Marije GERTENBACH

A change in essence and form is required.

The overcoming of painting, sculpture, poetry and music is required. […]

By invoking this change in the nature of man, […] we abandon the practice of known art forms, we approach the development of an art based on the unity of time and space.

Lucio Fontana, Manifesto Blanco, Buenos Aires, 1946.

A body in red, shared with blue, 2017. Oilpaint on jute, 210x260 cm.
A body in red, shared with blue, 2017. Oilpaint on jute, 210×260 cm.

In the pictorial art of Marije Gertenbach, the research for space, the overcoming of the physical limits of painting, is the essential base from which her artistic inquiry starts. The Dutch artist constantly pursues the desire to trespass the pre-established limits of the canvas to access an enlarged dimension on which to operate and thus be able to interact with a dilated space more closely linked to reality. Gertenbach sees space as a social entity in which there is a cultural evolution perceivable in the art that follows.

Starting from the Dürer’s definition, “Item Perspectiva ist ein lateinisch Wort, bedeutet ein Durchsehen” [perspectiva is a Latin word that means to look through, ed], as Erwin Panofsky did in Perspective as Symbolic Form (1927), it is possible to analyse the concept of space from classical era to the modern age. The essay demonstrates how artists in the past have represented spatiality according to their contemporary conception of spatiality itself and their surrounding world.

This is a concept which features the artistic research of Gertenbach who, in fact, has always been interested and fascinated by mural painting, where pictorial spatiality is best expressed and the narrative cycle becomes the expression of an era, of the cultural Weltanschauung of a given period. On her trip to Italy, Gertenbach was attracted by Giotto’s art and his pictorial cycles on the Life of St. Francis (Upper Church, Assisi, 1292-1296) and on the The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary and The Life of Christ (Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, 1303-1305). They include all the scientific evolutions of the perspective-spatial representation system and the symbolic forms of a conception elaborated by the culture of the time. In these spaces circumscribed by the paintings, it is possible to experiment with the eyes and the mind the Giotto’s aesthetics, which marks the spaces and the narrative registers with masterly executive skill and creative ideas. We are faced with a completely innovative mastery that Gertenbach resumes in her pictorial installations where she tries to recreate that sense of estrangement from the real to introduce us into a private sensorial and emotional dimension, the same that the people of that time experienced and, in particular, the “illiterates” of Gregory the Great in contemplating Giotto’s Lives.

His face became his feet, 2017. Acrylic paint on jute 210x260 cm.
His face became his feet, 2017. Acrylic paint on jute 210×260 cm.

Moreover, Gertenbach is intrigued by how today we usually enjoy the wall decorations often detached from their original spaces for conservative reasons to be kept in museums, in completely different contexts with respect to their original destination. This process of estrangement is of interest for her artistic research in order to lose the picture from its frame allowing us, in a certain way, to recognize and attribute an eternal value to the creative gesture.

The artist also shows a marked interest in the private places, as well as their pictorial motifs, of the popes from the Renaissance period and how they have changed their function and meaning over the centuries. Starting from the reading of the book by Leny Louise Waarts, Badkamers voor pausen en prelaten [Baths for Popes and Prelates, ed] (2014), Gertenbach, as painter, is interested in the a priori consideration of human presence, of its physical and interpretative interaction of such decorations and spaces, and its cultural evolution. The taste for the recovery of the Ancient was a fundamental component in the Renaissance that spread out both in aspects of costume and in the artistic field, with the involvement of the school of Raffaello in the grotesque decoration of the Cardinal Bibbiena’s Stove in the Vatican Palaces (1516) and of the Bathhouse of Clemente VII (1525). These ornaments also had an explicit function not only decorative but also practical according to the medicines of the era in which the vision of certain subjects was recommended to prepare the observer for a consequent well-being. The personal physician of Pope Urban VIII, Giulio Mancini formulated a treatise, Considerazioni sulla pittura [Thoughts on painting, ed] (1617-1621), dedicating the second part to these themes.

All this demonstrates that there is no contrast between ancient spatiality and Renaissance spatiality: in ancient era there was an idea of ​​finite, non-homogeneous space, in relation to spatial physiological perception, whereas in the modern world it is based on mathematical-geometrical principles, where the space is infinite, homogeneous and therefore systematic.

Yesterday everything was still blue, 2017. Acrylverf op jute 120 x 90 cm.
Yesterday everything was still blue, 2017. Acrylverf op jute 120 x 90 cm.

