Programmed One morning the artist awoke to find, to his dismay, that he had been programmed overnight to paint an endless series of silly little paintings.
I recently received the above text with a large full-colour printout of a multitude of small images, albeit not endless. I count 168 small paintings, each measuring 30 x40 cm, and be it questionable why anyone would venture to actually sit down –or stand up- to meticulously paint 168 small, naturalistic, recognisable images, yet there is logic somewhere. There seems to be method in it.
As for silly, methinks the grunt of the metier is far too complex to be called silly, although some images do seem somewhat superfluous or wanton, I would suggest that there is no silly-ness involved, but rather ‘tongue in cheek’, a wry sense of humour or a ‘taking the piss’.
I see before me the reproduction of 168 extremely lively and colourful images, there are definite themes discernable, 7 groups of 24 similar or clearly associated images.They are cropped tightly together, in group formation with minimal inter-space. I wonder what would happen if they are loosely dispersed on a huge wall, in patterns alternating dense with lucid, colourful with opaque, playing with the various theme’s. It would be a full 7 bar symphony in colour and themes!
I see 24 portraits and recognise them as self-portraits by various canonical painters, Cézanne, Matisse, Corot, Goya, Ingres, Modigliani. Here the painter paints his self-portrait through reproducing the self-portraits of his examples. It is like photo-shopping your reflection in Chuck Close fashion using cut out car ads and calling it ‘AUTO’ Similarly a series of 24 landscape quotes by clearly recognisable predecessors, loosely painted in the style of the original, whereby we note that impressionism is clearly not the favoured movement. We find Corot again, Cezanne, Picasso, but also an archaic El Greco and steamy Whistler next to a wild De Rain.We find a series of sea/sky scapes, some intricate, others elaborate, or dripped and splashed upon.
The nude is represented in the form of 24 Asiatic models, probably Chinese, yes, well, I would agree that the western models monopoly on the erotic is hugely overdrawn, besides, on a less p.c. note it is probably wise to get to know your adversary.
Another series of 24 nudes are clearly based on art-history, history pieces and scenes with the intriguing constant that the actually nude is NOT THERE.The final series seem to portray 12 canonnic philosophers and another 12 portraits of attractive females. Would this be a gallery of former contacts?
Analogous to Douglas Adams’s ‘Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy’ I know that the answer is 168 (in this case) but what was the question again?
I am intrigued.
I decide to approach the artist for a guided tour of his studio.
An hour before we are due to meet I board a subway to the South of Rotterdam, exit on an elevated platform that leads to a grubby street and stroll to the door I believe to be the entrance to the artists studio. As I extend my finger to press a small broken bell button -wires exposed and held together with chewing gum- a hooded character growlingly offers me ‘a deal I can’t refuse’, a toothless hooker shuffles by, pairs of piercing eyes lust for my brand new sneakers. A damp smelling staircase with worn down carpet leads me to a door that is left ajar and a faint smell of ganja and turpentine wavers. Inside a bulky figure clad in dressing gown and slippers is reclined on a ragged coach, empty beer cans and bottles, squeezed tubes of acrylic and dead pizza’s scattered around . He snarls a harsh ‘fuck off’ and gestures for me to close the door.The walls are covered with images of a perfect circle on a monochrome background, the title ‘altruistic convergence’ scribbled beneath it, and, a pattern of purple criss-cross lines on a dark grey fond entitled ‘holistic doom’. There is something wrong here, ‘Piss off”, I hear , followed by a reverberating belch. I check my notepad; ‘’Yup, wrong stop’’!
Way overdue I arrive in Heyplaat, the pearl of the South, once a shipyard village build on socialist principles. The studio I enter is large, high-ceilinged with an elevated well heated entresol full of the latest wifi technology, a lounge and kitchen utility.The view through the large window elevated over a vast expanse of water -a harbour basin in disuse- is staggering. Gulls gawk and ducks quack as a monumental ocean liner ploughs through the horizon in the distance. On the far left the sun tries desperately not to set, turning red in despair, colouring the low hovering clouds a luminescent orange. To break the ice, and knowing my theory of additive colour – where mixing orange with blue invariably results in a murky brown- I offer that it must be difficult to paint such a view within the limits of oil colour technique.
