Waarom een schilderij werkt

boek cover Waarom een schilderij wertk

In zijn nieuwste boek Waarom een schilderij werkt onderzoekt Jurriaan Benschop de veelvormige schilderkunst van onze huidige tijd. Hij introduceert het werk van tientallen schilders, bespreekt de thema’s die in het werk te vinden zijn en stelt daarbij steeds de vraag: Waarom werkt dit schilderij? Op wat voor manier heeft het betekenis en kan het overtuigen? Dit brengt hem bij zowel zichtbare aspecten van schilderkunst, zoals beeldmotief en de manier van schilderen, als bij wat onzichtbaar achter het doek ligt: de drijfveren, het wereldbeeld en de culturele achtergrond van de kunstenaar.

Waarom een schilderij werkt gaat, behalve over de vraag hoe we naar schilderkunst kijken, ook over de vraag hoe we over kunst spreken en schrijven. Wil taal over een kunstwerk iets betekenen, dan moet ze ermee in evenwicht zijn, niet topzwaar of overdreven, maar passend bij wat in het kunstwerk aan de orde komt.

Het boek gaat onder meer in op het werk van Louise Bonnet, Fiona Rae, Kaido Ole, Helmut Federle, Jessica Stockholder, Anna Tuori, Daniel Richter, Martha Jungwirth, Lara de Moor (coverbeeld), Andreas Ragnar Kassapis, Victoria Gitman, Rezi van Lankveld, Marc Mulders en vele anderen. Verder zijn er thematische hoofdstukken die onder meer ingaan op de vraag wat ‘inhoud’ in een schilderij is, wanneer een schilder een colorist wordt genoemd, en hoe concept en schilderkunst zich verhouden.

Waarom een schilderij werkt verschijnt bij uitgeverij van Oorschot en ligt vanaf 7 oktober 2022 in de Nederlandse en Vlaamse boekwinkels. De Engelse vertaling verschijnt in het voorjaar van 2023.

Exhibition ‘Three of a Kind’

The exhibition ‘Three of a Kind’ presents the work of three painters who share an interest in ambivalent forms of figuration: Milla Aska, Veronika Hilger, and Paula Zarina-Zemane. Their paintings depict situations or figures that cannot be identified in one, singular way but remain open to different readings. Yet in the choice of colors and the treatment of surface and paint, each of the artists develops a specific voice and unique character.

The figures in the work of Milla Aska (1993, based in Helsinki) appear to be behind a veil. They do not seem to be fully developed, but rather in the process of becoming visible and tangible. This impression is evoked through Aska’s approach to building up a painting with thin, translucent layers of paint. “My paintings seek shape around themes such as materiality and bodily sensations – for instance, how something feels against the skin, or what warmth feels like. I am intrigued by forms that seem to be something specific but don’t quite reveal themselves.”

The paintings of Veronika Hilger (1981, based in Munich) combine elements of landscape, still life, and portrait. Hilger is a specialist in ambiguous figuration. The shapes in her paintings have a familiar, often organic touch but are not specific enough to name. The artist presents them on an elementary level, stripped of details. As a result, the forms have a dynamic appearance: a foot could be a leaf, a leaf could be an animal, an animal could be a stone. “The organic is something that you can easily dock onto as a human, and that creates a kind of identification potential,” the artist noted.

In the works of Paula Zarina-Zemane (1988, based in Riga), the distinction between human and environment is blurred. The works oscillate between abstract compositions formed through clouds of color, and more concrete outlines of landscapes. The paintings are usually the result of a fast process, and they do evoke a sense of speed through the traces left by the brush. Yet the reduced composition also sets a reflective mood. “I am trying to get the result in one go,” the artist noted.

Three of a Kind opened on 30 June 2022 at KOGO Gallery in Tartu, Estonia and runs till 3 September 2022. The exhibition is curated by Jurriaan Benschop. It is part of the exhibition series Past is the Present at the Kogo Gallery in 2022.

Rezi van Lankveld Interview

Painting detail Rezi van Landveld

Elements of landscape, architecture, and the body meld together in the small-scale paintings of Rezi van Lankveld. Forms may look familiar but are reluctant to be identified in a singular sense; the figuration is ambivalent. Movement is key in the Dutch artist’s conception of a painting: a figure should be flexible and ready to change shape. At New York’s Petzel Gallery, Van Lankveld presents recent paintings in the exhibition Soft Sun.