With Panofsky we come to define a thesis that confers a contiguous and harmonious evolution of the spirit to the idea of ​​the evolution of space, just as Gertenbach shows us with her work in perennial historical evolution.

Marije Gertenbach overcomes the two-dimensionality of the painting to explode the art in the physical context. The space is absorbed by the painting, which, in its spreading in the environment, also changes the exhibition concept, no longer framed canvas hanging on the walls, but coloured walls. Her artistic proposals burst into space, unhinging the traditional rules of painting to directly involve the viewer. The expressive freedom of the artist acts on the viewer generating different moods and totally involving the audience in the scenario created by her. The work of art is therefore actively experimented, experienced in first person through a real sensory involvement. The architecture of removable and readable canvases shows the ephemeral character of art as well as of life itself.

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Evi VINGERLING

Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.

Albert Einstein

Schermata 2018-03-02 alle 16.55.30
Untitled, 2017. Acrylic and gouache on canvas, 120 x 150 cm.

In Evi Vingerling’s painting there is a pure “aesthetic enjoyment which is objectified enjoyment of ourselves. Enjoying aesthetically means enjoying ourselves in a sensory object different from us, identifying with it”. With these words, written by the German art historian Wilhem Worringer in Abstraction and Empathy (1908), it is possible to introduce the creative process of the Dutch artist who finds his own interest and satisfaction in the beauty of the world. Vingerling’s attention is often taken by the banality of everyday life, by everything that notoriously surrounds us, but which, due to particular empathic circumstances, finds interest in her, provoking positive and comfortable emotions. These epiphany experiences take place in the mind of the artist who grasps that moment and memorises it either photographically or through rapid sketches that will only be re-elaborated later. This type of apperceptive activity is transposed by the artist to give life to a sense of freedom and pleasure, of “free self-activation”, and this case is called “positive empathy” (Theodore Lipps, “Erkenntnisquellen. Einfühlung” in Leifaden der Psycologie, 1909).

From this empathic process with the objects and the nature of the world around her, the artist starts an abstract process that sees her engaged in her studio where she recreates the moment of inspiration translated according to her own aesthetic-pictorial syntax. The impulse to abstraction derives from the desire to isolate the single object, abstracting it, to trace its primary form. In this way, Vingerling finds a place of peace, a refuge from the chaotic world. Therefore, natural environments become spaces of the imagination where one can observe and contemplate the details and fragments of the world whose authentic beauty is usually not grasped. The bulimia of images to which modern society is subjected leads man to a chronic inattention towards them, as Susan Sontag writes about the dominant tendency in the art of capitalist countries, “to eliminate, or at least to mitigate, the sensory and moral disgust. Much of modern art strives to lower the threshold of the terrible” (S. Sontag, On photography, 1978). Prolonged exposure to photographs leads to a de-realization of the world experience that diminishes our ability to interact with it. Sontag continues: “the greatest consequence of photography is that it gives us the feeling of being able to have the whole world in our head, as an anthology of images. Collecting photographs is collecting the world”. In some ways this justifies the artistic process of photographic acquisition of pieces of the world as miniatures of a reality that Vingerling learns and collects as if they were moments of life to be grasped and held to herself. The photographic image is therefore a direct emanation of the real, a trace of a human experience that, in the specific case, is that of the artist, who recalls a life experience, an emotion on the canvas that is made up of continuously expanding details. These pictorial elements that dot the painting are like autonomous universes in continuous expansion, perceived in the traces left by the artist’s creative hand and the spontaneous progress born from her mind in a stream of consciousness that intuitively reproduces that instant of life caught in a photographic detail or in a sketch.

Schermata 2018-03-02 alle 16.55.55
Untitled, 2016. Acrylic and gouache on canvas 200 x 150 cm.

The gaze of the observer is disoriented by not recognizing any naturalistic reference, since the artist hides through colour, completely detached from the subject, the real. Even the negation of a title is the affirmation of a desire to synthesize the image and convey all the attention of the observer on sensations, on purely aesthetic and empathy. The empathic connection that the artist creates between her work and the external world, the spatiality that stands between these two elements, is filled with emotions in the approach to the organic form, not to reproduce the plausible image on the canvas and in the observer’s mind but rather to try to bring back the happiness deriving from the beauty of the same thing caught in that moment in which the artist has perceived it. At that moment, held back and reproduced on the canvas, Vingerling then gives rise to a sensorial perception typical of the cognitive act of seeing, since the view was strictly linked to the idea. Seeing, in Latin v-id-ere, it retains the Greek root of the word idea -id, this testifies how Evi Vingerling is able, through the vision, to obtain a mental representation, a cognitive capacity inherent in her and, consequently in her works, able to give life to pictorial fantasies realized with episteme, that is through a reasoning and an artistic intuition that expresses itself pictorially with whimsical and smooth colours.

