Maria Capelo in Lisbon

The publication ‘The Things of the World are Rock’ brings together recent drawings and paintings of Lisbon based artist Maria Capelo. They were shown in the Pavilhão Branco in Lisbon in 2019. The title of the exhibition s borrowed from words by Cesare Pavese. The artist shares with Pavese a deep interest in landscape, and in the traces of life that can be observed in nature, and the sense of time it evokes.

I visited Capelo’s exhibition in Lisbon and wrote in response the essay ‘Rock Solid Vivid’ which was published in the catalog, along with texts by Tobi Maier and João Pinharanda. The book is published by the Galerias Municipais in Lisbon.

“All the drawings bring our attention to the surface of things, and show structure, strong contrast. They are refined, we see the thinnest of lines and folds, like in a hand palm. What the works share is a transformational unpredictability and suggestiveness. The depicted motifs seem to be willing to become something else. A tree is a bone. A branch is a leg. A bush is a vulva. Stepping into the work, causes a chain of associations. “My work has always that approach, of observing, contemplating and reorganizing what you can see.” Capelo remarked. So she makes landscapes – but she also makes something else.” (from the essay ‘Rock Solid Vivid’)

Book Launch in Riga

On June 5th, 2019, Salt in the Wound was presented in the Latvian capital Riga with a talk and discussion at Careva Gallery. With this event the gallery launched its art book store in the city centre, at Kalku Iela 24.

One of the chapters of Salt in the Wound is conceived in Latvia, as I was a resident at the International Writers and Translators House in Ventspils. From there I started to explore the Latvian landscape, history and habits, and the cultural environment. The result can be read in ‘Notes from Latvia,’ which recalls, among others, a meeting with painter Janis Avotins in his studio in Riga.

“‘Art shouldn’t be sentimal,’ Avotins says – partly because we’re talking about the relationship between his work and the history of Latvia. The figures he paints are based on photographs from magazines of the Russian era. At his studio I see folders full of neatly ordered cuttings, all images from a time gone by, the time in which he was born. He is interested in the postures of the people in the photographs, not in the individuals themselves. Or, you could say, he looks at the way people are specifically not individuals.” (fragment from ‘Notes from Latvia’).

Next Book launch: University of South Carolina Aiken, 30 Sept. 2019

Come Close & Step Back

Pia Krajewski, Irina Ojova

Exhibition at Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin

Curated by Jurriaan Benschop
Opening 11 April 2019, 7 pm

This exhibition brings together the work of two painters who were selected for the 2019 Winsor & Newton Residency at the Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin: ​Pia Krajewski​ (Cologne, 1990) and ​Irina Ojovan​ (Chisinau, 1988).

While Pia Krajewski maximizes the presence of a figurative motif through monumental close-ups, Irina Ojovan seems interested in the opposite movement, reducing the clues that could identify the motifs underlying her paintings. What the artists share is an interest in taking images from the exterior world, isolating them, and transforming them into a reduced painterly vocabulary. To grasp the paintings in their full scope, the viewer has to move closer to and further from the canvases, collecting sensations of texture and touch from close by, or seeing the overall image from a more distant perspective.

Louise Bonnet in Berlin

Seeing a reproduction of Louise Bonnet’s painting The Pond (2018) on the invitation to her exhibition made me both curious and skeptical. It shows a woman posing in an uncomfortable, if not impossible, backbend curve, her form conjuring a shortened bridge, with her hands and feet under water. What we mainly see is a large body against a dark background. Face and individuality are hidden behind physicality. Firm, outsize breasts point straight up toward the sky. It is certainly a weird scene—but I couldn’t decide if it was weird as in interesting, or more like a cartoon or a forgettable gag.

I got my answer from the exhibition itself, which included six large oil paintings on linen, along with five smaller, colored-pencil works on paper. Most of these works had a single body as their protagonist, stretching, bending, or hiding behind hair. These bodies were voluminous, twisted, exaggerated, or reduced to just certain parts: giant feet, a massive hand, a blown-up nose. The recurrent appearance of bare skin did not mean the figures were fully exposed; in most instances they were rather trying to hide their intimacy or were prevented from showing their real selves. The reason for this could be the pressure of the public eye or another force: In Bed shows a figure being pressed down by the enormous hand of a second figure, floating above.

Bonnet was born in Switzerland in 1970 and, after attending art school in Geneva, moved to Los Angeles in 1994. While some regard the Californian city as the epitome of superficial body culture, for Bonnet it was the opposite. She has said that as a woman she felt more at ease there, less preyed on or dominated by male eyes. Such observations on cultural habits of seeing are important to her work. Clearly, being or having a body was one of the main themes of the works on view here. In both the drawings and paintings, there was a kind of smallness and vulnerability inherent in the figures, despite their exaggerated dimensions. They were constantly being squeezed or rendered faceless.

In the works on paper, a discomfort with the body was rendered with a light touch, the white paper visible underneath the pencil lines, while in the oils something more happened, bringing further layers of expression that led to a greater degree of ambiguity. In the paintings, the impression that the artist was aiming at a twist or a quick laugh tended to disappear. Sure, the bodies in these paintings seemed absurd; they were equally comic and tragic. But the way they were painted, along with the way they were staged in isolation, rendered them ambiguous plastic shapes that invite longer contemplation: The figures generally looked smooth, plastic, and volumetric, but details such as wrinkles of the skin or the tension of the muscles were worked out precisely. They seemed sculptural: the result of a thoughtful exercise in bending curves, showing folds, creating depth, and working on surface expression.