Some of your paintings evoke aspects of a landscape: there are rocks, a sky with some clouds, or the slope of a hill. Do you think of landscape images when you make a painting? Do you have specific natural elements in mind?

Nature is there, but not in a direct, visible sense – more as a state of mind. The natural elements that I have in mind are abstract; they represent a movement or a certain depth. I grew up in a rural area in the east of the Netherlands, where the landscape was agricultural, with meadows, high skies, and also some forests. This spacious environment has helped form me.

Your work has a calm appearance, but it is also dynamic. It usually conveys a sense of movement, and this seems to be more important than the subject matter, the figure, or constellation that is depicted. The figuration seems ready to change its appearance. Are the motifs that you paint the result of intuitive gestures, or do you translate observations from life into the world of painting, following some sort of plan?

When I paint, I allow a lot of things to happen. I do not want to impose too much on the image as it unfolds. I do not use a sketch or anything like that in advance. A preconceived image would get in the way of my direct connection to the paint. I need the painting to keep changing once I start out, to find the right direction. In this process, I find shapes that seem uncertain about their identity. They could be this but also that – there is a dynamic quality in their appearance that I want to transmit. Often the final form of the painting comes in a flash – I see it at once. To reach that, the painting goes through a lot of stages, until the paint starts to become alive. Whereas in an illustration, the image tries to express one idea in precision, I look for the opposite, for openness and ambiguity. It is not just one thing that is depicted. It is rather a situation in movement. It is everything at the same time: figure, portrait, landscape.

Read the full interview on Curator website. The exhibition at Petzel Gallery runs till 26 March 2022.

A Grammar of Gestures in Athens

Exhibition view A Grammar of Gestures

‘A Grammar of Gestures’ is an international painting exhibition. Human figures, animals, or elements of landscape appear in the works on display, but these motifs present themselves neither in a singular, unambiguous way, nor as a hard subject matter. Rather, the center of attention is on the dynamics of shapes, on the ability of forms to flip and change appearance while you are looking at them. This shifting has to do with the way the motifs are executed, with the grammar of painterly gestures that is involved in the conception of the works.

For David Benforado (image left) the canvas is both a possibility to evoke a landscape as a surface that reflects an inner state of being, and a panel of thoughts. What appears to be a night landscape might change into an internal view when reading the title of the work ‘Ultrasound.’

Béatrice Dreux (image right) uses simple motifs like a moon, a cloud, or a rainbow, and from there, she develops the forms in a process of layering and detailed surface treatment until they gain an inner strength. For Dreux painting is a language in itself. When she paints, she is not aiming to tell a story, or make some statement about subject matter. Instead it is about texture, gesture, color, and form, and how these elements together on the canvas speak to us directly.

“A Grammar of Gestures” is on view till 18 March 2022 at Kourd Gallery in Athens. With Maria Capelo, Mark Lammert, Michael Markwick, Beatrice Dreux and David Benforado.

Caroline Walker in The Hague

The more than twenty paintings in “Windows,” London-based painter Caroline Walker’s first solo show at a museum, depict women engaged in various kinds of work: a maid in a hotel room, a hostess taking reservations in a restaurant, a hairdresser on the salon floor. Walker observes these figures through a window or doorway. Such framed views add a layer of estrangement and abstraction to her quotidian scenes, ensuring that we viewers never forget our voyeuristic perspective.

Walker is keyed to the social environments her figures inhabit, homing in on details such as lighting, decor, and body language. At the same time, she moves through different ways of mark-making, shifting gears between the clearly articulated and foggier parts of an interior, for example, or between sparkling accents such as a glistening glass with an orange drink on the table and bland patches like a blank wall.

These paintings do not contrive spectacular effects, but rather impress through their insistent focus on scenes of contemporary life that might otherwise go unnoticed. A swirling pattern of flowers on the window of a hair salon, for example, attracts our attention to what is happening inside. Through painting, the artist bestows attention on women, their occupations, and their more or less fortunate situation in society. This alone does not grant them agency; Walker’s work, often based on photographs taken in secret, is less concerned with producing empowering representations than it is with probing the act of spectatorship. She enacts the possibility of painting to accumulate layers of reflection, a haptic experience of life observed, leaving the sociological analysis to her viewers.

