Nicoline van Stapele
No Secrets

Two facts:
* A few days ago, I was visiting the studio of a lady artist somewhere in the Belgian Kempen region. During our conversation, the lady told me that a couple of years ago she had created new work on the occasion of the social turmoil that was caused by the sexual abuse in the Church. The news articles in those days had affected her strongly. The fact that she herself had been a victim of abuse surely played an important role. She had kept the abuse secret not only for her parents but also for her own husband. She only started speaking about this after her mother had passed away. Her mother had overprotected her. This resulted in a unhappy youth but could nevertheless not prevent the abuse. 

* Last week, the exhibition of sculptor Koenraad Tinel, on the occasion of his 85th birthday, opened in the Zebrastraat in Ghent. In the 1980’s, I organised exhibitions of his work. In those days he signed only by his Christian name. His surname was rather ill famed as his parents had been infamous as collaborators dragging their child through the woods of Germany trying to escape. This tragedy is even today still alive in the works of Koenraad Tinel, though nowadays one of his closest friends is a Jewish man who survived the hell of Auschwitz. We all have our secrets, important ones and insignificant ones, but some are harder to bear than others. 

You may ask yourself: why did this exhibition get the title ‘No Secrets’? The works look relatively joyful, formally and systematically interesting, not particularly mysterious nor negatively mysterious. Or could it be a code? The works shown here by Nicoline van Stapele can at first sight perfectly be situated in the normal evolution of her oeuvre. That is not just an appearance, it is a simple reality. It does not deviate strikingly from what she has been doing for more than thirty years after she finished her studies in drawing and painting at the Academy of fine Arts in Ghent.

Next to drawings and paintings, she also produced installations, sculptures and collections. Quite often, she translates her experiences, explorations and observations in uncomplicated, geometrical patterns that look simple at first sight. Thus, while living in Paris, her long walks through the city resulted in the creation of a whole series of paintings. She is not the only artist that takes the same path and it remains an enriching experience to observe the great variety of methods to transform a walk into a work of art. Just have a look at the highly conceptual work of Stanley Brouwn, the works resulting from the walks of Richard Long, the oeuvre of Francis Alÿs or the Venetian walks of Lieven Neirinck.

Nicoline also succeeds in visualising conversations, by way of lines, cubes, grids and patterns. As visitors or spectators we only perceive the formal transformation of these observations, that may evolve into a fascinating series. In a certain sense, the work of Nicoline van Stapele always reflects a very personal story, some very profound emotions and experiences which she transforms into a strongly abstracted language of shapes. It reminds me somehow of the women in Afghanistan who found an escape from their dramatic sufferings by weaving beautiful carpets.

The present exhibition partly originated from a genuine search, the quest for truth. It is a very emotional kind of quest, deeply interwoven with the family history of the artist.

The mother of Nicoline was the child of a liaison of her grandmother with Eduard Sanders, a widely known photographer from the city of Utrecht, but the little girl was raised by her grand-aunt and grand-uncle. After the demise of his wife, the photographer married the grandmother of Nicoline, but this marriage was only an administrative arrangement that was dissolved later.

During the war, the Nazi invasion of the Netherlands was a threat to photographer Eduard Sanders, because he was a descendant of a wellknown Jewish family. The great grandmother of Nicoline was born in Romania and also had Jewish roots. Most family members of Eduard Sanders were deported to Auschwitz and killed in that concentration camp.

After the war, Nicoline’s mother got married to Mr van Stapele in a catholic church and gave birth to three children. Mr van Stapele was a member of the church administration, but the family members did not attend Holy Mass. Only later on Nicoline discovered that her family had hidden secrets and she started her search for the truth. Much information had been kept secret, but then certain things became clear all of a sudden. Certain reactions were surprising, silence was often embarrassing and glances faded. As so many others, Nicoline had to search herself for her real identity.

We all have ideas about ourselves. Hopefully we all ask ourselves one day who we are and what our origins are. So many politicians who love to talk about ‘identity’ or ‘our values’, should equally have to do such a thing.

Youngsters long for answers to questions, but as years go by, the number of questions is growing constantly. In that way, we acquire insights, we find out that there is not one single truth but several kinds of truth.

