Tom Frantzen has been approached several times by district committees and cultural groups to create sculptures relating to Brussels'
It is not surprising. Tom Frantzen, who was born and bred in Brussels, appreciates the "zwanze", a unique form of humour which he thinks is characterized by the absurdity and surrealism that stem from the mixture of languages so typical of Brussels. Because this type of humour is "becoming extinct" (as he says), the artist tries to perpetuate it and to confront the next generations with it. For this "zwanze" to remain integrated in the minds and in the streets, the artist really wanted his works to be sealed in the streets' pavements and he was concerned that pre-existing elements of the surrounding environment (manhole covers, lampposts, mileposts, etc) be used as part of his works.
(1985, Molenbeek, in front of the building of the Communauté Française)
Working on an imposed subject, that of "De Vaartkapoen", which is the name given to the people who were born in Molenbeek
(literally "de vaart" means "the canal" and "kapoen" means cheeky), Tom Frantzen stages a little scene on two levels:
the level of the sewers (which lead into the canal) and the level of the pavement (see the lamppost, the cobblestones and the manhole cover).
Low down, a young rebel, the Vaartkapoen, reminiscent of a jack-in-the-box, topples over a policeman higher up, thus overthrowing his authority.
With this statue, the artist makes an implied reference to cartoonist Hergé (who is mostly famous for being the creator of Tintin,
and shared the same "zwanze" as Frantzen) by changing the officer's roll number from 22 (22 being a pun, because of the French expression "vingt-deux,
v'là les flics"= "watch out, here come the cops") to 15 ("Officer 15" was another of Hergé's famous characters).
In a snapshot-like motion, the two characters gracefully turn into bronze and remain so forever, leaving the rest of the scene to our imagination... which is how the rebellious Brussels artist gets passers-by to share a joke with him.
(2000, Brussels sculpture located at the corner of the Fédération des Mutualités Socialistes du Brabant building)
Designed to create a dynamics between two streets, this sculpture beams with its presence in the space that was allocated to the artist.
The monument is precious to Belgium's (and especially Brussels') collective memory.
It contributes to the connection of "the people who pass by" on two interactive parameters: the space of what is real and the time of
what is imaginary.
Looking at the lady closely, one notices the artist's "zwanze" again: she is fearlessly counting her money in an area of Brussels that is famous for its pickpockets. She even teases them with her unsnatchable bronze wallet!
Madame Chapeau is one of the colourful characters of "Bossemans et Copenolle", a 1938 comedy by Paul van Stalle and Joris d'Hanswijck, which features old Brussels' "petits bourgeois". This play is part of Belgium's cultural heritage.
(1999, Bruxelles, Rue des Chartreux)
This "dog thrown into the Senne river" is named "Zinneke" after a Flemish word meaning "mongrel".
Because he is a dog of mixed breed, he symbolises the multicultural nature of Brussels. He is a proper "street sculpture",
as he really is built-in; his legs are sealed into the pavement and the post he is peeing on had been there long before him.
The post became part of the sculpture.
This sculpture, commissioned by the Chartreux district committee to attract tourists, was created in the spirit of the "zwanze". With this dog, Frantzen offers a visual example of this form of humour to all passers-by, especially those looking for an opportunity to share something and have fun together.
The sculpture has been created for the church of Notre-Dame de la Chapelle where Bruegel’s was married, his two sons were christenend and contains his tomb.
The sculpture comprises of three elements set in different locations to encorage tourists to explore the church.
(2015, Bruxelles - église Notre-Dame de la Chapelle)
The painter sits behind hie easel in the Place de la Chapelle market place painting painting the rue Blaes.
On the easel there is no frame but a window. This window is called the "open window". It represents the open mind of the Renaissance ‘ s humanists. On his shoulder is a little monkey with a cone on his head symbolising the satirical spirit of the artist. They are both looking in the same direction.
Coming from the "place du Sablon" market place we can see the back of the painter. What can we see by looking above his shoulder ? What is he painting ? He is painting the evolution of life. He is looking at it and he is using it for his art.
With this window, Tom Frantzen wants to show the timelessness of Bruegel. The view through the window changes with the evolution of time. The painter is a visionary who is not tied to the fashion of the moment.
The right hand corner has disapeared completely to give a complete freedom to his painting hand. For the Renaissance’s humanist, a new world is opening (the discoveries, perspectives, freedom of expression …) the frame is no longer a straight jacket.
(2015, Bruxelles - église Notre-Dame de la Chapelle)
On the way out of church after visiting the artist’s tomb you can see on the right at the corner of the building, a devil eating rice pudding. This referes to a gargoyle who could have come down from the roof as well as a begger who offers his plate to visitors.
This little sculpture is standing just at the corner to be the link between the two windows.
The observant visitor will notice that this character is coming out of Dulle Griet’s painting.
(2015, Brussel rondom de Kapellekerk)
The second window called "The closed window" is situated opposite the open window, a little bit in the shadow of the church. It represents the locked spirit, dogmatism and refusal to communicate.
Here the sculptor was inspired by an engraving « the donkey at school ». It represents a classrom. In the middle, a teacher gives a smack to a young boy. Pupils are sitting on the ground, in the background there is a donkey’s head coming through the window it tries painfully to learn to read. Under the drawing Bruegel wrote that a donkey can learn to read for all that he never became a horse.
The artist continued his idea, the donkey can read. And what does he do ? He stands up and put his head through the window. He made his speech compulsory for the world. Because of a narrow opening, it takes all of the space and a dialogue begins to be impossible. Its words are going out but the answers and other visions can not come back.
In this sculpture, the three characters are holding a sheet of paper. These characters represent what we are doing with our knowledge. The donkey stands up and imposes himself by his size. His hat and his cape give him both a majestic and ridiculous look. It represents people like a potentate, a king, a pope, a first minister … It imposes its vision for others to follow.
The little girl is very studious and she concentrates on her work. Her big hat isolates her and protect her from the world.
The little boy on the other side provokes. He is showing his homework but at the same time his bottom. When we look at his face we are realise that he is teasing us.
After having seen this second window, tourists can take the street « la petite rue du Saint Esprit » to come back on the market place "place de la Chapelle". The walk can be done of course the other way round too.
The sculpture is interactive as visitors have the impression of going into the painting of Pierre Bruegel and participate in a game. Take a picture in the frame next to the painter or on the other side to get the feeling that the painter is painting you in the frame.
The group of people with the donkey creates a funny situation between the visitors and the characters from Bruegel.