Pascal Janssen talks about his exhibition ‘Subculture Doesn’t Age Well’
Located in De Serre in the heart of Hasselt, Pascal Janssen presents his exhibition ‘Subculture Doesn’t Age Well’. In his paintings, he explores the aesthetic elements of contemporary local subcultures in a lively and recognizable way. Next to being a painter, Janssen also works as a mixed media artist and freelance graphic designer in the music industry.
Text and pictures by Manoe Hollanders
Janssen’s work can be admired in the glass exhibition hall of De Serre Hasselt until the 30th of October. The exposition can be marveled at from outside for twenty-four hours a day.
WHAT EXACTLY DO YOU MEAN WITH THE TITLE OF YOUR EXPO?
Youths own subculture. They always have and always will. When you look at subcultures in association with older people… they just don’t age well. Nowadays they also change and evolve way faster than they used to. That’s why I’m so interested in subcultures as a painter, it gives my work a chance to evolve with them.
In the past, it was possible for subcultures to last an entire decade, such as punk rock in the '70s. Now they follow each other way faster. There’s also a certain sense of nostalgia. Lately, we’ve been looking at how people lived their lives all those years ago. Then we incorporate certain elements of those cultures in new ones that rise up in the present. We recycle them, so to say. In that sense too: subculture doesn’t age well.
WHERE DID YOU GET YOUR INSPIRATION FOR YOUR PAINTINGS?
To me, it's like a farewell to Hasselt and the subcultures of this city. I studied here, at PXL MAD. My work always revolves around subcultures, but for this series, I really looked at the ones that caught my eye in Hasselt. I’m currently living in Ghent, where I’ll continue my work as an artist. So this for me was a nice goodbye to the city and the subcultures that seem to be fading away a bit here. In the last few years a lot of clubs have closed, and there aren’t as many activities for alternative youths as there used to be. That’s a part of subculture disappearing.
WHAT IS THE MESSAGE YOU WANT TO CONVEY TO THE PUBLIC?
I want to draw attention to the nostalgia of this era. People today are very nostalgic, so that’s what I wanted to focus on. I’m also very nostalgic myself, but it’s exactly because of that that I'm more aware of the way that things are right now. Everything changes so quickly. People sometimes think you’re stuck in the past if you're nostalgic. I try to remain in the present while internalizing this nostalgia, and that’s exactly what I want to capture in my paintings. I guess it’s inside humor. I like to ridicule the stereotypes of these subcultures. Not only their clothing and overall appearance but also their behavior and interests. The titles of my works also make fun of these stereotypes. Someone once told me that to ridicule something, you really have to love what you’re laughing with. And I do.
'NO MOM, I HAVEN'T SEEN YOUR XANAX'. A SENTENCE THAT'S UNDOUBTEDLY BEEN SAID BY MANY YOUNG PEOPLE ALL OVER THE WORLD. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE XANAX-HYPE IN THE RAP SCENE?
A lot of subcultures have a drug or a group of drugs that they often get associated with. It’s always been this way. Some subcultures are strongly associated with hallucinogens, in electronic music it’s mostly uppers like speed or MDMA. Drugs are quite common in alternative youth. Each subculture is constantly looking for a way to separate itself from the others, often in terms of societal norms and values. Drugs sometimes are a part of this process too. All of this is yet another good example of the phrase ‘subculture doesn’t age well’. If you're stuck in that world, that can start to paint a pretty sad picture of your life. Look at those who just keep on doing drugs when they get older, those who keep going to free parties... There is a lot of freedom in that, but that freedom can easily start to look ugly.
I feel like subcultures don’t necessarily need to be affiliated with drugs. It’s people themselves who go out looking for substances. It doesn’t surprise me that young people in the scene look at their idols and get inspired to get face tattoos, something they’re probably going to regret later in life. So it doesn’t really surprise me if they'd secretly search their mother’s medicine cabinet for Valium or Xanax because of rappers these days shamelessly using it.
NEXT TO ART, YOU'RE ALSO BUSY WITH MANY OTHER THINGS. YOU DESIGN ALBUM COVERS AND POSTERS FOR PRODUCERS, BANDS, AND LABELS FOR EXAMPLE. HOW DID YOU START WITH ALL OF THIS?
Music and going out are my biggest distractions. Especially the diversity in it. I’ve always had friends in every subculture. Variety is really appealing to me, not only in my friend groups but in my art too. Sometimes I need to take a step back and do something different from painting.
I taught myself to design by closely watching what other designers were doing in the music industry. Slowly I started doing my own thing with it. It wasn’t easy in the beginning, as I had almost no portfolio. At first, I took on a couple of commissions on a voluntary basis for indie artists on Bandcamp. People in this subculture are very connected with each other. An Australian artist who was interested in my work knew a guy who was with an American label and so on. That’s kind of how it all started.
WHAT WOULD THE PINNACLE OF YOUR CAREER AS AN ARTIST BE?
As a designer, you can be known internationally through the Internet. And I already am, in a way. Not that I'm famous or anything, just in the sense that I work with bands from all over the world.
As a painter, I really want to see that world. I'd love it if my career would someday allow me to travel all over the world. I’m not the kind of person who'd go on a holiday just to sit by the beach and do nothing. I want to travel for a reason. For my career, for my art. Who knows what subcultures I’ll come across in foreign countries.
Visit Janssen's website to see more of his oil paintings.