Character of Cork: Artist Serge is truly colourful

The Belgian painter Serge Vandenberghe, who lives in Cork with his wife, Veronica, speaks to Roisin Burke about his work, his life, and his hopes. 
Character of Cork: Artist Serge is truly colourful

Cork-based visual artist Serge Le Belge at his studio in Cork. Picture: David Keane

ARTIST Serge Vandenberghe, also known as Serge Le Belge, has given a lot of love to Cork through his work.

One of the founding members of the Outlaw Studios, a group of independent artists who have reclaimed and revitalised the old Ford factory in Cork’s Dockland, Serge is giving back piece by piece.

At 62, Serge, who is from Wallonia, in Belguim, moved to Cork with his wife, Cork native Veronica Kelly.

“I spent most of my young adult life as a ‘professional’ political activist in the Belgian and international peace movement,” Serge said. “I met my partner in an anarcho-pacifist international conference in India in 1986. After the collapse of the Berlin wall (and the collapse of the peace movement which followed), we moved to Ireland for a new life.”

Family life 

The couple has two boys, Iollann, 28, who is an engineer, living in Australia, and Alexi, 26, who is a professional climber in Cork.

While Serge brings creativity to the family, Veronica brings an impressive collection of languages. Through her work as an interpreter, Veronica translates French, Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, and German to English.

A full-time artist and a house-husband, Serge took care of the home and the children, while his wife was working full time.

“It was quite unusual at the time,” Serge said.

Not one to be idle, Serge has built and painted theatre sets for about 20 years with Triangle Productions, for the Everyman Palace Theatre mainly.

“I’ve also been closely involved with Dowtcha Puppets (now the Cork Puppetry Company), building floats and giant puppets for parades and public events. I’m also involved in the Camden Palace Community Arts Centre on Camden Quay.”

Influences 

Serge said he is influenced by surrealism and symbolism, thanks to his Belgian background.

“In my studio work, geometrical painting and modelling alternate with figurative representations of more realistic worlds, where open, desolate spaces constitute a perfect background for poetic and symbolic visual compositions.”

Living in Mayfield, Serge said the best thing about his lifestyle is the freedom to make each day what he wanted it to be.

An ideologist at heart, Serge said the 21st century compared to the 20th was lacking in some optimism. “When I was a young adult, the world was definitely going to be better,” Serge said. “We strongly believed that we could change it for the better: No more wars, no more poverty, no more racism, no more bigotry… Well, I only hope that my children and my children’s children will be able to believe in utopia again. Who knows…”

Proudest moments 

A man of many talents, Serge cites some of his work as his proudest achievements.

“Making the audience cry while acting in a play on utopia? Or maybe this painting I made, on a religious subject, which is as much appreciated by believers and by atheists.”

A profound moment for the artist occurred when his children became teenagers.

“When I became a dad, I had strong views on how to educate my kids,” Serge said. “But as the years went by, I discovered, with horror, that I reproduced some of my parents’ behaviours that I hated deeply as a child. That was a big blow to the ego!”

 Cork based visual artist Serge Le Belge at his studio in Cork. Picture: David Keane
Cork based visual artist Serge Le Belge at his studio in Cork. Picture: David Keane

The French-speaking Belgian tries to say only things to which he has given a great deal of thought.

“There is a French saying: ‘Turn your tongue seven times in your mouth before expressing your views in public’.”

A man of integrity, Serge said it is important to stay true to himself.

A keen hiker, he enjoys walking the wilderness of the Wild Atlantic Way, but also acknowledged his addiction to social media, something out of step with the detached silence of the hills of Cork and Kerry.

“Like tobacco smoking, it’s the hardest addiction to get rid of and I’m addicted! I can’t imagine life without it and I hardly remember, with nostalgia, my life without it. Could somebody invent a patch against scrolling, please?”

Serge is a member of the Outlaw Studio, an artist collective based in part of the old Ford Factory in Cork’s Docklands. The Outlaw Studio will be welcoming people in on Culture Night on Friday, September 23 to gain insight into their work and their creative processes.

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