Sidney Waerts (a.k.a. SIT) is a former art director who set himself free from the advertising world. He currently works as an independent artist exploring the juxtaposition between beauty and darkness, while being ardently engaged in social projects that make a difference through public art.
We met him at the opening of “Tooday 2”, his solo show currently on at Amsterdam’s Kallenbach Gallery.
2008 was a crucial year in Sidney Waerts’ life. After having worked for 15 years in the advertising world, he decided to fully devote himself to painting. This path to freedom implied getting rid of everything he knew so far.
“In design school first, and in the advertising industry after that, I learnt that a ‘creative talent’ is someone able to create something that becomes appreciated by many people: it’s the ‘commercial eye’. But I knew that my creativity needed a more free approach to develop to the fullest: I decided to be a free artist, and the process to do so was by trying to lose that talent.”
When Sidney stopped working to please the public and undertook his own artistic path, his shapes and subjects became unrestricted. Everything came down to his intimate thoughts: the challenge evolved into bringing out his inner world, rather than bringing the outside world inside.
It’s the same as growing yourself. My art goes in parallel with my emotional experience, my personal growth
Sidney Waerts’ art is a parallelism between his emotions and the world’s emotional growth as he can see it in the news or around him in the streets. He is still speaking to a public but, rather than pleasing it, he meets its audience through the depiction of images that everybody can refer to.
“I combine all those inputs in a collage: something to which a lot of people can refer because it’s made of things that are happening right now, things that they see in the news or on social media. All these inputs come together in my paintings: this is the way I communicate with people now.”
Sidney Waerts’ artworks look very realistic style-wise, although the images he crafts are always surreal. A polar bear breaks into a corporate meeting, a tiger walks inside a tram and broken structures blurs into abstract shapes: his paintings are about the moment when life shows its uneasy, darker side.
“I have a love-hate relationship with my work at this point. I still love the photorealistic style, but I got this urge of finding new shapes and more expressions. Right now, the more abstract I go the more interesting it is for me to capture a certain emotion without the shape of something recognizable. At a certain point, you know how to paint. That’s when you have to put in something extra to make it yours, to be original and truly express something.”
As Sidney is shifting into abstract art, his artworks still hold a certain weight, or emotional feeling, close to photorealism. His latest paintings are just on the border, and sometimes it feels as whether you perceive it as photorealistic or as abstract is mostly a matter of your own point of view: it depends on which path you choose to get closer to the specific emotion that initiated the creative process.
“My animals represent innocence. They are predators, but they are also fragile: for example, both the polar bear and the tiger are endangered species. From this contrast comes their vulnerability, which is what makes them so attractive to me.”
Sidney Waerts’ candid animals are put against a tough, hard-to-digest world: a powerful contrast between sweetness and darkness. The energy that comes out from this friction triggers viewers’ mind and engages them in taking in an image that isn’t always easy at a first glance.
“In the world we live in, we shut our eyes to the dark side of life and we want to see only beautiful, colourful, happy things. I embrace darkness, because I think that you need to embrace both the dark and the beautiful sides of life if you want to see things in perspective.”
In this way, Sidney’s artworks aren’t telling dark stories: they are embracing life to the fullest. Sidney is not escaping from a feeling that makes him –that makes us- uncomfortable: rather, he becomes conscious of it.
The point isn’t joining the cheerful chorus of people happily –yet superficially- claiming that “beauty is everywhere”, but is the challenge of embracing all the different sides of life.
SIT’s Socially Engaged Public Art: United Painting
Although he did paint some large-scale murals (in Texel, in Stockholm and in his hometown of Haarlem, just to name a few), SIT’s commitment to bringing art onto the streets is more social-driven than plain Muralism.
“The social element is very important for me, it keeps my feet on the ground. I spent many years alone in my studio, so when I heard about this project I immediately wanted to be on board.”
It all started when Sidney approached his friend Dré Urhahn to join them with Favela Painting, a project of community art for social change. Favela Painting started in 2005 when the founders –Dré and Jeroen- painted a large artwork in Rio de Janeiro with members of the local community. After many years of developing organic art interventions abroad, Favela Painting was invited to work on the surrounding wall of a former prison in Amsterdam (the Bijlmerbajes Prison), which was designated to host around 1000 refugees.
At that time, the founders of Favela Painting were busy on different projects abroad, so Sidney jumped in and joined the rest of the team at Amsterdam’s old prison. Together with Bijlmerbajes’ residents, they transformed a huge grey building and its iconic six concrete towers into a work of art that has been designed and realized by the people living there.
“I’m just a brush, or a spray-can. It’s a very humble experience, since the project isn’t about me, my paintings or my art, but it’s about the community and the impact that art has on people’s lives.”
Since that first experience, SIT got more and more involved into Favela Painting’s art-driven social projects. He became the coordinator of the United Painting Team, which is the branch of Favela Painting that works with refugees –or better: with “new comers”, as Sidney specifies.
“It’s mind-blowing. I get to inspire people with something I’ve learnt along my way, both technical skills and how to express yourself. These are two things that can totally change the mind-set of people who live in difficult surroundings. While you paint, your mind is still: you forget about everything that takes you down. The creative process teaches them to be in the flow of doing things: if you learn how to stop thinking and just doing, you can feel connected to the world and everything around you.”
Engaging with the United Painting Team is yet another way in which Sidney embraces the dark side of life: by experiencing it, by understanding it and by putting his efforts into working within it.
Because this is how, eventually, the dark side of life will make sense -even turn into something positive.
Sidney Waerts’ Solo Show at Kallenbach Gallery: Tooday 2
The show currently on at Amsterdam’s Kallenbach Gallery –Tooday 2– follows ‘Tooday 1’, which was held in 2017.
“Tooday 1 was a big conquer, because I could finally let go of all the commercial thoughts. I didn’t plan the show, neither worked with deadlines: I simply let the work grow for a whole year to see what would come out of it.”
Tooday 2 came to life in the same way, which is how Sidney has been working since 2008, when he freed himself from the advertising world and produced his first show ‘Unwired’.
Tooday 2 is yet another step along Sidney’s path to freedom, which equates with not compromising and not being influenced by anybody.
The exhibition is also a snapshot of his mind-set right now: in between surreal photorealism and abstract art.
“The abstract structures that you can see in Tooday 2 are what interest me right now, my current topic of research. I still want to capture an emotion, like I did in the photorealistic paintings, but through abstract shapes. The less references I have, the more these shapes come to me.”
Kallenbach Gallery – www.kallenbachgallery.com
Until January 14th 2019
Sidney Waerts’ website – www.sidneywaerts.com
Favela Painting / United Painting – www.favelapainting.com