There is something very special about this raven-haired Belgian beauty. Perhaps it is the crackling energy that radiates from Marleen De Waele-De Bock that is both palpable and invigorating.
Recently I spoke with De Waele-De Bock at her comfortable home tucked away in the hills of Williamson County. The first clue something wonderful and magical awaited me inside her home was the colorful pots flanking her front door.Upon entering the house, I felt as if I’d fallen down a rabbit hole and emerged in some sort of Alice In Wonderland habitat. Color is everywhere. Every inch of wall space and surface contains unique art collections of all kinds, neatly organized with meticulous attention to display. As one walks around, each room reveals a veritable treasure trove of art and objects. The one constant present in each room, however, is De Waele-De Bock’s own work: art that immediately draws one’s focus and attention to the canvas.
While her work is awash in color and varied in subject matter, one continuous theme is present in De Waele-De Bock’s work, regardless of when it was created. There are visible signs of abundant life and joy in every piece of her work.Growing up in her native Belgium, De Waele-De Bock earned an art degree and spent a postgraduate year learning the near-lost art of European printmaking. In addition to her professional stature as an artist, De Waele-De Bock is a professor at O’More College in Franklin. She also owns Bel Arte Gallery in The Arcade, a popular stop on the city’s monthly Art Crawl circuit.
How did such a talented woman wind up creating art in Nashville? She answers by saying, “I am an artist who presently lives in the United States. It is the fourth country and third continent in which I find my inspiration to work,” she says. The vibrancy and intuitive nature of her art have roots in her past.
Shortly after graduating from art school, De Waele-De Bock and her husband moved to Mozambique. In that extremely impoverished country, art supplies were scarce. But De Waele-De Bock put her time to good use, observing the people and country around her. “There were no Western people; the shops were empty. It was not a very happy time for us, but it was a lesson in life,” she said.The majesty of South Africa’s natural beauty, the animals, and the rich cultural diversity inspired her to begin painting again. Soon she was creating paintings of colorful market scenes and people. These evolved into sculptures not unlike the ceremonial figures created for eons by her African brethren.
Earlier pieces from her African residency are figural indigenous representations infused with emotional colors. Looking around her home, one sees a variety of statuary brought from Africa that represents the culture and beliefs of many tribal people. There is no doubt her African tenure left a lasting impression on her work.
Today, De Waele-De Bock’s inspiration begins with a vague idea or impression and takes shape without planning. “An abstract background is often the start of a picture shaped by the colors I add,” she says. The alchemy of color, texture, and the artist’s imagination changes the viewer’s interpretation the longer they are focused on the work.
Like many of her peers, De Waele-De Bock disappears into her creative space, where time and surroundings disappear. This allows her to be fully immersed in creation and its evolution. Besides providing great joy to the artist, the creation can also be restorative when necessary. “It can be very healing when I feel lonely, being so far away from my family in Belgium,” she adds.Each painting possesses an ethereal quality that is mixed with a healthy dose of whimsy. De Waele-De Bock has no particular subject preference, but a noticeable isolation of people and objects often appears as a recurring theme in her work.
Figures rarely have faces, and both people and animals can be repetitive in interesting configurations. Horses are a favorite focus and appear in many paintings. She likes the shape of this animal. De Waele-De Bock labels her pieces by her observations of subject or mood. Simply stated, these titles do not leave the viewer guessing.
“I know when a painting is finished,” says De Waele-De Bock. “The more you work, the easier it gets. I have learned to let it go. You don’t want to tweak it into failure,” she adds. If not satisfied with a particular piece De Waele-De Bock will paint over a canvas, creating an entirely new piece with no remorse whatsoever.
As an intuitive painter, it is almost as if De Waele-De Bock snaps a picture in her mind, freezes it, and then pours it onto the canvas along with a story of her own making. “Watching a series of movements produces a great reference point. From there I construct a great adventure of what that person or animal might do, think, or say. I just make up a story in my mind, and the color creates itself,” she says.According to De Waele-De Bock, the rays of color embedded in a work provide energy to the viewer, and vibrant color provides a backdrop for her subjects. “Those pieces which contain multiple figures, be they people or animals, have purpose. They are headed somewhere, about to do something, or are poised for contemplation and questions,” says the artist.
When contrasting her earlier work with present paintings, it is as if De Waele-De Bock has transformed the current images into her own particular tribal representation, whether it is of people, animals, or the elements of nature. There is a consistency of happiness and peace in the work, whether it has been born of scratching, gel paste over color, use of a palette knife, or from a print.
It is obvious De Waele-De Bock’s prolific work will continue to delight art lovers whether it is seen in her gallery or via private showings. Other highly respected artists collect her work. Wherever her travels take De Waele-De Bock, you can be sure she will incorporate her experience into some wonderful piece of art.
“As long as I have good people around me, and I can trust they are feeling the same things, meaning positive energy, then I can survive anywhere,” she concludes.
by Lizzie Peters