Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Painterly Show at Box 13: Dutch Invasion

by Robert Boyd

Four of the five artists in Dutch Invasion at Box 13 are painters (Maarten Demmink, aka Demiak, is the odd man out). But it's not enough to say that they are painters. They are very painterly painters. The primary reason for their painting is to be paintings. Paint is the expressive medium. It isn't used ironically. That's kind of refreshing.

When I look at these painters, I think of the painters that came to prominence in the UK in the late 50s and 60s. The big two are Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud, but the ones that I see the most echoes of in this show are Frank Auerbach, Leon Kossoff, and Howard Hodgkin (and perhaps a hint of R.B. Kitaj).

Hans de Bruijn
Hans de Bruijn, Rothko I, oil on canvas, 2008

This enormous portrait of Mark Rothko by Hans de Bruijn places Rothko in a seascape. De Bruijn states that his portraits of painters try to place them in the environment they painted. I had never thought of Rothko paintings as seascapes, but I can see how that could work. Several other van Bruijn works in the show were also seascapes.

This painting is enormous--6' 7" tall--and the angle that looks up slightly at Rothko's gives it a monumental quality. The thick impasto reminds one of Kossoff and Auerbach. The palette, however, brings to mind certain Rothkos.

I think art that references art history is problematic. It ends up being a circular conversation within a field as opposed to an attempt to speak to the broader culture. De Bruijn sees himself within the painterly Romantic tradition, and his portraits are of artists he identifies as being in that tradition--Caspar David Freidrich, Monet (seems like a stretch to me, but at the same time, one can see him as being a predecessor), Pollock and Rothko. I can't deny I like this painting very much, even if it is art about art.

Christine Bittemieux
Christine Bittremieux, Untitled, oil on canvas, 2009

Another painter in the group whose work recalls English painting is Christine Bittremieux. The artist whose work Bittermieux's reminds me of is Howard Hodgkin. Hodgkin's work is reputedly based on real scenes, but I've never quite been able to figure them out. To me, the work feels abstract. Bittremieux writes that her approach is highly formalist, but at the same time her pieces are landscapes. Not actual landscapes, but landscape-like forms arising from the process of laying down brushstrokes. But it's these brushstrokes that remind me of Hodgkins--transparent, filled with not quite mixed paint, the bristles visible.

Anna Bolten
Anna Bolten, not sure of the title, oil on canvas

Anna Bolten uses photographs to make multipaneled compositions. These paintings seem of all the paintings in the show the most stereotypically Dutch--not because they recall earlier Dutch painting, but because they contain images that are associated with Holland. Cows, flat green landscapes, flowers. I keep expecting to see a windmill. Her adjustments to the photos, softening the edges and departicularizing them, exaggerates the "Dutch-ness" of the subjects. I'm able to fill them in with images of Holland. Now I've been to the Netherlands--I know these stereotypes are just that. But they have a strong hold on the imagination.

Jessica Muller
Jessica Muller, two paintings, oil on canvas

Jessica Muller seems the least "English" and simultaneously the least "Dutch" of all the painters in the show. Her abstract paintings remind me of abstract expressionist work and its descendents--a style rooted in the U.S. but in some ways universal.But what she does in these two that is interesting is that she underlays the expressionist brushmarks with repeating, hand-painted patterns--hexagons and squares. It's as if she painted them on tiles.

Demiak

Demiak, Deepwater Horizon 1, inkjet print, 2010

Maarten Demmink (aka Demiak) is the only non-painter in the show. It's funny, though. When I walked into the exhibit and glanced at this work, I thought it was a painting. It was only after taking a longer look did I realize that it was a photograph. As photographs go, it's quite painterly. And Demiak was a painter. He moved on to making super-detailed realistic models, setting them up in dioramas, and photographing them. All the photos in this show deal with the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster--he imagines oil seeping into the swampy backlands (imagine starting from Houma and setting out into the swamp in your bass boat). They are remarkable illusions (although he does make the cypress stumps so huge they look like rock formations).

Demiak
Demiak,Telephone Poles (from the Call Me series), wood and iron, 2011

His concern with the Deepwater Horizon series is environmental. (Later pictures of the series depict the swamp as a crud-covered post-apocalyptic environment.) But his interest in shacks like this apparently derives from a long-standing interest in the U.S. south.

Demiak
Demiak, Deepwater Horizon 2, inkjet print, 2010

They are fascinating to look at. There is something about a realistic scale model that appeals to a lot of people (like me). Obviously in popular culture, we think of model train enthusiasts, makers of Revell scale models, or dollhouses. (The interest in scale models as a general category doesn't seem to be limited to either sex.) But until recent decades the art world hasn't really been interested in such things. But with artists like Charles LeDray and the Chapman brothers (and locally, Seth Mittag), the idea of creating scale model tableaux is having its day. A group show of such work would be truly interesting.

When I showed up at this show on the evening of ArtCrawl, there was hardly a soul there. One theory was that it was too far off the beaten path for ArtCrawl, and besides, by 7 pm, art crawlers were pretty exhausted. (I know I was.) Another theory was that because it was not a show of local artists, you didn't have the usual families-and-friends crowd. Well, that's no excuse people! Come see this show. The artists will be visiting and giving a panel discussion on December 10, which would be a good time to check it out.


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