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12 January until 18 February 2023

In her first solo show with Valerius Gallery, luxembourgish-belgian artist Val Smets (*1991) presents her newest body of work, centered around the importance of nature, our relationship with the unconscious and the world of dreams. Vals' works depict dream-like, psychadelic nature sceneries in bright colours. Different encounters and energies influence her colour palette and reflect the interconnectivity of life. The artist is taking inspiration in Carl Jung's approach to psychoanalysis with his theory of the collective unconscious. The exhibition Pig and Pepper takes its title from a chapter in Alice in Wonderland.

Val has studied Fine Art at the Academy of Fine Arts of the University of the Arts (KUVA) in Helsinki, Finland and at Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Visuels la Cambre (ENSAV) in Brussels, Belgium. She has had gallery and institutional exhibitions in Paris, Vienna, Graz, Helsinki, Brussels and Luxembourg, amongst others at Fondation Moonens in Brussels and Kunsthaus Graz in Graz.




Valerius Gallery is pleased to present Pig & Pepper by Val Smets, a collection of ten new paintings on view from January 12 to February 18. It is the artist’s inaugural solo presentation at the gallery.

Initially focusing on the painterly exploration of fungi as a recurring motif, Luxembourg- born, Brussels-based artist Val Smets expands beyond the visual language of mycelium into abstract landscapes which are at once expressionistic, psychedelic, gestural, and colorful. Forms and lines slip fluidly between subtle and explicit. The elements in her vocabulary – networks of branches, cascades of foliage, serpentine pathways, and soothing pools of water – bind together to construct works that present themselves openly and sincerely to the viewer.

Just as fungi were the protagonists in previous exhibitions, in Pig & Pepper, trees have become the principal figure. The shift is a natural one for Smets, since the lives of trees are deeply intertwined with their mycelial neighbors. The foregrounding of trees in “Going Home”, “Three Inches High”, and “Grocery Shop” (2022) signal her close examination of the symbiotic relationships at play in the forest. Like humans, trees are highly social beings: forests would die altogether if trees “thought” as individuals. Only the collective matters, so much so that when an individual is sick, nearby trees will nourish the vulnerable one with their own nutrients until it recovers. Leaf tissues interact with predators, smelling and tasting the air, emitting chemical scents and sending electrical signals down into their roots. Fungal networks then aid in transmitting these messages to the roots of other trees.1 Smets continues to explore and engage in this ecological dialog, questioning identity and relationships and searching for answers in the all-embracing wisdom of the natural world.

1 The Hidden Life of Trees. Peter Wohlleben, 2015.

Favoring large formats and working without preparatory sketches, her paintings are the product of an intense psychological process. She often starts on the floor, using acrylic, oil stick, and wide brushes, painting from memory a synesthesia of sight, sound, color, and scent. Bright, saturated palettes and hallucinatory imagery recall her time spent living and working in Finland, where the amanita muscaria and aurora borealis have long inspired rich mythologies and sacred rituals.

Fittingly, the exhibition title directly references a chapter in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Caroll (1865). Symbolism is central to Smets’ practice, and the influence of dreams, surrealism, and psychedelia are notably present in “Dare Me”, “Wet Dream”, and “Hug Me Tender” (2022). Liquescent shapes jump off the canvas while spindly, prickly plant textures encounter smooth gradated skies and slippery tubelike forms. At the same time and in a somewhat unexpected contrast, the works can be viewed through the expressionist prism of les nabis, bringing to mind Bonnard’s bold colors and the mystical imagery of Sérusier’s L’Incantation.

With Pig & Pepper, Smets invites the viewer to have a personal conversation, one that synthesizes symbols and metaphors into a testament to interspecies connection. It reminds viewers that the Self is only real in the context of the many interconnected relationships that give rise to it, and to all beings. Exploring these relationships is the most rewarding trip of all.

Text by Dana Kuehr


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