The work of Nicoline van Stapele reflects her patient puzzling, her research in archives and her questioning of authorities. It shows how similar elements or identical pieces can lead to different results, revealing a multitude of possibilities, many forms of truth. Premature conclusions can be dangerous. Sometimes truth can change your life, sometimes not. One day one of our statesmen worthy of the name, Théo Lefèvre, prime minister at that time, said on television: “Truth has not always to be told.” He was a wise man, maybe he was right, maybe not. You can think it over or argue about this. Do this particularly while observing the work of Nicoline here, in this Seat of Wisdom. And beware of those who pretend knowing ‘the’ truth.

Daan Rau
Harelbeke, July 7, 2019

Nicoline van Stapele

‘Not To Be Missed’


Looking at the website of Nicoline van Stapele, I can see images, which are leading me back to the year 1987, to the first traces of her work. It is striking that during all these years, this artist has been working in a perfectly consequent way.


Ever since her training at the KASK in Ghent, she has never stopped drawing, hundreds of drawings made in the course of these thirty years. Next to her drawings, she used rubber and many other materials to create objects and sculptures, including very imposing installations both in the open air and inside exhibition halls. VUB (Free University of Brussels) entrusted her with the artistic decoration of its nursery, where she realised a series of kidney shaped sculptures whose organic forms are child-friendly and can be used easily. In one of the conference rooms of ‘De Zebrastraat’, a cultural centre in Ghent, she realised a fascinating permanent installation entitled “Where Were We?”. She shows here her sense of humour and perspective. The actual exhibition, called ‘Not To Be Missed’, is a clear testimony of these qualities.


Owing to limited space opportunities, Nicoline van Stapele shows here mainly drawings. Many of them are simple, geometrical patterns. The foundation of every drawing is a point and a line. Many of her works demonstrate how these two pillars of the art of drawing can be repeated indefinitely and still remain different. They create a fascinating rhythmic image and can evolve into a series of intriguing patterns, producing both movement and quietness in the minds of those observing them. They show how a grid pattern of crossing lines can produce a suggestion of space, profoundness and mystery. Consequently, we can say that the drawings of Nicoline contain a strong dose of poetry, more precisely the poetry of everyday life as we find it in the poem ‘Marc greets the things in the morning’ by Van Ostaijen.


Nicoline van Stapele loves hiking in the company of her dog Tinto, which according to Nicoline, ‘conducts an in depth inquiry into grasses and trees’. As does her dog, Nicoline never fails to observe her surroundings. One way or another, these observations reappear in her drawings, be it in a very abstracted way, as a kind of translation.


In this sense, the series called ‘I’ll Keep This Short’ exhibited here, is in fact a display of conversations. As in recordings, you discover a kind of modulation bar, a line full of variety rendering the pitch and, on the other hand, one or many square coloured blocks rendering the timbre. Some “conversations” were very short, others are clearly longer or involving more participants. But this way you see that a simple observation can form the starting point of a surprising series. This series was created on the occasion of an exhibition in Hasselt in 2016.


The name of this exhibition derives from a smaller series of drawings, executed in 2014. If you take a closer look at those drawings, you will every time discover the same phrase. These works were drawn with a small pipette branded ‘Sennelier’. Coincidence and irregularities are playing a role in the shaping of lines and are part of the charm of the drawing. Nicoline prefers to work with this ink or other ones which are colourfast, in contrast to ecoline. The title ‘Not To Be Missed’ was a mantra the artist heard over and over again in the Cologne Fine Art and the direct motive for the creation of these drawings. You can discover in these a kind of street-plan with bright coloured areas not to be missed. But of course, these works are more than that. The point is your own personal exploration, your personal appreciation and it is not about what the silent majority says you should appreciate or think.


Nowadays Nicoline is staying in the Cité internationale des arts in Paris. Belgium and the Flemish Community have a residence there, offering many artists the exceptional opportunity to work in a concentrated way, within the context of a cosmopolitan artistic community. In Paris, Nicoline took the opportunity to paint on a larger format than she is able to in her own atelier in Ghent. An empty atelier can become a great source of inspiration. Her long walks in the city of Paris, be it without Tinto, are leading to a fascinating series of paintings called ‘Many Bridges To Cross’. They are also abstract works originating from specific experiences and observations, translated into geometric elements and signs. I hope we will soon have the opportunity to admire these works.