Schermata 2018-03-02 alle 17.00.08
Untitled, 2016. Acrylic and gouache on canvas 200 x 160 cm.

Naturalism, therefore, consists not only in a correct adaptation of the image with the object represented but in enjoying the organic form in itself, whose psychic assumption is enclosed in empathy. Thus Evi Vingerling introduces us into her apperceptive world made up of observations of the real of which she maintains the capacity for analysis establishing with it an aesthetic and synchronic relationship that returns to the public through her abstract paintings.

Evi Vingerling

 

Gillian LAWLER

All around [St. Ignatius Church in Centralia], smoke was hovering wispily off the ground, and just behind it, great volumes of smoke were billowing from the earth over a large area. I walked over and found myself on the lip of a vast cauldron, perhaps an acre in extent, which was emitting thick, cloudlike, pure white smoke […]. The ground felt warm and was loosely covered in a fine ash.

Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods, Broadway Books, New York, 1998.

Urban Mountain
Urban Mountain, 2011. Oil on canvas, 102 x 104 cm.

Gillian Lawler, since her pictorial debut, has always shown interest and attention to architectural structures and bold volumes expressed through a tonal use of colour to highlight those spatial figures that only through pictorial ability they can express all the artistic value of painting as “art of space”[1].

Lawler sculpts through the pictorial matter, using the soft and refined chromatisms, the space volumes of the geometric elements that populates her paintings. Although it may be anachronistic to speak of sculptural and space volumes, more easily attributable to sculpture and architecture, in Gillian’s case it is, however, an indispensable parallelism given to the subjects represented.

The unusual perspectives make emerge from the frames sharp shapes with delicate colours, the absences of a lost or destructive civilization. Solid but at the same time vulnerable forms emerge from the oblivion of those desolate and bleak backgrounds in which the contemporary man is often forced to live because of his own acting. Isolated islands (Island & Island II both 2012), by linguistic definition, abandoned or uninhabitable buildings are the “objectual” worlds that appear as a warning by Gillian Lawler’s canvases. It is not a coincidence that they act as an admonition when assuming the sculptural function of a monument, a moneo, from Latin “memory”, a remembrance of a past that reveals a lonely and uncertain present.

Super Elevation
Super Elevation, 2014. Oil on canvas,  30 x 30 cm.

Her tangible and pervading shapes wreck in ethereal landscapes, contrasting with the inconsistency of the backdrop whereby sometimes emerging lines of force (Suspension & Suspension II both 2016; Suspension, 2014), almost like to want to anchor those spatial universes before their sink. This type of physical suspension seems to turn into a spiritual, abstract, metaphysical suspension. This supportive process is not the only ontological theme faced by the artist who focuses her attention on the mysterious and mystic boundaries of space-time. Black holes (Sinkhole & Platform both 2014), limits to infinity, are represented as border territories to a mysterious region of the space-temporal continuum. The represented elements are thus led to the singularity in which they will dissolve in timeless nothingness.

Everything is locked, immobilized, as in the most perfect idea of ​​still-life. And it is exactly on this temporal category placed at the threshold of life and death, at that instant of eternal present, in a place idealized by the mind of the artist on whom the figuration is concerned. Lawler challenges the limits of perspective (Extension II, 2014) with a multiplicity of planes and shadows through a detailed execution that introduces us to the components of an abstract space constructed geometrically and where time is infinite.

The infinite therefore becomes part of the indefinite, thus overtaking the Cartesian limits to come, by Lawler’s painting, to a semantic equivalence between the two terms conforming to the Hegelian assertion, “the infinite belongs to the divine; the human can only reach the indefinite”[2]. It is the discursive syntax that reveals the fundamental anxiety of the artist’s gaze, her tendency to something, showing a rich spatial and temporal articulation of the look that is continually renewed through the absence of the frame. The lack of this artifice allows a continuity between simulated space and real space, space represented and spectator space. Spatial continuity thus determines an effect of reality and presence that is constitutive of the idea of ​​marvel, in the Latin sense of mirabilia, and, at the same time, produces a metaphor of temporality by figuratively reworking of the “existential” present contained in the painting. It is the time of the painter stuck in an instant motionless, which, as in the case of the series coming from Lawler’s trip to Centralia (Pennsylvania, USA) in March 2014, is a human catastrophe.

