In late 2020 Pierre Mertens and curator Edith Doove complete an initial installation of his portrait paintings under the moniker ‘Loving Care’ in the Blikfabriek in Antwerp. As a result of the COVID crisis the exhibition remains largely unseen. As part of the festival, a number of these large painted portraits of children with hydrocephalus (also known as ‘water on the brain’) (untreated or treated too late) has been selected for exhibition. Within the theme Composition there must also be room for those we are inclined to forget.
As a contextual artist Mertens frequently intervenes in the public space through his critical responses to power and his social commitment to minority groups. The story behind his obsession with the tension between the masses and the individual instantly affects the viewer. The short life of his daughter Liesje (1978-1989) triggers an evolution from painting to global activism. Confronted with a series of medical blunders he starts to focus as of the early eighties on raising awareness of the complicated and precarious conditions of hydrocephalus and spina bifida (Latin for ‘open spine’ or ‘split spine’), which his daughter also suffered from.
Mertens reacts against a society that strives for perfection and eliminates suffering. When working within the confines of his workshop takes a back seat to working in the world – and with his numerous campaigns and projects in Africa and South America you can take this quite literally – it is not surprising that in situ work is his primary format. His work is confrontational on both an aesthetic and ethical level and often involves social art projects centred around homeless people, asylum seekers, unemployed immigrants, social exclusion, AIDS, etc. For instance, since mid-2014 he has been reacting to world news with a daily cartoon.
Mertens has built a remarkable body of work that seamlessly blends his contributions as a visual artist, psychotherapist and foreign aid worker. After a brilliant start, this exceptional combination of activities impeded a certain measure of recognition but thanks to his hybrid work method it is more topical than ever.
The portraits based on pictures the mothers posted on Facebook do not focus on the children’s handicap but on the loving gaze of the caring mothers. Their love is all-inclusive.
With projects with homeless people, asylum seekers, unemployed migrants…this contextual artist has built a remarkable body of work in which his work as a visual artist, psychotherapist and development collaborator seamlessly blends.