Lumières sur les Cités showcasing François Schuiten at the Centre for Engravings and Prints in La Louvière is the only Mons 2015 exhibition dedicated to comics. This was made possible by the major donations the artist and his scriptwriter Benoît Peeters made to the King Baudouin Foundation, Maison Autrique and the Centre de la Gravure. We had already had the pleasure of discovering his work beautifully staged at the Bibliotheca Wittockiana in early 2014.
“There is no better place to see a drawing than in the comic book for which it was designed,” comments François Schuiten at the exhibition opening. Yet, considering his love of architecture, we know that the artist likes to stage his drawings in a tightly controlled space. “There is a difference between placing an image upright and looking at it on the pages of a book,” the artist adds.
The first room presents backlit comic strips that seem to glow softly in the dark. Entitled Fragments de Brussels (Fragments of Brussels) the series depicts iconic places in the Belgian capital like the Law Courts, the European Quarter or the Marolles district. “There are bits of Brussels in all the imaginary cities I have drawn. I find it hard to be interested in an imaginary world that is detached from reality,” explains François Schuiten. A second area is closed off by shelves of huge books with wacky and humorous titles printed on their back covers. This decor of giant libraries was already used in the scenography at Wittockiana. From there, we go over a small threshold into a room partly filled with sand. Making our way through the gritty and loose material, we immerse ourselves completely in the make-believe world. The sandy floor echoes the sand drawn on the exhibited comic strips, from the graphic novel Théorie du grain de sable, which is a kind of ecological fable.
The sand in one of the corners has been sculpted to represent the Tower of the former Saint-Albert colliery. Indeed, as a member of a group of citizens, François Schuiten is actively involved in the committee protecting this industrial architecture heritage. At Péronnes-lez-Binche, this 63 metre high building dating back to 1954 has been derelict for many years. Its owner, Fluxys, was planning to knock it down. “The Tour Saint-Albert is a beautiful building, in architectural, functional, and aesthetic terms,” explains the artist, who produced several drawings of the tower, as well as a silkscreen print which is being used as the exhibition poster and has also been reproduced as a series of 200 copies signed by the artist and sold in the museum shop.
We also admired La Douce, a fabulous series of five silkscreens enhanced with gouache and pencil, published by the Champaka gallery and printed by L’Atelier Vertical. Published in 2012 as a comic book, La Douce tells the story of this incredible steam locomotive, the Type 12 Atlantic, designed by Cockerill and associates in Seraing. The machine was saved from the scrapyard by a handful of railway workers in the 1960s.
François Schuiten was born in 1956. His father and mother were both architects. He met Benoît Peeters at school. During his studies at the Saint-Luc Institute in Brussels, he attended classes led by comics department head Claude Renard. His first comic strip was published in 1977 in the Belgian edition of the magazine Pilote. Ever since 1990, in collaboration with Peeters, he has been putting together exhibition shows in which he truly stages his comic books. In 2002, he was awarded the Grand Prix of the Angouleme International Comics Festival in recognition of his whole body of work. In 2004, the Maison Autrique in Brussels, the first house built by Art Nouveau architect Victor Horta, opened its doors following complete refurbishment works in which both Schuiten and Peeters played a major part. This year, they designed the scenography for Train World in Brussels.
It is amazing to see how this comic strip artist, whose job primarily consists in spending long hours bending over his drawing board like a copyist monk, is able to design the scenography for his own books to suit different spaces. He does that with a great deal of relevance and intelligence, with spectacular results. Ultimately, the atmosphere hence created will have more impact on the public than the drawings themselves, even though each does open into a wonderful world.
Lumières sur les Cités
Centre for Engravings an Prints
10 rue des Amours
7100 La Louvière
Until 7 February 2016
Tuesdays – Sundays and festive days, from 10:00 to 18:00
At the Mundaneum in Mons