Her attraction for abandoned places caused by economic reasons and/or environmental disasters, it is the motivation which led Lawler to explore the city of Centralia, a place where severe environmental damage occurred in the early 1960s, which is still continuing, causing not only damage to local flora and fauna but to its own inhabitants who had been forced out of their homes since the 1980s. This tragedy translates into Lawler’s work through that sense of abstractness and metaphysics that originates from her reflection on architectures and uninhabited spaces. Suspended spaces where life has interrupted to relocate in other places that Lawer represents through her figurative syntax via the use of vector lines and triangles (Relocation & Relocation II both 2015). Paintings therefore become a “window on the world”[3] that testify the human absence and suggest alternatives to survival. As in The ideal city of Urbino, Lawler establishes an aesthetic of simulation through prospective and luminous manifestations of the sublime and metaphysical.

Center Street II
Center Street II, 2016. Oil  on canvas, 40 x 40 cm.

The symbolic use of perspective is an intellectual operation that puts in contrast real with unreal, as in the case of the slides eminent domain (2014). These two categories of sense coexist in this work where images of devastation collected and manipulated by Lawler describe the streets of Centralia. The alteration and the introduction of colours and shapeless fumes confirm the will of the artist to denounce a place that now appears as post-apocalyptic. In this way she introduces us to the unreal dimensions of cyberspace generated by computers. Visual deformation as a figurative effect is made moreover by the presence of smoke as a perturbing element that mediates the vision of the work and subjects represented by creating a visual filter between the observer and the picture. The interposition of this phenomenological element introduces us into the art of another equally visionary artist: Maurits Cornelis Escher.

The interest in science fiction worlds is evidenced by the frequent use of the chess floor, an index of spatial values ​​mathematically expressed by computer simulators. These “systemic spaces” formed by geometric coordinates are nothing more than the progressive mathematical evolution of prospective research, already begun in the 17th century by artists to emphasize the spatial dimension, that in the era of British Industrial Revolution will have a follow-up thanks to the realization of the first mechanic computational machine of the world: Difference Engine, by the English polymath Charles Babbage.

Difference Engine is also the name of the artistic collective of Gillian Lawler since September 2009. Together with Mark Cullen, Jessica Foley and Wendy Judge, they create new imaginative extensions through the rework and description of new spaces. Since painting is nothing more than a descriptio, according to the interior painter Jan Vermeer, who was able to overcome physical pictorial boundaries by “jamming” as a change and break with the visual art traditions.

[1] v. P. Francastel, Peinture et société, Paris, Audin, 1952.

[2] G.W. F. Hegel, Aesthetics. Lectures on Fine Art, trans. T. M. Knox, 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975.

[3] L.B. Alberti, On Painting [De pictura (1451)], Phaidon Press, London, 1972.

Gillian Lawler

Pallas Projects/Studios

Linda ARTS

The stake is no longer the heart, but the retina, and the beautiful soul has now become an object of study of experimental psychology. The abrupt contrasts in black and white, the unbearable vibration of complementary colors, the glistening interweaving of lines and the permuted structures are all elements of my work whose task is no longer that of immersing the observer in a sweet melancholy, but of stimulate him and his eye with him.

Victor Vasarely

Untitled # 265, 2016
Untitled # 265, 2016. Oil paint on canvas, 110 x 150 cm. Photo: Peter Cox

The optical-visual illusions are the consequence of the art of Linda Arts who, through her knowledge of theories of form, colour and perception, explores new visual and imaginative worlds by the elements of light and space.

According to the basic principles of Optical Art, whose prevalent character is perceived in her artistic production, the Dutch artist attributes a plastic value to artworks by generating optical deceptions. This is due to the wise use of geometric shapes and colours that alternate in shades of black and white to give life to abstract spaces and illusionistic movements thanks to optical-perceptive features that create a virtual dynamism in the eyes and in the mind of the observer. The grey scales and the linear modules that make up her pictorial syntax are the elements that contribute to the production of mental and perceptual effects capable of stimulating a series of active and participatory reactions in the spectator. This latter, in fact, is involved as an integral part of the work since his movement causes a substantial change in the perception of the work itself that interacts with the visitor and the environment. Therefore, the bystander is called to fulfil a participatory role of completion, through his presence and his interaction with the space by means of his perceptual apparatus. In this way the work is renewed each time that the observing subject changes: for each individual and every consequent movement, new cognitive experiences are reserved.

