New Neighbours

Prison of Haren, Brussels, 2024

A year ago I received a curious phone call from someone wanting to know if I’d be interested in making chalk drawings in Belgium’s newest prison. When I arrive, though, it’s nothing but a construction site, so the first drawings I do are along Witloofstraat, the street the prison is located on. I soon become acquainted with the slick landlord Jean-Pierre, the parcel delivery man Fred, his twelve-year-old daughter, Laurence, and a cantankerous orange mutton chops that lives in the bushes. The local residents are concerned about the pending arrival of twelve hundred prisoners, the new neighbours they will never get a chance to meet. Fourteen months later the inmates arrive in vans with bulletproof glass. I go inside with the first group of them. It is a lovely summer afternoon, no razor wire or hanging power lines in sight. I cannot wait to draw on the most feared wall of them all, the wall of walls, to breach the line separating good from evil.

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Côte Flamande Drawings

De Panne, 2023

In the heat of the summer, I do a wall drawing in a bungalow on the Flemish coast. The owners, Pierre and Charlotte, ply me with coffee and local delicacies. Their reading table is covered in books and a group of hand-tame rabbits nibble on the marram grass outside. It is so completely different here than in the working class neighbourhoods I usually draw in. On the walls in the living room are paintings by Raveel, Delvaux and Tuymans. The house is tastefully decorated and extremely quiet. I am a bit creeped out by the man staring out from the Tuymans painting. Then one of Pierre’s friends tells me I need to engage in a dialogue with the painting, pretend the house is a street and the painting just another resident. It’s exactly the push I need to embark on this tale.

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Ruisbroek Church Drawings

Ruisbroek, 2023

The Ruisbroek church, Sint-Pieters-Leeuw, Belgium, is being relegated to profane use. In the lead-up to its deconsecration, I draw on the sanctuary with chalk.

3 July 2023: The sun casts dancing shadows of trees on the longitudinal wall in an oasis of peace and tranquillity. As I stand back to get a good view of the building, the late afternoon sun flickers in the windowpanes, as if winking at the world, making my heart speed up a bit. I feel the urge to set something in motion that will benefit the place. While I may never have found religious inspiration over the years, I wouldn’t say sacred spaces leave me cold. I decide it’s best to not draw on the building immediately and instead adopt some diversionary tactics. Maybe this slight hesitation will yield greater insight than jumping right in. After all, the building has so many lines and planes it’s like a giant playground. You really have to know your stuff to add anything to it.

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Ruivenstraat Drawing

Rotterdam, 2023

To the residents of Ruivenstraat and the surrounding streets, passersby and neighbourhood children:

Thursday, 2 June 2022
I walk along your street in high spirits, eager to get down to business. This is the day the chalk drawing I’ve been envisioning for so long I could draw it by heart will finally be freed from the pages of my sketchbook. But unfortunately it’s not that simple. The boom lift I’ve ordered – an ultramodern, shiny turquoise dinosaur parked by the rental company on the pavement – refuses to work. And I need it to tackle your thirteen-metre-high apartment building.
The facade I plan to draw chalk lines on is a towering wall of red brick with deep grouting. On top of that, the bricks have grooves in them, which will make drawing on them difficult. I won’t be able to apply the lines of chalk in long smooth strokes but will have to press into the bricks, deep into the pores, until my bones ache.
Even after I receive instructions from the rental company by phone, the machine persists in its stubborn resistance. They’re going to have to send out a specialist. That fine man could arrive any minute… or it could take a few hours. So, to pass the time in comfort, I grab a chair from one of your front gardens and place it on the pavement next to the green monster, as if it’s my pet.

