© Photo: Francine Verpoorte
© Photo: Francine Verpoorte
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Outsider Environments : A walk into the strange garden of Mr. Watkyne in Ellezelles

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The best antidote to a loss of creativity or lust for life in my opinion is to spend time around the people that still have it, or in the places that inspire it. There are very few people in the world that we can say are crazy enough to chase their dreams. We’re talking about writers, artists, travelers and people perhaps like you reading this article and thinking – where can I get inspired from to follow my dreams? That is why I went for a visit to the garden of sculptures of the auto-didactic artist Jacques Vanderwattyne (or Watkyne as he had himself called) in the Hainaut region one Sunday afternoon - following the tip of a friend claiming he had found “the house of a genious” !

Watkyne - a pioneer in Folk Art

Watkyne is what you could have called a multi-disciplinary artist who was inspired by the charm of rural Belgium. Having grown up in Ellezelles, he bought himself a house there, which he quickly turned into his art gallery and work space, working on paintings, sculptures and pottery. The 1970’s was an interesting time period for a type of art called “Folk Art”, of which he was the founder and which gave way to many different varieties in style in the Belgian art scene.

Folk Art for starters, is what one could call “a very Belgian kind of art”, be it a painting, sculpture, ceramic or even a mixture of the three; folk art tries to inspire itself from nature by imitating its naïve-like forms and figures and by using very rudimentary materials. Rather than giving out a meaning, it tries to give out a visual. For the untrained eye – folk art and hence Watkyne’s work could resemble the work of a 6 year old – while for others, it represents an oath to nature, the fields, the Belgian air and its agriculture, using only materials that come from the Belgian grounds. Watkyne was also a collector of sorts and spent most of his time outside, very frequently bringing home little “treasures” he’d find on his way (much to his wife’s dismay at times… ): strange stones, bricks, glass and sticks that caught his attention like a child – and colourful knicks knacks of which he’d soon find better uses for. Many of these little treasures were converted into tiles and are what gave color to his statues. After all, Belgium houses numerous archeological caves dating back as far as the prehistoric ages - and so it comes as no wonder that the "most Belgian kind of art" we can talk about, is the one taking root from our grounds or the one that can be manipulated by our hands or by the most rudimentary of tools.

For the untrained eye – folk art and hence Watkyne’s work could resemble the work of a 6 year old – while for others, it represents an oath to nature, the fields, the caves, the Belgian air and its agriculture using only materials that come from our Belgian grounds.

© Photo: Francine Verpoorte

© Photo: Visit Wapi

An inspirational and folkloric house in the Hainaut

Watkyne died in 1999, but left behind a house, which his lovely wife Francine still takes care of. Nowadays the whole house can be rented on weekdays and weekends, and serves as a gallery of some of Watkyne’s personal work – as well as an inspiration for those who want to follow his footsteps.

There is possibly not a single corner in his house that isn't covered in paintings or posters which is why this place is truly inspiring and leaves everyone with a feeling of wanting to start making art as well. For the lover of absurd and bad toilet jokes that I am, my personal favourite was of course , a visit to his toilet and bathroom, which is entirely painted of red devils and coated in colorful tiles reminiscent of the sea.

© Photo: Francine Verpoorte

© Photo: Coralie Cardon

But while the inside portrays some of his paintings and ceramic triumphs, the garden is probably the most inspiring space of all. The “Jardin des pierres” (the stone garden), is a lavish garden that hides mysterious sculptures made by the artist during his time there. Witches, devils and fat ladies will cross your path to be exact, and other whimsical creations that sprung from the artist’s imagination and from his own hands.

© Photo: Francine Verpoorte

But a visit to the garden cannot be complete without paying a personal visit to “Dolores(Spanish for “pain”) ; this five foot pregnant brick lady has a side open that serves as a door and a belly that serves as an exit. Watkyne was a fan of rituals and myths, and used to take his friends and visitors inside her body obliging them to wear a white hat, and then led them out through her belly as to complete the cycle of “rebirth”.

© Photo: Francine Verpoorte

But between painted bottles with faces, toilets painted with the devil’s face, shrines devoted to witches and childlike sculptures in every corner, Watkyne’s home is a reminder that we are never too old, nor too young, to take life too seriously. Taking a few days away to spend in his home is like entering Watkyne's mind and entering a small piece of paradise erected out of the hands of one single man; surely it comes as no surprise that the house is located on a street that bares the same name...

All visits must be done through reservation by email, but every year his garden opens up during the “Journée du Patrimoine”. Expect to meet his wife as well as some local artists and get some treats!

Watkyne’s garden is a reminder that we are never too old nor too young to take life too seriously.

To reserve or visit the house send an email to his wife through the website : http://www.unpetitcoindeparadis.be/

A photo portrait of the author with flowers from the Ellezelles fields - © Photo: Francine Verpoorte

Gîte Un Petit Coin de Paradis / Maison Watkyne
Gîte Un Petit Coin de Paradis / Maison Watkyne
Paradis 17, 7890 Ellezelles, België

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The author

Lauren Klarfeld

Lauren Klarfeld

Hello, I'm Lauren - born in Belgium and raised in a multi cultural family. I have been a freelance tour guide and writer for many years, writing about the psychology behind travel but also about the most authentic places I have visited!

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