Untitled # 246, 2014
Untitled # 246, 2014. Oil paint on canvas, 80 x 120 cm. Photo: Peter Cox

For the most illustrious exponent of Optical Art, Victor Vasarely, the optical problem was not reducible to the mere representation of visual games, but it had to do with the understanding of man’s cognitive mechanisms. Visual stimulation becomes, as well as in Arts, an expedient to induce an epistemological order experience in the observer. In fact, the artist investigates the limits of human cognitive activity through the creation of pictorial universes, of light wall installations, like windows on a different world where one can face and experience unexpected perceptual and chromatic effects able to stimulate the whole retinal and psychic apparatus of the observer. “The stakes”, wrote Vasarely, “is no longer the heart, but the retina”. In fact, Linda Arts realizes modular structures (Sol LeWitt) that develop from a serial repetition of geometric models. The manipulation and variability of geometric structures, sometimes elementary such as the square or the cube, are the minimal modular expression that underlies the idea of ​​space in Western thought from the Renaissance to today. Historically the trompe l’oeil is the effect defining the optical deception in art, which starting from the 5th century BC has stimulated the artists who have ventured into the proposal of alternative and suggestive worlds. It is precisely during the Italian Renaissance, with the mathematical theorization of perspective, that this illusion makes its way through the arts up to the abstraction, the creation of alternative worlds disconnected from any naturalistic relationship.

In Linda Arts, any reference to the natural does not exist in the conception of the works nor in the attribution of retrospective figurations in the titles. The entire creative and realisation process takes place at an intellectual level in the mind of the artist who creates with a meticulous execution methodology and, in the same time, little irregularities, in order to allow her to experiment the optical vibration on the surface of the work, an abstract-geometric figuration enriched of more personality. The space, intended not only as a synonym of the third dimension, is the leit motif of all her artistic reflection that also thickens with problems on the perception of spatial structures. In fact, this introduce us into a purely psychological analytic field: that of Gestalt. The ability to perceive an object, therefore, must be traced in an organization presided by the system according to schemes appropriately selected and able to give shape to the perception. This sort of unconscious intellectual completion is at the base of the creative and realization process of the artist who, with its elusive and dynamic forms, obliges the observer to change continuously his point of view. The optical and cognitive stress, the slippage of visual planes, create an unstable spatiality, which expands the times of perception by subtracting from a definitive impression.

Untitled # 229, 2011
Untitled # 229, 2011. Oil paint on canvas, 120 x 180 cm. Photo: Peter Cox

Hence, the passage to a pure visibility approach (Konrad Fiedler, The assessment on figurative art works, 1876) of analysis of the work is essential, because art overcomes the mimesis of reality for the fact that each of us perceives reality in different way from the others. There is a reality that leaves aside on artworks, and consequently the artist, at work, creates a new world as a fruit of his perceptions and his pictorial gesture.

Linda Arts is, therefore, an artist able to combine in her visual-analytical art the most intimate perceptual components at an intellectual and formal level allowing the observer to enter into these phantasmagorical architectures, Renaissance cathedrals where the perspective space is produced by means of a rhythmic alternation of illusionistic geometric modules.

Linda Arts

 

Bettie VAN HAASTER

The gesture for us will no longer be a fixed moment in the universal dynamism: it will be, definitely, the eternal dynamic sensation as such. Everything moves, everything runs, everything turns quickly. A figure is never stable in front of us but appears and disappears incessantly.

U. Boccioni, C. Carrà, L. Russolo, G. Balla, G. Severini, Technical poster of futurist painting [Manifesto tecnico della pittura futurista], 11th April 1910.

knoop-oil-on-canvas-30x35cm-2017-e1515778484450.png
Knoop, 2017. Oil on canvas, 30x35cm.

What distinguishes the Dutch Bettie van Haaster from other painters is her highly emotional charge expressed via an intense use of chromatism. Her material relationship with colour is at the basis of her expressive research which manifests itself through the pigments moulding as living material. Already in her earliest youth experiences, having grown up in Bollenstreek, a sandy area close to the dunes where tulips spread out, she has shown considerable interest in moulding, from the sand of the Dutch west plains to clay sculptures and colour material spread with strength and energy. Once she became aware of her talent and her artistic-creative inclinations, van Haaster undertook her course of cognitive studies that would have been lead to the liberation of the pictorial gesture. It becomes fluid to follow the artist’s inner movement, the creative impulse that characterizes her every single work.