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A small history in large print

In early February 2020 I do chalk drawings in the rooms and hallways of the old nursing home in Merelbeke. The next month the pandemic breaks out and the care facility is shut completely off from the outside world. I continue drawing in that outside world, in the places where the nursing home residents lived and worked. Meanwhile the residents are moved into a brand-new building. As soon as the new facility is open for visitors, I continue my drawings there.
Maurice is grieving the loss of his wife, but he cheers up when I tell him about drawing on one of the bunkers in Munte, the place where he spent his working life as a radio operator and married Marieleintje. ‘If only you had done a drawing there on our wedding day, but you’re 53 years too late,’ he says, before sinking back into his grief.
To console him, I say, ‘All the chalk drawings are going to appear in a book. I’ve written a story to go with them, including about the drawings I made in your old room and at Munte.’ ‘I can barely still read,’ he sighs. ‘I’m going to make a large print book for you,’ I promise, ‘so that you don’t have to be annoyed about the small print anymore.’

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Merelbeke Drawings
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On the Road to Watou

Watou, 2021

In early January 2021 the photographer Jan Kempenaers and I comb through the town of Watou despite the fact that it’s much too cold to be outside. On the far outskirts of town, along Dodemanstraat, we spot a dilapidated farm and I decide to draw on the barn. The level I press against the wall to draw the chalk lines along feels like a block of ice. Jan is photographing the drawings but also documenting the surroundings.
We are surprised to find two old people inside the barn. Marleen and Raymond are a brother and sister who have lived their entire lives in what must have once been a splendid farmstead. They’re sitting at a kitchen table next to a gas heater and listening to the radio, illuminated by a fluorescent light. Raymond is talking about the poor onion harvest and the poultry farm around the corner that emits so much ammonia, but he’s not complaining. A man after my own heart.
Months later I visit Marleen and Raymond again in the summer. It’s hot and the door to the barn is open. Raymond is amazed to see me. ‘We heard you on Radio 1,’ he says. ‘It was like you were sitting right here at the table with us. They had mentioned on the radio that they would be talking about the festival in Watou and we said to each other that we’d get to hear from Bart. But when we actually heard your voice, we were still a bit surprised because we’d only meant it as a joke.’ He smiles at me. ‘We don’t receive many visitors here. You two are the first from the festival to make it out this far.’ ‘Have you been to the festival yourselves?’ I ask. Marleen shakes her head and serves the coffee. I pull a copy of the newspaper Jan and I made about Watou out of my bag and give it to her.

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Molenbeek Drawings
Molenbeek Drawings

Brussels, 2021

Over the course of three months I drew green, yellow, purple, red and orange chalk shapes on the walls of the brand-new Bambino day-care centre in Molenbeek. The building is the crowning achievement for Miss Rita, who has ruled the roost here since December 1972. ‘The drawings are the last thing that needs to happen,’ she says. ‘Then I can retire. After forty-eight years, it will finally be complete.’

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Molenbeek Drawings
Noordereiland Drawings

Rotterdam, 2020-2021

Noordereiland is an island in the middle of the river Maas, lying between the northern and southern parts of Rotterdam. It is shaped like a motor ship. In the midst of the pandemic, Bart Lodewijks treks from its western to its eastern end drawing with chalk on quay walls, ship cabins, steel pipes, commercial buildings and houses. Propelled by his determination and work ethic, he inscribes his lines on recalcitrant materials: lines of poetry without text. He then writes a poetic account of the life he encounters on the island, published in three parts. His presence as a stowaway there elicits questions as well as some stories from the island’s inhabitants. Snapshots of trust and distrust. Wind and rain erase his traces but the island and its inhabitants are permanently anchored in the one big drawing Bart Lodewijks is making in the world: a token that briefly brightens it up and makes it a more liveable place.

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Noordereiland Drawings 1 Noordereiland Drawings 2 Noordereiland Drawings 3
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Menen Slide Show

Menen, August 2020

In August, I do a series of chalk drawings on trees, bushes and walls in a large garden in the Flemish city of Menen. Most of them are soon washed away by the rain. Jan Kempenaers takes square black-and-white photos to rescue them from oblivion. He also takes photos of the park and its surroundings, doing a photographic reconnaissance of the location. We project the photos in the tunnels under the garden, interspersing them with short fragments from texts I have written over the past twenty years.

