William Sweetlove (1949) is a world-acclaimed Belgian artist living and working in Koksijde. He graduated from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent. He has been a Guest Lecturer at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Rotterdam since 1994. Sweetlove's world fame is due to his cloned animals in recycled bright-coloured plastic or metal (bronze, aluminium), which he has produced for nearly two decades. Invited by world-renowned curator and art historian Harald Szeeman (1933–2005), Sweetlove installed 1500 golden tortoises in the "Aperto" on the occasion of the 49th Venice Biennale (2001). Since 2003 he has been part of the Cracking Art, known for public art installations of giant animals made of recyclable and coloured plastic to regenerate urban spaces. According to their website, the art movement was originally born in 1993 in Biella, Italy, "with the intention to radically change the history of art through a strong social and environmental commitment. The revolutionary use of plastic materials investigates the close relationship between natural and artificial reality."
Sweetlove has also been working with other artists in the exhibition-making context, such as, with American-Italian artist Victor Kastelic (1964) of Kspaces in Turin and with Belgian photographer Bart Ramaker (1963). His work was recently exhibited in three group exhibitions at Kspaces: The Store (2018), The Greatest Things/Le cose migliori (2018) and Foreshadows/Prefigurazioni (2019). However, the most monumental artistic collaboration is with Ramaker in their recent art and book project Flora and The Water Warriors (2019). The project was originally presented as part of a collective show at Namur's 4th edition of the Festival of Contemporary Art (2019). It was later exhibited as a duo show at De Notelaer Pavillion in Hingene (2019). Sweetlove has had private and collective exhibitions at art fairs, galleries and museums nationally and internationally. His catalogue William Sweetlove's Muse (2017), written by Raoul Maria Depuydt, shows an overview of his work and how these cloned animals were displayed worldwide. His works have been acquired by museums and can be found in the most prominent private and corporate art collections in Europe and the USA.
Sweetlove has combined Dadaism with surrealism and Pop Art throughout his career, focusing on the environmental message. His formative years in the 1970s show the influence of German artist Joseph Beuys (1921–1986). Beuys was a founder of a provocative art movement known as Fluxus and a key figure in the development of Happenings. Beuys's conceptual ideas were based on the premise that "Everyman is an artist", which he transformed into all kinds of objects using different materials found in his environment. Sweetlove buried the photos of his grandmother, covered with resin, and had them excavated ten years later in the presence of the archaeologists.
Sweetlove's witty cloned animals may look somewhat kitschy to the viewer on the surface. However, once the story of his thought process in the making of his cloned animals is understood, it becomes clear that the role of these artworks is a creative antidote to the mass production of material goods and overconsumption in our society. Armed with water bottles (PET), these animals are designed to warn the viewer of the impact of climate change on the environment. Intrinsically, this idea fits in well with the philosophy of the Cracking Art movement, whose members believe that all plastic in the world should be the property of the artists alone. The name "Cracking Art", according to the movement's website, originates from the English verb "to crack", which expresses "the state of being split, broken, cracked, or crashed. As the name suggests, this catalytic cracking is also the term for the chemical reaction that occurs when converting raw crude oil into plastic. For the artists, it represents the instant when something natural becomes artificial and is why they seek to seize that moment in their art form. [...] The choice of regenerated and regenerable plastic for its aesthetic appeal shows acceptance of the inevitability of our world becoming increasingly artificial. The artworks are designed to inspire a community-wide conversation about both the importance and environmental impact of regeneration while leaving a potent artistic trace in our communities."
Sweetlove's approach to an ecological message differs from the classic ecowarriors of the 21st century. According to Depuydt, the artist "thinks genetic modification as a tool may transform our world into a new and better place. He reshapes our animal world by cloning it." Global warming is devastatingly impacting the environment – penguins and polar bears are forced to migrate from their normal ecosystem. "Red penguins must line up along the pier. The colour red is supposed to draw public attention as if the red penguins stood for the 'Red Cross' or blood beacons."
The world in jeopardy is represented by a progression of cloned goats, dogs, antelopes, bears or crocodiles ... These cloned beings are to become resistant to the degradation of nature. For their survival, some animals are made bigger (dogs and rabbits, for instance) while other species are reduced in size (such as elephants, crocodiles and bears). His animals in precious metal – like a bulldog, a Chihuahua and a bear shown here – are daubed with a splash of paint to change them into normal creatures conceived for a new era. On their backs, these cloned animals carry a bottle of pure water to survive and wear shoes to protect them from the scorched earth. These unique sculptures are to be the survivors of our excessive consumption. They are a poetic outcry to the world.
— Cited from Raoul Maria Depuydt. "Sweetlove as a New Pop-Up Artists". In William Sweetlove's Muse, 4–5. © William Sweetlove, 2017.