Starting from a natural and spatial fact, whose figurative references are lost even though they are found in the titles of the works, she expresses spontaneous and gestural immediacy in her expressive charge made of few colours and where the signs, without direct naturalistic references, become the absolute protagonists of the work as structures of coloured matter. The impulsive gesture is transferred onto the canvas that, from the field of representation, becomes the space of the artist’s action. In this way, she transfers her energy into the pictorial material. The full-bodied brushstroke, dynamically laid and poured out, forms excrescences of colours that retain the energy of the creative act. The painting ripples on the canvas as the waves of the sea break on the rocks, forming an incessant and stimulating movement over an emotional and empathic level. This stream of consciousness is what distinguishes the artistic work of van Haaster, who creates paintings in an endless succession. Her painting as a creative and vital act embraces acceleration and deceleration on the canvas, just like life itself, since painting is subordinated to the alternation of vitalistic impulses and moments of absolute stillness.

The oil painting, bearing a cultural and artistic value linked to the Flemish tradition, allows her to work on a malleable surface, given the properties of the oil as a slow-drying binder, on which the artist can intervene several times, reworking the painting in several stages. Her vitalistic painting made of rapid and sudden gestures could clash with this technical choice but, actually, it is a fundamental component of her gesture able to spread the colour through the different qualities and nature of the movement: slow, fast, soft and violent. The dynamism derived from it is the same of the painter, born from her temperament and held back by the colour lying on a horizontal plane to avoid dripping but allowing for solid concretions of colour, witnesses of the spontaneous creative impetus. The expressive value, born from the combined action of the body, mind and feeling of the artist, is accompanied by a great technical ability. This explains the choice of the small format, 35×25 cm, since it contributes to the execution of the work according to a useful and functional control at the technical level to express the whole physical and emotional charge of the artist. Moreover, the reduced format allows her to avoid projects, studies or sketches. This let her follow the inner creative drive that gradually increases and decreases following artist’s vital rhythm.

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Zweef, 2017. Oil on canvas, 40x35cm.

The pencil or watercolour drawings are, therefore, unique and independent works born from the artist’s creativity as a sort of break or temporal suspension from painting. In each of them it is possible to trace the same powerful and abstract communicative force of the pictorial sign, capable of evoking an existential condition.

The chromatic relations, the apparently random trend of the sign, the dense and tight weave of the brushstroke are van Haaster’s signature which transmits through her gestural sign the visual and tactile tensions produced by the vitality of the overlapping brushstrokes. This overlapping of the colour plans assigns a primary importance to the succession of the painter’s actions and, at the same time, it describes a homogeneous spatiality without hierarchies or boundaries. In fact, the colour overflows and enters forcefully into the spectator’s visual space. The representation is devoid of a determined direction and the bystander is, therefore, free to immerse himself in a swirling interweaving of colours and planes, lumps and brushstrokes that reveal how improvisation, although guided by principles of compositional balance, is a founding element of van Haaster’s art.

Lichaam, oil on canvas 40x30cm, 2016-17
Lichaam, 2016-17. Oil on canvas, 40x30cm.

The fragmentation of colour and form are brought together by the harmony of the compositional whole as in the interpenetration of futurist colours where the explosions of light give shape to abstraction. The purist research of colour, highlighted by the choice to use a few colours at a time, two or three as maximum, gives birth to a chromatic syntax made of light and shadow, bright and dark. In the last decade, the painting of van Haaster becomes painting of light such as the Venetian Renaissance painting due to the chromatic choice of blue and yellow, where for her blue indicates the space and yellow the light. For example, in Lichaam (2016), she openly declares to have been inspired by the blue of the Madonna from San Giobbe Altarpiece (1487 c.) by Giovanni Bellini for the central body and by the light arrangement of the yellows of the backdrop.

The succession of the colours and the abstraction of the form obtained via techniques derived from a process of apparent improvisation, give back a spatial image characterized by the materiality of the colour, spread by touch, which causes visual alterations and shading. Hence the chiaroscuro is derived not only by physics and matter but also by syntax due to the linguistic and spatial use of blue and yellow.

The dichotomy derived from spatiality and gesture is what makes Bettie van Haaster an artist with a resolute expressive freedom. She is able to transmit emotions and establish empathic and allusive relationships in those who observe her paintings. Between the fullness and the emptiness of the pigments it is allowed to let one’s own imagination travel among the waves of colour until finding that fleeting image blinded by the artist via repeated actions and abstract manipulations. That inner and individual essence of which only Bettie van Haaster is the caretaker.

Bettie van Haaster

 

José HEERKENS

Impressed by the vastness of nature, I tried to express the extension, the quiet and the unity. […] Vertical and horizontal lines are the expression of two opposing forces; these exist everywhere and dominate everything; their mutual action constitutes the life”.