Ladies and gentlemen, I hope this brief introduction can help you to approach and appreciate the remarkably integer work of Nicoline, most certainly an artist who deserves your full attention.


Daan Rau

Berlare, January 18th 2018.







Nicoline van Stapele


The urge to collect runs in the blood. It’s probably still a genetic remnant from the time it was still of vital importance. Nicoline van Stapele meets our urge to collect: she makes collections. She creates forms which belong to each other, in one way or another. She combines forms which interact with each other or which reject each other and by doing this, she makes compositions and installations. The forms are often derived from nature while her drawings and collages clearly tend to be geometric. She is occupied with space, both in a two-dimensional as in a three-dimensional way. It’s the surrounding space, which determines how a collection shall be shown. Her works of art are in this way never finished. “Works which are in my neighbourhood, are always subject to change.” she says.


Nicoline van Stapele graduated in sculpturing at the academy of Ghent in 1987. Afterwards she studied restoration and got her degree in 1989. The job as a restorer admitted her to survive and create plastic works of art in all freedom, without the need to make concessions. When she couldn’t find an atelier, she created rubber wall tapestry. Simple, sober material, which didn’t take much space at home but which, once installed, had a great spatial impact. This attitude shows her intelligent and subtle way of dealing with limitations. As Goethe already said: “In der Beschränkung zeigt sich erst der Meister”.


Later she taught at the sculpturing class of the local academy of Ostend. Her aim was to teach her students to look at the forms in nature. For that purpose, she brought a collection of succulents, bones and vertebras to the class. This was more a source of inspiration, for herself than for her students. What attracts her the most are branches. Although she doesn’t think of herself to have a green thumb at all, she’s still fascinated by trees, especially by their branches.

She finds it very interesting to manipulate forms with other textures and in this manner creates completely new forms and structures.

She is really a hard worker and has a high level of concentration, which is also of vital importance for her job as a restorer.

Her portfolio shows a continual and consequent evolution. Her many drawings and collages, in which she tries out various combinations, demonstrate a steadiness which commands admiration. The lover of art can taste the almost indefinite amount of possibilities which the artist explores.


Her wall-installation, which was bought by the province Oost-Vlaanderen, proves that she knows how to deal with space. Originally this piece consisted of eleven elements. It was meant to be installed on a wall of the provincial administrative centre ‘Het Zuid”. That’s the reason why she created eleven more elements for this work; it now consists of twenty-two elements. In this manner, the piece preserves its original meaning and impact. It seems to me characteristic of her consequent attitude and her scrupulous way of sensing and interpreting a certain space. An installation isn’t confined to certain boundaries but should interact with the surroundings. The size and amount of elements of an installation is by definition variable.


Rubber, plaster, terracotta and synthetics are frequently used materials in her work. For a day nursery of the Vrije Universiteit van Brussel she created a series of inflatable, kidneyshaped sculptures . These objects are not merely an artistic message for passerbyers but they are also ideal toys for children in which they can nestle. She therefore received this commission rightly as the winner of the competition.

The shape of a kidney is something which often returns in her creations and it is the shape which more than anyother refers to the organic. It is also a form with art-historical references. It reminds us of Jean Arp, Joan Miró, Yves Tanguy, Salvador Dalí and other surrealists. It’s a friendly shape, which she places in contrast with harder, more geometric forms, whether in other materials or not. It’s a playful shape, which we can find back in nature. She once made a series of kidney-shaped, manageable objects, as a sort of multiple. When you manipulate the object, it makes a kind of bleating noise, “the voice of the artist”, she says ironically.


The work of Nicoline van Stapele is intriguing and of a moving simplicity. It invites us to participate, even to touch. I can easily imagine that the owner of one of her collections, secretly or not, frequently or not, plays with the collection and creates with it, in any case he dreams away when he is near it and he gives free course to his imagination. And isn’t this one of the very missions of the artist?


Daan Rau

Gent, february 2007.