Contextual artist: Pierre Mertens goes into confrontation
The story of why visual artist Pierre Mertens (Antwerp °1953) is obsessed with the tension between the masses and the individual, immediately touches you. The short life of his daughter Liesje (1978-1989) brought him from painting to global activism. Through a series of medical blunders, he focused from the early eighties, on raising awareness about the complex and uncertain conditions of hydrocephalus (so-called hydrocephalus) and spina bifida (open back) from which she also suffered.
Mertens responds to a society that strives for perfection and eliminates suffering. When not working in the studio, but in the world becomes primary — and you can take that very literally with numerous campaigns and projects in Africa and South America — it’s not surprising that in situ work is the main format for Pierre Mertens.
He calls himself a contextual artist. His work is both aesthetically and ethically confronting and often revolves around social art projects involving the homeless, elderly people, asylum seekers, unemployed migrants, social exclusion, AIDS and so on. In his recurring fight with institutes, he aptly integrates just those places that refer to the apparatus. As in his reinterpretation of the exhibition ‘La Justice au risque de l’art’ (1999-2000 Justice building Cambrai France) at the Notary House in Antwerp (2016) Dressed as a notary, he publicly sold the places where homeless people were evicted. With the money he made from this, he published a one-time art edition that was sold by homeless people on the streets. A more recent project is the memorial in Tanzania for deceased children with disabilities (2019).
Over time, Mertens has built up a remarkable oeuvre in which his work as a visual artist, psychotherapist and development collaborator blend seamlessly into one another. This exceptional combination of activities has stood in the way of recognition after a wonderful start, but is more relevant today than ever.
Since 5 May 2014 Pierre Mertens responds to the world news on social media with one drawing per day, see the links below.