He gives me a bemused condescending look:
‘Not at all, landscape is one of the easiest things, as long as there is some sort of horizon, the picture will be recognised as landscape, the rest is freewheeling.Besides, truth is to be found in the confrontation between the individual and the subject, not in the subject itself, and if you look closely, there is a certain residue of brown in the sunset you see at this moment, as is there cyan, magenta and yellow, and all of its variations. What YOU see is not all there is. As for limited technique; I have always believed that a large part of the beauty of a picture arises from the struggle which an artist wages with his limited medium’
Feeling slightly dissed, I launch a nasty one: Your latest series of work contains a large variety of quotes or even direct copies, what is your theory on that.
‘I have simply wished to assert the reasoned and independent feeling of my own individuality within a total knowledge of tradition. I work without a theory and I am driven by an idea which I really only grasp as it grows with the picture.’
The next answer is another obligatory one liner:
‘One starts with an object, one doesn’t start from a void. Nothing is for free. As for abstract art, it seems to me that starts from a void, it has no power, no inspiration, no feeling, it defends a non-existent point of view; it imitates abstraction’
I realise that this interview form is going nowhere. We decide to open a bottle of wine and join forces in discussing the opposition between autonomous and pseudo-heteronymous art, this is what we came up with:
We agree that during the 17th to 19th century literature was the dominant art form, and the depictive arts were largely literary in content. Modernism was an effort to reject that mimesis, yet still a painter did not put up a play in a gallery and call it a painting, or exhibit his easel and call it art. Criteria for quality were based on aesthetics and the quality or nature of suggestion of movement within the art work. Art did NOT move.Art was there to replace the mundanity of existence with something more satisfying by suggestion – through representation.
This is definitely a lot better, we are really getting into the linear development here.
First we have a bit of a laugh: Abstract-expressionism is arguably the last modernist stance. In the 70’s An artist called Siri produced paintings which inspired art critic Jerome Watkins to write about their ‘flair and decisiveness and originality’, Willem de Kooning found them to be; ‘ very lyrical, very, very beautiful, positive and affirmative and tense….so graceful, so delicate’. Siri is an Indian elephant! On which De Kooning responded with; ‘That’s a damned talented elephant’.
Of course all hell broke loose with Duchamp and his infamous pissoir, which created a new order of confusion and catapulted art theory through a dialectic process of deduction and trial and error. To a temporary state of suspension of traditional criteria.
Art came to be an object from which the name art cannot logically be withheld. No argument was available to refute the designation. (O thou evil spirit of alcohol, if thou hast no name to be known by, let us call thee devil) The inability to deny status is a negative logic, but not necessarily detrimental to the canonical forms or to the development of the arts. The neutralisation of criteria opens up the field to a proliferation of new art forms. Warhole’s mimicry of a media conglomerate leads to a position of post-conceptualism with the acceptance of the claim that there is an art form which is not a work of art. The notion that an event could have the same kind of artistic status as an object
The artist becomes the post-artist, the ultimate dilettante!
An abundance of artists of various plumage continue to chirp, croon, cackle or sway their song heedless of which egg mother hen the art critic is hatching. Art has liberated itself from art critique and is the perpetual zombie, the un-dead.
The confusion in the arts, then, is mainly a confusion in the realm of art theory and partly semantic
There is agreement that art concerns itself with quality and that when a work of art attains a level of quality, their practical utility expands exponentially and becomes incalculable, unpredictable and indefinable. It has no purpose that can be known for certain in advance. And this unanticipated, undeclared and unadmitted purpose is what the autonomy of art is grounded on and may give it its value in constantly modernising and organising society.
Perhaps visual (depictive) artists may simply concentrate on their own problem of quality and become less concerned with culture, and the more heteronymous culture worker may professionalise his mimesis and absorb into the broad field of design and management.
We reach that point in the heated conversation where silence falls, there is a slight embarrassment. I look at the wall covered with 144 vivid images: Mr Breevoort seems to have come round full circle in his mimesis of modern classics.
Trevor Pobetree 2009