with us the outpourings of his spectacular brain. The results are some exclusive comic strips from his White Cube series and a double page spread painting that will hopefully make you feel as nervous and joyful as we did. So without further ado, come with us into the world of Brecht Vandenbroucke…