In ‘Canticle,’ Belgian artist Peter Depelchin reimagines ancient sculptures with contemporary dancers, collage, and ink.
Detail on Pan & Hermaphrotus III. All images © Peter Depelchin 2017, courtesy of the artist.
Since being immortalized in ancient Greek and Roman sculptures, the human body has undergone changes—less in structure than in how we use them. These changes are on creative display in Belgian illustrator Peter Depelchin's first solo U.S. show, Canticle, now on at Brilliant Champions Gallery in New York City. Like Quayola's modern renderings of ancient sculptural works or Jon Rafman's 3D classical busts, Depelchin started with the Roman sculpture of the myth of Pan attempting to rape gender-bending god Hermaphroditus, then had modern dancers assume various poses. This allowed him to reimagine the ancient scene with four Chinese ink illustrations and four collage works. Like much of Depelchin's work, Canticle is a highly multicultural conceptual series, with another big influence being the The Canticle of the Birds, a book written by 12th century Persian poet Farîd-ud-Dîn Attar.
Depelchin tells Creators that the works in Canticle, like much of his other illustrations, are akin to sampled images. They include the historical archetypes, but are also influenced by his interest in Persian miniatures, Indian Rajput paintings, and Uzbek architecture.
The Canticle of the Birds attracted Depelchin's attention mostly because its magnificent Persian and Islamic illustrations. While it is a source of inspiration for artists for many different reasons, Depelchin saw it is as a metaphoric song that could be symbolically used for the Canticle exhibition.
"The most recent drawings are a melting pot of cultural influences," says Depelchin. "At the origin of this fusion lies my need to discover multiple cultures and the underlying interest to get to know their cultural heritage.... The Mediterranean is my most explored zone so far. Its visual cultural language is the most visible one in my drawings."
When Depelchin looked at the Roman sculpture of Hermaphroditus refusing Pan's sexual violence by turning away, he was struck by the god's unnatural posture. As Depelchin tells it, he had to do something with this movement.
Once home, he searched for other sculptures depicting the two Greek gods, finding about ten examples, all of them Roman copies of Hellenistic originals. Curious as to the origin of this strange and violent sculpted encounter, Depelchin discovered—through a classical language researcher—that one small paragraph exists referring to Pan meeting Hermaphroditus, in which Pan bluffs having made love to Hermaphroditus three times. With the subject matter set, Depelchin began recreating the scene for his drawings and collages.
"A contemporary human body isn't exactly what a classical body in Ancient Greece or Renaissance Italy was," he adds. "I asked [contemporary dancers] to move from one posture to another while I was taking pictures. As a result I had hundreds of pictures and I made a selection of four of them."
Using only a copy machine, scissors, his personal library, and the four photographs, Depelchin worked on a small series of collages, four of which are now on view at Brilliant Champions Gallery. Preliminary sketches followed, which resulted in the life-sized brush, ink, and acrylic paint drawings that are also on view at the gallery.
"The process is a bit different as I never really used the technique of collage in the research phase," Depelchin notes. "Before, collage was always the result, never part of the process. It turned out very useful to exactly construct the universe I had in mind. The literal presence of life models is also emerging more and more."
Depelchin says the collages and drawings are about the same song—love. But, since the song is also about the power of dominance in each human relation, there is no equality between the characters.
The Canticle drawings, according to Depelchin, show four stages of physical approach: the conversation, the seduction, the transformation (struggle), and the subjection. Transformation is everywhere in the drawings. The principle characters, Pan and Hermaphroditus, undergo metamorphosis towards the final drawing, with every small floral or animal addition and every physical adaptation having its own meaning.
"[Hermaphroditus] is an intriguing character that transcends one specific culture—he/she is a universal symbol, mentioned by Plato, worshipped by the Indian people, valued in contemporary metrosexual and transsexual culture," says Depelchin. "Perhaps it is the symbol of the most complete human being, in a direct or an indirect way referred to by Lord Byron, Oscar Wilde and David Bowie."
"There's also the presence of the vulture hat in the first drawing, referring to the evolution of the character, becoming a prey," he adds. "There are the flowers, as for example the Marguerite, referring to love and innocence. But let's not give away all the archetypes for free: people should go and have a look, and try to discover hidden meanings."
Click here to see more of Peter Depelchin's work.