This text was first published as a Critics’ Pick on Artforum.com in November 2021

Elisabeth Frieberg in Stockholm

studio elisabeth frieberg stockholm

During my visit to Sweden, the artist showed me the works of her grandparents, Beth Zeeh and Ryno Frieberg, both painters whose works can be seen in their former house in the countryside. Driving there, a good hour outside of Stockholm, I watched the landscape change into gently curving meadows, farms, forests, and lakes. I became aware of the natural background of Frieberg’s works, the visual “material” the artist has seen so often, even if only subconsciously, as it was simply always there. You might wonder why she did not become a landscape painter, considering that she grew up as a country girl, playing at the lakeside, catching fish under the bridge, and seeing how animals were fed at the farm nearby. Or you could argue that she did become a landscape painter, but she did so in the age of abstraction, where the focus is not necessarily on what can be recognized as a depiction in a painting, but on what is present in terms of energy and ideas, colors and forms. Broadly speaking, and probably more correctly, we could call Frieberg a nature-based painter. Her paintings cannot really be separated from nature, just as they cannot be separated from the late 20th century in which she grew up. She went to art school in Umeå at a time when abstract and conceptual takes on art had become part of daily practice and conversation. Abstraction was neither a novelty nor the result of a reductive view on reality, but simply an existing vocabulary with its own expressive possibilities. At the same time, for Frieberg, every part of her “abstract” paintings is rooted in nature – in the color of the sky, the movement of water, the pattern of a bird’s feather.

(…)

From the essay: “Connecting to the Source,” published in the book Elisabeth Frieberg, Rhythm Nature Movement God, Kewenig Gallery, 2021.

Eeva-Leena Eklund

I wonder if Eeva-Leena Eklund orders her pizzas because of the taste, or because of the visual patterns they provide. Throughout the years she has painted quite some different types. In square and circular paintings, salami and paprika have transformed into abstract patterns, color dots and stripes. Basically this approach applies to other motifs as well. It starts with things from everyday life, like flowers, cats or fruit. Then the artist zooms in, looks for rhythm and color dynamics, and discovers a not yet familiar sight within the figuration.

At the EMMA (Espoo Museum of Modern Art) in Finland, Eeva-Leena Eklund made an installation in which she combines paintings with photographs. She mixies many works together, presenting them side by side, creating a visual explosion. One should not be fooled by the abundance of flowers and density of colors. Within the cheerful abundance, many contrasts can be found. The sweet comes with the sour, the soft with the sharp and the work is as comforting as it is provocative. The exhibition as a whole transmits a spirit of freedom, in how to look at life, how to be yourself, and how to make painting the art of the day that matters most.

The exhibition Eeva-Leena Eklund is up till 22 August 2021 at the EMMA (close to Helsinki), curated by Anna Tuori, and commissioned by the Saastamoinen Foundation.

Lara de Moor

schilder Velvet van Lara de Moor

Leegte schilderen is een paradoxale bezigheid. In het werk van Lara de Moor gaat het om wat in de lucht hangt in nagenoeg lege huizen, om de atmosfeer die in een kamer kan worden aangetroffen. Enerzijds wordt de toon gezet door sporen van de tijd, zoals een lichtplek op de muur die verraadt waar jarenlang een schilderij heeft gehangen. Anderzijds is er de schilder die een stemming en haar biografie meebrengt en de lege ruimtes daarmee oplaadt en bepaalde aspecten accentueert. Of is het de bezoeker die het tafereel inkleurt? Wat objectief aanwezig is of in de lucht hangt, kan niet scherp worden gescheiden van wat er in de beshouwer aan inhoud sluimert. En precies daar krijgen de werken betekenis.

Tot 10 juli 2021 zijn werken van Lara de Moor te zien bij galerie Roger Katwijk in Amsterdam. De kunstenaar woont en werkt in Haarlem.

Glenn Brown in Berlin

Glenn Brown exhibitioin at Max Hetzler gallery Berlin

Since his appearance on the 1990’s London art scene, Glenn Brown has been in an ongoing dialogue with his predecessors, without being afraid of mutilating his examples or pushing aspects of their work to the limits through stylish deviation and exaggeration. For his exhibition And thus we existed, the artist presents 17 recent paintings that are loosely based on historical figure drawings, alongside six paint-based sculptures. 

Multiple sources often come together in one painting, such as in the green Bring on the Headless Horses (2020), which projects a seated nude over a Hercules figure, intertwining them. This piece is based on works by two 17th– and 18th-century artists (Mr. Brown usually prefers not to disclose the names of his sources, unless of course they are mentioned in the title), but it also references the artist’s own previous work.

