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.