Being happily reborn; notes on being Felix René
“Und Auch der Künstler kann nur sehen, was er gewollt hat, wenn er sieht, was er gemacht hat.”
It will take a diversity of scholars to decode the messages hidden in the work of Felix de Rooy. Trying to speak about him, I find it best to get my information straight from the horse’s mouth. When I asked him to identify the core of his practice in one sentence, two words were uttered; Eros and Thanatos, Love and Death. He calls his work Psychic Realism. In its crudest explanation it could mean the actualities of the psyche manifesting in a visual representation and brought to light for viewing by others. In Felix’ case it is the struggle and lovemaking between the two gods Eros and Thanatos that creates visions resulting in images akin to surrealist and magical appearances. The Psyche projects the images like a film projector onto the screen from the inside out. The dissector renders the signs and symbols into works in order to analyze the unconscious. Felix explains Psychic Realism as being dynamic and in no way static. In his case it is a constant oscillation between loving and dying at the same time. He says: “The spiritual and emotional exploration of my life always remained nourished by Eros” The result is a plethora of expressions in different disciplines from drawing and filmmaking to the art of assemblage.
Admittedly, we should always remain cautious when an artist speaks about their work. ”Sometimes because an artist has created a self-image and nourishes it. Often also because the artist … cannot predict what the work will do or what it means.” Having said that, in the case of Felix de Rooy and his oeuvre the nomadic context he provides marks the entrance into the work. He shows us that it is not sufficient to approach the body of work from a Caribbean/colonial point of view or solely through the aesthetics of Western art history. The clue here seems to be to add the lens of the nomad living within the space of (post) colonialism. And, read it through the outsider that lives an alternative that can not be caught by the system” … moving from part to part in an infinite succession of linkages and changes in direction.” In Nomade in Niemandsland 1(Nomad in No-man’s-land 1), we read about Felix’ history. How genetics and cultures from different continents come together to produce him. He is the un-rooted multi-continental island mixture of many travels and traveling souls. Obviously this has its effects on the artist. As de Rooy states: ”The pathological nomad insistency of my family is also deeply rooted in my psyche.” Thus, his winged Eros escapes from its current locale and flies up to the skies to discover new spaces. Like Icarus, time after time he crashes down to earth. However, Felix René, Happily Reborn from the ashes, constantly re-emerges after an episode of unintended self-destruction. It is here in this moment of wreckage, which is an intensely amorous copulation with the self in an effort to become rooted, where his auto-analysis reaches its high point. Through this ever-repeating process we could see his complete multidisciplinary practice as a system in itself.
In this system, every work becomes a way to work through lived experiences of fear and joy, life and death – Eros and Thanatos. This is a gift that Felix receives from his father who acknowledges and visualizes his fears by painting the old man that terrifies him in the reality of his nightmare as a child. The wandering spirit is chained in paint and the image is placed in his bedroom. Having caught the demon lurking in his psyche, the child Felix’s mind comes to rest. He is taught the key to exorcising through art. What we learn from this story is that Felix’s development is close to the romantic 19th (early 20th) century idea that emphasizes the authenticity and pureness of the artists feelings. Through its captivity in paint, the suffering emerging from his nightmare opens up the portal to another dimension. This has a spiritual meaning and a purifying function for the artist. Because of this sensibility, de Rooy moved through time as a rebel in the time/space of the Antilles in the 20th century. As a nomadic inhabitant of the Caribbean, local politics and morals have no say over his artistic production. He portrays the world as it is through his eyes. As a nomad in the 21st century he still voyages into continents inhabiting No-man’s-land.
Living in this nomadic realm is a different state of being that is able to escape the intercontinental (post) colonial system even though it is born from and operates within it. It is a layered existence that negates most of the complexities of postcolonial society because it has its own organization, ways of describing itself, criticizing, and reproduction of self through art. Nomads know that they are different from the system that is hosting them at any particular moment. In this sense the nomad system and the system of Felix’s art practice are two autonomous layers working simultaneously to produce him and his works.
For Caribbean people, the Americas and Europe have always been at the border and center of their lived experience simultaneously. Actively negotiating these spaces, physically (re) migrating into them and trying to make them home is part of recent history. Migration, however, is not the same as Nomadism. For the nomad, the settlement is always temporary, and as migratory subjects we can learn from how the nomad spirit organizes itself in the new space. When taking flight, it always takes bits and pieces from a variety of social spheres in any visited society to the new environment. Making the multi-ethnic, multicultural and multi-rootedness its point of reference when producing its multidisciplinary self. From that perspective the nomad is a systemic type and an example of what European Union subjectivity could look like in a few generations from now. The beginnings of this subjectivity are found in migration from the Caribbean, Asia and Africa to the region and more recently from the Eastern European countries to the West. Even though the motivation may be different, these movements resemble the origins and production of the Caribbean region and results in “(European) Creole” subjectivities akin to Felix’s.
A new form of nomadism, without having to physically move to another space, is achieved with the coming of the Internet. Via the screen, generations brought up with the new tools take parts from different social locales into the known environment. What Felix teaches us is that art is a way to work through lived and imagined experiences. His early development commenced in fin-de-siècle romantic views and progressed into turn-of-the-century Contemporaneity. Generations of migrant subjects can take him as a case in point of how to negotiate their subjectivity and exemplify their difference in a setting that considers them as novel and be happily reborn Creole.
Olsberg-Bruchhausen, May 2012
1 Luhmann N., Die Kunst der Gesellschaft, Frankfurt Am Main, Surhrkamp Verlag, 1997, p. 44
2 Rooy de F., Nomade in Niemandsland 1, XXIII, chapter IX. Original text: “De spirituele en emotionele ontdekkingsreis van mijn leven, bleef altijd door Eros gevoed.”
3 Bongers H., “Kunst, staat en markt”, Het eigen leven van Kunstwerken, Hugo Bongers, Rotterdam, p. I-209. Original text:” Soms omdat een kunstenaar ooit een imago heeft gecreëerd en dat imago blijft koesteren. Vaak ook omdat de kunstenaar wel weet wat hij doet, maar daarmee nog niet de werking of betekenis van zijn werk kan voorspellen of uitleggen.”
4 Deleuze G. and Guattari F., A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Translation by Masumi B., University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, London, 1987, P. 494
5 Rooy de F., Nomade in Niemandsland 1, XXIII, chapter IV. Original text: “De pathologische nomadendrang van mijn familie is ook in mijn psyche diep geworteld.”
6 Ibid., chapter IX.
7 Rooy de F., Nomade in Niemandsland 1, XXIII, chapter XV, original text:”Het schilderij hing in mijn slaapkamer en bracht me, vreemd genoeg, tot rust. Mijn vader erkende en visualiseerde mijn angst. Hij maakte mij meester van mijn verborgen gaven. … . De sleutel van exorcisme door kunst heb ik van mijn vader ontvangen.”