Bonnet started to use oils only recently, in 2014, and the medium turned out to be the perfect way to attain plasticity. Her painted figures possess solidity and stillness. They are abstract in the sense that they become placeholders for forces that play out across the canvas as a whole. The shades and folds of skin in The Finger, or the tears or waving hair in The Rock, were resolved in such a subtle and beautiful way that they resembled the lovingly described surfaces of objects in a classical still life. As a result, the sensations of discomfort, disproportion, imbalance, or pressure were transformed into something paradoxically celebratory. Bonnet’s paintings are weird in a serious and monumental way.

This review was published in Artforum, February 2019. The exhibition was on view at Max Hetzler Gallery, Berlin.

Gerlind Zeilner in Thessaloniki

Gerlind Zeilner ‘Line of Thought’ exhibition at Donopoulos IFA, 2 Feb – 11 March, 2019, curated by Jurriaan Benschop

The paintings of Gerlind Zeilner are the result of both attentive observation and a vivid imagination. The Vienna based artist collects impressions from what she calls “the theatre of life” as she observes it in bars, on the streets in her hometown or outside in a mountain village. First she makes quick sketches of scenes; later in the studio, things start to change shape as the artist looks at them, and this transformation is intensified in her paintings.

The characteristic colorful lines in the paintings are not only there to indicate the shape of an object, a person, or building – they also act by themselves to transmit a variety of expressions, ranging from fragility and hesitation to firmness and wonder. As a whole, the paintings embody a sensibility and a way of looking, more than a specific scene.

Meeting with Rachel Whiteread

One of my highlights of 2018 was meeting with British artist Rachel Whiteread in Vienna to talk about her exhibition in Belvedere21. For her it was the first come back to the city after making the much discussed holocaust memorial.

There is something about plaster that is incredibly special. It is really ancient; it comes from rock that is turned to powder, you add water it becomes liquid, heats up and dries, and pours the surface away from the object you are casting from – every minute detail. It is almost like alchemy.”

The full interview was published in DAMN magazine and can be read online here

Exhibition ‘Content is a Glimpse’

‘Content is a Glimpse’ is an international painting exhibition presenting the work of five artists: Anna Tuori (Helsinki), David Schutter (Chicago), Fiona Rae (London), Jorge Queiroz (Lisbon), Mark Lammert (Berlin). Five artists with different backgrounds present works that imagine, form, and deform the human figure, or otherwise allude to the body. The image above shows a work from the ‘Walkers’ by Anna Tuori, of which there are three on display.

The exhibition borrows its title from the words of Willem de Kooning, who pointed to short moments of insight – each encounter like a flash – that can occur while looking at a painting. The figuration in de Kooning’s work is not something that can be pinned down as an objective fact, rather it resides and is hidden in painterly gestures, color marks, and abstraction. It comes and goes, it is part of the dynamics of perception. This quality can also be found in the works of the five artists participating in the exhibition.

Curated by Jurriaan Benschop

On display from 24 November 2018 till 9 February 2019

Catalog launch: 26 January, 4-6 pm, open event.

Efremidis Gallery, Ernst Reuter Platz 2, Berlin Charlottenburg.

Vienna Contemporary

The Vienna Contemporary is an art fair with a focus on Eastern Europe. This year’s edition was a welcome reminder that Europe has more to offer then nationalistic fears and (talk about) border patrols. The fair is an encouragement to cross into new territory, practice some mental migration and see what artists make in regions of Europe that are not typically in the spotlight of attention.  I combined a visit to the fair with some studio- and gallery visits in the city, to find interesting artists at work, such as Erwin Bohatsch, Béatrice Dreux (Image: ‘Dark Octopussy’) and Michael Horsky. My report was published in print in the Belgian H-Art magazine #185 (in Dutch) and can also be read and viewed here .

Riga Biennial of Contemporary Art

In her opening speech, the curator of the Riga Biennial of Contemporary Art, Katerina Gregos, pointed to our busy and stressed ways of living, leaving many people with burnouts or existential fears. In some of the artworks this is reflected quite literally, while other sections of the biennial shift the attention and try to offer an antidote. The Biennial touches on many topics of our current times, luckily without degrading the art works to mere illustrations. The biennial was one of the better surprises of the 2018 summer, and still on view till October 28 in the Latvian capital. For DAMN magazine I wrote a report about how Riga and the arts relate, which you can read here

 

 

Interview with Marc Trujillo

In Los Angeles I met with painter Marc Trujillo to talk about his ambivalent appreciation of American culture and his interest in the Dutch old masters. All American consumer places such as retail stores, gas stations and fast food restaurants appear in his work, painted with precision, in a way that no camera could capture.  “I am American. I have mixed feelings about all this stuff. I am ashamed of Pizza Hut; I feel bad about it and meanwhile… I’m starting to get a little hungry. If you would have shown up with some slices, I would have probably liked that.”

You can read the full text in the autumn edition of Elephant magazine (Elephant #36, 2018) or here.