The heart is human only in the measure it revolts. – George Bataille

Film maker and art historian Elodie Lélu, who made “Tweede Kans” (Second Chance), a 2008 documentary about Bob De Groof started her introduction on his “Trügbilder” exhibition with the words “…immersing oneself in…”.

It’s hard to find a better beginning. You are looking at linocut prints and you’re getting slowly sucked into a chaotic and frightening universe. It is what it is: death, destruction, sex and “danses macabres”… as if the onlooker is following the trail of a bunch of flaying looters from the Hundred Years War, and that above all, the artist’s sardonic jeering is heard in the background… Sadly, it’s our daily reality. And a long and bloody pathway of death and carnage drags indeed through our common history. From the 12th century English Civil Wars over the Hundred Years War over the Eighty Years War and then over the First and Second World Wars. And this is only what happened in our regions.

Today the same scenes pop up in Syria, Sudan, Yemen and Afghanistan… these days those flaying are not called Willem van Ieper or Arnaud de Cervole aka “l’Archiprêtre” but have names like Assad, Putin, Daesh and Boko Haram. The only things which have become more deadly, more efficient are weapons. Human folly and cruelty remain unchanged.

This is what Saïd Mohamed and Bob De Groof want to express in this new edition of “Le Vin des Crapauds”. Some change water into wine, and then there are also toads who serve slime as wine. Cunning, misleading, ruthlessly cruel…

This is an apocalyptic text and these are apocalyptic figures...

Saïd and Bob met around 1995 through the now deceased, immense poet and writer Jacques Izoard from Liège. They both worked on the early ‘90’s underground zine “Kitoko Jungle Magazine”, published in Vilvoorde, Belgium. A first edition of “Le Vin des Crapauds” was created and illustrated by Fatmir Limani, painter, draughtsman and engraver from Albanese origin. This version was published by Jacques Morin from France through his literary periodical “Polder”. At the same time the plan was hatched to one day have “Le Vin” enriched with Bob’s artwork. After laying there to rot for 22 years this wine at last is here.

Text became image.. And what a kind of images..

The figures populating this universe do not so much provoke fears, they mostly are well-known comic strip characters, designed to entertain young and old alike. De Groof however uses the traditional reversal of trusted values. A notorious process we can retrieve from painters such as Bosch, Bruegel and Ensor, to name but a few of his best known and important inspirational sources. Her we are seeing little figures who instead of being funny are creating fear and disruption. They look droll, but are not really. They are pure products of a society which has elevated entertainment to ideology. A diversion which has to blur a crude reality. Celebrated situationist Guy Debord called this “The Society of the Spectacle” in his eponymous book.

These symbols are pictured very justly as little monsters on the loose, out to get and dominate us. They are assisted in this by living drug paraphernalia such as bottles and syringes, out to subjugate the human race.

In the midst of all these creatures who want nothing more than the individual’s destruction, there sometimes stand a few idealistic characters from history . We look admiringly at them, but they were not able to elevate our world in any definitive or meaningful way. They are symbols for ideals we often cherish only in our minds, but of which we know the tragic ending all too well. They are the sympathetic losers with whom we so often non-committally identified.

But despair does not yet reign. A multitude of funny details show us Bob’s imagination working. He thus avoids a descent into atrabilious cynicism without any prospects. After all, as long as we can mock these things there is hope. The so-called “Dark Ages”clearly prove us that. Not only through the heritage of the masters, but also by the cheerful drawings in the marge of great manuscripts, applied by copyists who wanted to transfer their pointed messages to coming generations. And think about Reynard the Fox and Till Uylenspiegel.

So let us take this exhibition as an invitation to look in a different way at reality. Let our fears not get the upper hand and let us dream that there can be another way of doing things and act upon that. Each and everybody with his/her characteristics and qualities. Let us see the delusion behind reality and then, this exhibition will have been a real success.

Guido kuyl, February 2017
Writer, blogger, curator and editor of Kitoko Jungle Magazine