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Menen Slide Show
Meibloemstraat Drawings

Ghent, August 2019 - April 2020

From August 2019 to April 2020 I have been acting as a ‘poetic adviser’ on the renovation of De Koer, a cultural arts centre in Brugse Poort, a working-class neighbourhood on the outskirts of Ghent. Under the motto ‘If you remodel De Koer, you have to remodel the entire neighbourhood’, I started drawing on Meibloemstraat, the street De Koer is located on. There I encountered many of its residents, such as a druid, lonely Kozemieke and the nuns of the religious order the Kleine Zusters van Nazaret (Little Sisters of Nazareth). I unveiled stories that would have remained invisible without the drawing, and the remodel got under way without moving a single brick.

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Meibloemstraat Drawings
Kerselare Drawings and Photographs

In memoriam Juliaan Lampens (1926-2019)

This series of e-books is offered in memoriam to the Flemish Brutalist architect Juliaan Lampens (1926-2019). He originally sketched the design for the Chapel of Our Lady of Kerselare in chalk on a blackboard wall in his studio in Eke before it was built from 1963 to 1966. Half a century later, Bart Lodewijks is drawing on Lampens’ masterpiece, also with blackboard chalk. The chalk drawings on the chapel represent a reimagination, a return to the design that originated on the wall in Eke. The temporary drawings and surrounding environment, in all its seasonal changes, are being photographed by Jan Kempenaers. From the entire project, also a printed version has been published.

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Kerselare Drawings and Photographs (Part 1) Kerselare Drawings and Photographs (Part 1) Kerselare Drawings and Photographs (Part 1)
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Bochum Drawings

BOBIENNALE, Germany, June 2019

‘Dear Christian: Thank you for inviting me back to Bochum. Making a daily report of my activities will be something new for me, but I like having to think on my feet. I propose that I start where I ended in 2016: on the concrete wall of the railway viaduct across from Neuland on Rottstrasse. From there, I will draw myself into the city.’

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Bochum Drawings English Bochum Drawings English
Gaasbeek Drawings

Gaasbeek Castle, Belgium,
March - July 2019

2 March 2019: ‘Hi Roger: This spring I’m doing a project in the hills just south of Brussels as part of the Bruegel Year (commissioned by Gaasbeek Castle). I was asked whether I had any association with the old master. ‘I am drawn to the people who populate his paintings,’ I said. I’ve since started on a drawing on a farm that I think must have also caught Bruegel’s eye. Writing the text is slightly more difficult, but I have plenty of material. I thought it’d be nice to post the story with photos as an e-book, about 2000 words (NL/EN), as a follow-up to Calcutta Drawings. What do you think?’

‘Sure. Send it on through. You could set out an iPad at the exhibition or print it out in large format to hang on the wall. I can definitely get it on the site by 7 April in any event.’

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Gaasbeek Drawings EN
Calcutta Drawings

CARF, India, September - December 2018

25th of September 2018: ‘Hi Roger, All is going well here in Calcutta, though I seriously have to get used to the crowds. On the day I arrived, I immediately started drawing (see photos). Meanwhile it’s already the fourth day, raining, so a lot of walking and visiting some temples inside. It is a very intense city with many hidden treasures to my mind. I want to keep a blog with weekly pictures and short texts (Eng/NL) but I do not know the best way to handle this. Lucy is the final editor and Nina the translator. Could you help me with setting up a blog or are you not able to do that? I could possibly also ask Huig, but I’m asking you first.’

‘Hey Bart, Beautiful start! Maybe we can turn it into a series of Roma-ebooks?’

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Calcutta Drawings 1 English Calcutta Drawings 2 English Calcutta Drawings 3 English Calcutta Drawings 4 English Calcutta Drawings 5 English Calcutta Drawings 6 English Calcutta Drawings 7 English