Piet Mondrian, Plastic Art and Pure Plastic Art, Wittenborn, New York, 1945.

2014-L16. Morning. white, scarlet red, and mother of pearl. oil on linen, 80 x 160 cm. Photo credit Willem Kuijpers
Morning. White, scarlet red and mother of pearl, 2014-L16. Oil on linen, 80 x 160 cm. Photo credit Willem Kuijpers

The Dutch painter José Heerkens addresses the theme of the “vastness of nature” relying on the “equivalence of opposites”. Her pictorial research is based on the spaces and the essentiality of the elements through a direct experience, since, as she states, reminding the modus operandi of Leonardo da Vinci, –all can be found in nature–.

In 1992 she came into direct contact with the nature during her journey in Australia, and in particular with the immensity of the land. The vast uncontaminated expanses, mainly devoid of human presence and traces, originated a posteriori reflection on natural elements.

The following artistic production will be affected by this experience, being characterized by a musing on spaces and symbolic linearity. These theoretical formulations, in fact, materialised on the artist’s paintings as a simplification of the graphic and chromatic elements. The vast uninhabited expanses as well as the constant presence of the horizon line in the Australian and Dutch landscape influenced Heerkens to elaborate her spatiality, symptomatic of her introjected journey into her mind.

The physical space, therefore, becomes a mental space which is translated onto the canvas by means of lines and geometric shapes arranged along a hypothetical horizontal line. In this way, she creates a dynamic rhythm and a chromatic balancing able to establish the harmony between elements. The synthesis achieved between lines and colour assumes a dialectical character that is reflected in abstract visual textures which may be comparable to the Compenetrazioni iridescenti (1912-14) of the Italian artist Giacomo Balla, master of experimentation of the relationship between motion and light. Similarly, Heerkens, through the chromatic approach of rigorous geometric essential shapes and uniform colours, defines a sense of movement capable of producing a difference in optical information which becomes no longer measurable quantitatively, according to the mathematical formula of the wavelength emanated by colour (J.W. Goethe, Theory of Colours, 1810).

The alternation of light reflected by full hatch oil colours modulated by vertical and horizontal brushstrokes produces a different colour reaction although the colour is the same. This kind of play of chiaroscuro is translated by the spectator into a visual rhythmic perception. At the same time, the oily surface of the painting strengthens the sense of movement. The perception of colour becomes fugitive and iridescent depending on the viewer’s position with respect to the work. The systematic alternation of brushstrokes attributes to colour a spatial value, not only within the painting but also externally, stimulating the visual perception of the bystander who comes into contact with the most intimate sphere of the painting.

2016 - L6. Evensong. oil on linen, 150 x 150 cm. Photo credit Willem Kuijpers
Evensong, 2016 – L6. Oil on linen, 150 x 150 cm. Photo credit Willem Kuijpers

Her gesture is always controlled, the intellectual act transcends reality, though, reality is the starting point for reaching pure knowledge, figurative essence. This is made up of simple and repetitive rectangular forms on a monochromatic background that, in her more recent works, is given by the natural colour of linen. The absence of any realistic reference is therefore found among the open spaces between painted and uncoloured surfaces. From this connection between sign and colour, descending from neoplastic movement, a new relationship is established between man and the environment. Moreover, the absence of titles for the individual works with natural references is symptomatic of the artist’s will to refrain from any reference to reality in order to gain access into a contemplative and evocative sphere of the various phases of the day, like in the case of Noontide (2016) exhibition at Mies van der Rohe Haus (Berlin). The executive and perceived interaction with light is a fundamental and decisive element of her art, it is traceable in her continuous research focused on the spatial relations which precede the effects of optical perception. The light that penetrates through the large windows of her studio is reflected by canvases arranged onto horizontally plane where the artist works to play with chromatic volumes to define fresh spatiality.

The prodrome of this research can be traced back to another master of art history, Paul Cézanne: with his tireless work around Mont Sainte-Victoire, she became the precursor of an experiment of independent reality in relation to the natural model. Cézanne, first, and Heerkens, afterwards, come to define a parallel harmony between colour and shape as two inseparable elements.

