From my visit to the exhibition ‘The Future of Fashion is now’ at Boijmans the installation from the artist CC stays strongest in my mind. It was a large installation where the main part was a wooden structure that reached the ceiling. The structure formed few shelves that were full of multicolored sculptural mountains. For me it clearly stood out from the tailor dummies and hanging cloths that were around. On one side of the structure were hanging four lighted-up squares that showed a man’s face, hands and feet.
When I started to research CC as an artist I found out that he is formerly a hat designer. Known as Christophe Coppens or The Mad Hatter from the Country of Surreal Art and Comic Books, Belgium. CC is now living and working in Los Angeles.
His career as a hat designer started when he was only 21 years old. In May 2012 he decided to make an end to that career, he closed his business and became a full time artist after 21 years of designing. He had been producing art work together with the designing but came to the conclusion that he could no longer combine the two. As he said:
“You can’t be a good artist with the mentality of a fashion designer. And I didn’t succeed at being a part-time artist.”[x]
It was surely a hard decision for him but an important one as he didn’t want to get lost in the design world where he had to distinguish between how things should be and how they have to be. Staying there he couldn’t be himself and use all the creativity he bears.
Coppens started making the mountain sculptures one week before closing his business. The first mountain developed during a lesson he took from the ceramic artist Mister Hugo Meert. Soon he made another one and then more and more. Perhaps the mountain shape was natural for him when working with the ceramic after all these years of hat designing. Considering the shape of hats may often be compered to mountains. As he moved to Los Angeles all the mountains around the city and the different shades of colours during different day light had an effect on him. He could surely relate that beauty to his work.
The first mountains were made out of ceramic. Later he started using his old clothes to make the mountains after noticing that all his clothes were linked to the person he was before becoming a full-time artist. The clothes were literally costumes for the outwards person he showed in interviews as a hat designer. It wasn’t Christophe Coppens himself. It didn’t fit him anymore he said, figuratively speaking. He also used some of his old furniture for the sculptural mountains. It became some kind of capsule of his past.
His first exhibition after becoming ‘fulltime artist’ showed his mountain sculptures and was called Everything Is Local, Landscape part 1. It was exhibited in Boijmans Museum in Rotterdam [x]. It was an emotional landscape that kept a hold on to the past at the same time as it looked at the future with joy.
The exhibition immediately attracted a lot of attention, especially in his home country’s press. The Belgian magazine Standaard gave him three stars of five and published an article with the title: Hoedje af voor Coppens (Hats off for Coppens).
Later he made and showed the work called The Hills Are Alive: Landscape part 2. It was exhibited in Tokyo and was livelier than his first one. Full of mountains each with it’s own personality he related Landscape part 2 to the shops he used to have full of hats [x].
His installation for the exhibition ‘The Future of Fashion is now’ at Boijmans Museum in Rotterdam is a collection from both Landscape part 1 and Landscape part 2. There he puts together mountains from the two exhibitions making up the current exhibition that he calls Landscape part 3.
It’s interesting how the mountains are mounted on wooden stands that may be references to theater stages. I get the feeling that the stands help the mountains to reach higher and then not only physically but also mentally. It becomes more of a showpiece then something that could be practical, just as his hats.
All these years of hat designing might have been necessary for the work CC is making today. Now as he is using materials from his past and the memory of who he was before, recycling it to make new art. These are memories that he is ready to put aside but at the same time still wants to enjoy and keep in reach. Probably the lighted-up squares from Landscape Part 3 demonstrate this closure or some kind of a burial of his former carrier. The location of the squares indicates that the man is being crucified and the man is believably his own former identity. It therefore seems that CC is finally ready to say goodbye to his former identity as a hat designer, or what? Will we maybe see his resurrection in his next exhibition?
Tips from CC: Enjoy the present and wear sun screen [x],