Kevin Oyen: the tactile steel

  • Words

    Annelies Thoelen

Meraki is a Greek word, considered untranslatable, for the heart and soul that someone puts into his work. Such as the creativity an artist puts into a painting, the love a cook adds to his dishes, or the passion and dedication of designers for their creation(s). assesses the passion and the soul of Kevin Oyen. 

Ayko (acronym of Artistic Company Kevin Oyen) is known for his master welding skills, but mainly for his innovative ways of working with metal. The young creative from Bilzen is both designer and metal craftsman, and also artisanally creates the works of other designers.

Kevin Oyen studied as a product designer at the academy of Hasselt, and worked as an assistant of artist Matthew Harding (Melbourne, AU). On March 17 his new exhibition together with Jesse Jamees and Jesse Biesmans opens in CC De Kimpel in Bilzen.

Oyen started to gain attention some years ago because of his refined way of working with metal rest materials. The iconic example thereof was his Magic Bean, an object in between furniture and sculpture, which is made by hand out of hundreds of recycled pieces of stainless steel. This statement piece was amongst others on show at the 8th Triennale for design in Design Museum Ghent, Ventura Lambrate in Milano, Uptown Design in Brussels, and very recently received an prominent spot at the booth of Adorno Gallery at Collectible, the new and widely appreciated design fair in Brussels.

Your Magic Bean did put you on the map, both in Flanders and beyond. Can you update us on that success story?

“It was the start of everything really. I was being picked up with that piece, and got a lot of acclaim with it. The Bean is made out of small plates that result from the process of punching holes for installation brackets. Rather than melting them again for recycling, I reuse their shapes to become chains in a flexible metal mat that can move in all directions. By the way, the order for the brackets even increased this year, so I have enough resources. This year, the Bean was showcased on Collectible, and I must admit it felt great. My work blended in perfectly. It was very visible in the central hallway. I was quite happy.”

How did the Bean inspire you to continue your work? 

“Adorno Gallery, the one that represented me at Collectible, will from now on also take up my permanent online representation, and will feature me at some fairs. As my work always takes so many hours of work, I frequently asked myself before: “don’t I ask too much?”. But Adorno made me see that there is a market for my designs, and that collectors are starting to find us. So, I definitely want to continue down this track for a while. I will keep on producing unique pieces. The objects I make with those metal mats are very tactile, soft and comfortable, because of my extensive polishing and perfect finish. People always want to touch my work, as it seems to be made to be caressed. These shining and reflecting characteristics of metal interest me, and I would like to work with those further. It takes hours of manual craft work, and a lot of patience. And besides that, I own a regular welding company as well. So that’s why I decided last month to take on my first employee. I realize that I need to invest more time in my artistic practice to build a larger collection. This because the Bean opened several doors for me.”

What is there on show at your new exhibition? 

“I have two versions of the Bean, and they will be featured side by side. At the exhibition, one will be highlighted by a spotlight, accentuating its glossiness and tactility. On the other side of the wall the second version will be lighted from within, because The Bean can feature as a light sculpture as well. I want to show their contrast and versatility. But I will definitely show some new designs as well. For the moment I started a new collaboration with Peter Donders called ODD (Oyen&Donders). We will present our first collaborative object: a bench. We are working hard at the moment to finish it on time for the opening. It’s a three meter long bench, covered according to the same principle as the Bean, but with aluminum plates. The design of the core also changed, and is now made from a milled wooden structure. Of course there is more to be seen, like a couple of smaller objects using the same technique, sculls and a globe.”

Why your choice to return back to Bilzen for once? 

“The city wants to showcase some young creatives, and that’s why they asked me. I realize at first I was looking a bit further: Brussels, Australia, Ghent. But yes, for now it is back to Bilzen. I work for architects and companies here, have commissions here, and now also an exhibition. On the other hand there is also a negotiation ongoing with a gallery in London. It all adds to the same goal.”

How does the future of your oeuvre look like? 

“I realized my work is known for two elements: I always work in metal, and always turn to the polished glossy finishes. I would really like to take the time to start exploring the opposites of that. For example, I would love to start working with wood. As a matter of fact, it’s not my first choice of material, but I am currently working on an idea to design a modular table that forms an organic shape when expanded completely. My inspiration always came from nature. There is always the possibility to add a metal finish to those objects. Nowadays a metal spray coating exists for nearly all surfaces.”

“Besides that, I’m currently already working on design experiments with rust in stead of my glossy finishes. Rust and shine might be each others opposites when it comes to metal works. They compliment each other. I corrode metal disks of about 1,5 meter diameter with acid. It renders special effects to the material, and I want to experiment further with that. It takes me a long time to look for the effects I would like. It’s a long process of regularly rinsing and corroding again. Always with an unexpected outcome, because the acid has it’s own will. It’s a completely different process than the polishing I was always working with. Shine and rust, for many it is just a finish. But for me it is much more than that. It is the essence of my work on which I would like to continue.”

The exhibition “A Piece of Mind” with works of Kevin Oyen, Jesse Jamees en Jesse Biesmans is on show from March 17th to April 13th 2018 in CC De Kimpel, Eikenlaan 25, 3740 Bilzen. The opening drink is at March 17th, 8 pm.