The cosmic sense of space and the division in horizontal areas, according to a symbolic criterion more solid and earthly, represent the principal factors in the artist’s choice of format, that in turn characterizes the performance of the entire work. The dimension of pictorial surface, the cognitive limits (E. Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, 1956) of the painting are at the base of the work, since the format itself is already part of work. Likewise, Heerkens maintains a harmonious modular ratio (Vitruvius, De Architectura, 15th c.), often by a 1:1 proportion with man to establish such an “intimacy condition”. As Rothko affirmed in Space in Painting (M. Rothko, Writings on Art, 2006), “the great paintings put you inside them”. Close to the Rothko’s themes on art, as a language of the sublime, she took part in the International Painting Symposium Mark Rothko 2016 at the Mark Rothko Art Centre in Daugavpils (Latvia). According to a Jungian view, in fact Heerkens confers great importance to the choice of colours and materials, as a vehicle through which the unconscious express itself in a sort of proper language. The affinities with the master are further found in a sort of epiphany of the colour carefully sought for its spatial qualities and its lyrical and meditative charge. The painting is thus rationalistic, slower, geometrically structured by simple and linear figures according to a logic very close to Mies van der Rohe’s motto: less is more. He was also a protagonist of Rothko’s life as commissioner in 1958 of decorative work, never completed, for the walls of the Four Seasons restaurant in New York.

This kind of historical commixtures and contaminations in art and architecture is a further element that characterizes the work and the artistic path of José Heerkens, who adhered on this side, although she started from different principles, to the wish of arts integration as it was for De Stijl (Leida, 1917-1932). The founder of this monthly and promoter of a new aesthetic sense was the Dutch Theo van Doesburg, but many artists of the calibre of Piet Mondrian collaborated at the magazine. Heerkens, taking part in the exhibition Lebt Theo? Niederländische Kunst 80 Jahre nach van Doesburg Manifest zur konkreten Kunst (Bonn, 2010), becomes an essential part of this artistic path made of abstract and geometric elements in relation to the work of art and space. From here the passage to the Bauhaus and the pictorial discipline taught respectively by Vasilij Kandinskij and Josef Albers, as transformation of the elementary forms into space and the visual problems related to the optical illusion, is immediate and witnessed, at the same time, by her residence in 2011 at the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation in Bethany (Connecticut, USA).

As her most prominent predecessors in the Bauhaus or Abstraction-Création, Heerkens has finally reached a non-figurative painting through a purely geometric conception via the exclusive use of elements commonly called abstracts proposed in new and infinite variations that define her own operative and linguistic practice.

2015-L34. Written Colours. oil on linen, 150 x 200 cm. José Heerkens
Written Colours, 2015-L34. Oil on linen, 150 x 200 cm. Photo credit Willem Kuijpers

The research for an expressive language common to all people, such as the iconic pictorial one, is at the basis of her research from 2010 onwards, after the creation of the first paintings of the Written Colours series. This pictorial cycle was born by a spontaneous and autonomous process of thinking about simplicity in the sequential creativity. These works are the proof of a linguistic and narrative unity that combines every painting or drawing of the artist. At the same time, each single work is independent from the previous or the subsequent as a sort of literary sequel where the writer, using common linguistic codes (Ferdinand de Saussure, Course in General Linguistics, 1983), realises his literary work to express his own tale. The same process may be extended to painters, as well as Heerkens in this case, who through forms and colours, that is universal iconic and chromatic codes, expresses visually her own creativity, her own story. The common denominator for both is the free flow of ideas that is organized on paper or on canvas to give an emotion to readers or observers.

In conclusion, it is possible to identify and define an artist’s own pictorial language made of pure colours, geometric shapes and horizontal lines that flow from José Heerkens’ mind to her brush as individual independent works but, at the same time, being part of a more complex creative and spatial logic. Every time she starts to concept and create a new work, according to a never-ending researching process, she is hit by a sort of inner stream of consciousness. In this way, the journey inside creativity will never end.

José Heerkens

Natasha CONWAY

Natasha Conway’s paintings are born from a spontaneous and intuitive act devoid of any premeditation, surprising even the artist herself when the work is completed. Her small-size paintings are made of oil on linen or wood panel in line with pictorial tradition, however, although there is a technical continuity with the past, she shows on the contrary, a break with the figurative principles that ruled academic painting. Conway demonstrates an interest towards the language of abstraction and its emotional aspects, acting on the canvas with great virtuosity and vigour. The brushstroke is restless and fauve-like, as the painters of the French avant-garde of the early twentieth century. The artist makes her creative gesture free from any obsolete formalism by concentrating exclusively on her inner self, the subconscious emotion that emerges and unfolds among the vivid colours of the pictorial surface, becoming a theatre of feelings, a place where nonsensical passions are settled. Therefore, the knowledge of the world and its representation occurs through an impulsive and liberating act, the forces that rule reason are spontaneous on the canvas without any illustrative pretence.

Pallas Projects/Studios