Seeing a painting by Glenn Brown is like watching a peacock opening its tail. It is full of proud beauty, carefully orchestrated colors, and within the repeating patterns there are many little “eyes” hidden in the paint, in curving lines. Sometimes they are intentionally meant as eyes, but they are often just blinking moments that draw the attention into the dense figuration, creating anchor points in what seems an overwhelming and cluttered play of lines and colors around a human figure. For the current exhibition Brown was apparently triggered by the multitude of curving, shorter and longer lines that can be found in drawings. He uses them to shape his figures, serving representation, but he also lets them shine as free-moving ornaments in a rich display of color and paint.

Seeing these works, I wondered if the artist considered a path through each of them, in terms of where to start looking, where to continue, and where to leave the painting. Some shops make customers go through their offer in just such a prescribed way. There is no way to find what you are looking for without passing a variety of other offers that call for your attention. In Brown’s case, there are many distractions to look at, and the viewer might wonder if there is a point at which everything comes together. Looking for meaning here feels like a game of a hide-and-seek, in which everything is curling and swirling, in which figures are appearing and disappearing, and the image never comes to rest. 

It is interesting how different the temperaments of the individual works are – ranging from light and airy, to melancholic or tormented – while sharing the same compositional principles. Color seems to be the decisive factor here, giving each work its own pitch. Some small paintings though, like Drawing 9 (After Baselitz) (2017), stand out without (or with just a little) color, and for their dynamics, rely on the contrast between black and white, and between dense and emptier areas. The play of lines in this work is reminiscent of a detailed mountain map where differences in elevation are indicated, even though the actual image is that of a face.

There is not one way to go through the paintings – there are endless ways, and I figure that the artist conceived his work rather purposely in such a way that it is not easy to find an exit. Yet, he gives us some spots that serve well as entrances, like a single red shape against a green, forming a hand, or the blinking eyes that pull attention like a vortex. Once inside the painting, the eye keeps wandering, moving over to an opposite color, or looking for a repetition of the same blue. Everything is connected, yet everything is also loose and by itself. Mr. Brown succeeds in evoking a restless dynamic in a medium that is often thought of as stationary. The many hours of meticulous labor invested in getting at this result has its counterpart in the time needed to “read” and experience the painting fully. There is not one single image – there are many brought together into one painting under the pretext of depicting a figure.

–Jurriaan Benschop

On view at Max Hetzler Gallery, Berlin, untill 23 January 2021 (due to covid by appointment only)

Other Reviews

‘A Matter of Touch’ at Torstrasse 111 in Berlin

A Matter of Touch, Exhibition - Curated by Jurriaan Benschop.

Touch is an important aspect of painting. The temperaments of the artists in this exhibition can be felt through the way they have worked and touched the canvas, be it with a firm, decisive brushstroke, a light touch to create transparency, or the sanding off of layers to create flatness or roughness. A whole range of sensibilities can be stored in a painting, speaking to us even before we identify what is actually depicted.

Though keeping distance has become the norm in public life, in the realm of paintings, we can be reminded of physical encounters and intimacy, and enjoy a close perspective. The artists in this exhibition embrace the tactile and are interested in paintings as physical matter. Yet their focus is also on less tangible aspects of the artworks, such as luminosity, wonder, or absence. The importance of light can be felt throughout a range of different motifs and vocabularies.

The works have been collected from studios on both sides of the Atlantic. Due to the pandemic, not all artists are able to be present for the opening, yet their works offer us an artistic dialogue across borders. The paintings find a temporary home in the ruinous beauty of the Kunst- und Projekthaus Torstrasse 111. Located in the center of Berlin, the space evokes the time when the city offered itself as an artistic Freiraum.

Participating artists: Nikos Aslanidis, Thessaloniki; Thomas Brüggemann, Berlin; Michelle Jezierski, Berlin; Joseph Kameen, Aiken, South Carolina; Kiki Kolympari, Athens; Adrienne Elyse Meyers, Chicago; Grit Richter, Hamburg; Rubica von Streng, Berlin         

Curated by Jurriaan Benschop for Kunst- und Projekthaus Torstrasse 111, 10119 Berlin. Project management: Ulrike Seyboth & Ingo Fröhlich, www.torstrasse111.de

Exhibition from 16 July till 30 August 2020.

Image above: installation view with works by Rubica von Streng and Nikos Aslanidis.

MORE exhibition views

Painting Exhibition A Matter of Touch, exhibition view, Adrienne Elyse Meyers, Rubica von Streng, Jurriaan Benschop
Exhibition A Matter of Touch, works by Adrienne Elyse Meyers (back) and Rubica von Streng (front)