How to describe the year 2020 other than "What a shit show!". Coming out (again) as an artist, yeah, sure, I couldn't have picked a worse time to do so. By March there was no art or theatre world left to speak of, exactly the two worlds that an artist like me had to survive in. I could kiss all of that goodbye.
It started normal enough though, with sort of a "classic". Each time I did that, it usually meant I was already unconscious working on some new ideas. So after that painting I emptied all the painting-easels and started from scratch. (And in a way, you could take that literally.) "You!" (oil & glaze medium on canvas, 200 x 240 cm).
I decided to take the dripping technique a bit further. (This was still early in the year. No covid shit, yet.)
Many of these (dripping) paintings were inspired by Bruegel. He was, and still is, a brilliant artist. Any of his paintings can inspire me any moment. "Massacre of the Innocents" (oil & glaze medium on canvas, 175 x 200 cm).
Painting a neighborhood at odds with itself. "Hometown" (oil & glaze medium on canvas, 160 x 180 cm).
People taking a little boat to a better life don't always get there... "Styx" (oil & glaze medium on canvas, 120 x 150 cm).
The "Harvest" series are paintings inspired on Bruegel's "The Harvesters". "Harvest" (oil & glaze medium on canvas, 160 x 180 cm).
High summer and the crops are ready, bursting with life! "Cornfield" (oil & glaze medium on canvas, 70 x 90 cm).
When the end of summer was near, when there was plenty. "Harvest" (oil & glaze medium on canvas, 160 x 180 cm).
Can houses, like people, become enemies? "Neighbors" (oil & glaze medium on canvas, 120 x 160 cm).
"Hours of the Conception of the Virgin". Alto there were dozens of paintings in history that had this subject, this one was based on a renaissance painting, not at all because of the religious subject but in trying to emulate a painting from that periode. "Hours of the Conception of the Virgin" (oil & glaze medium on canvas, 120 x 150 cm).
"Hunters in the Snow" (oil & glaze medium on canvas, 190 x 190 cm) is also inspired by the Bruegel painting with the same name
This one is of course after Bruegel's "The (Great) Tower of Babel". "Tower of Babel" (oil & glaze medium on canvas, 70 x 90 cm).
And then, before you knew it, you were in lockdown, the first of several. I never knew one could hate a virus.
Because of the fact that all non-essential shops were (forced) to close, I quickly ran out of materials to paint. So I started to work with what I had lying around in my studio. I had a whole stack of 4 cm thick honeycomb cardboard, a leftover from another experiment. I decided to give it a go...
Because of the lockdown I thought of a new title for this paintings on honeycomb cardboard. I named it the "On The Road" series.
Cardboard has a beautiful warm ochre color, but the thing I liked the most of it was its vulnerability. They were terrible easy to damage. For me that meant that these characteristics played a part in these paintings. It was as well an object as a subject.
Harvest was near. "Cornfield" (oil & glaze medium on honeycomb cardboard, 121 x 181 cm).
Colors crashing onto the shore, always changing and staying the same. "Surf" (oil & glaze medium on honeycomb cardboard, 121 x 180 cm).
Landscape of silence, gone but still there, empty but full, like the promise of life. "Winter" (oil & glaze medium on honeycomb cardboard, 121 x 180 cm).
Every sunset is personal, and easily shared. "Sunset" (oil & glaze medium on honeycomb cardboard, 81 x 121 cm).
After a while trying different options I found out that these work on honeycomb cardboard worked the best as an object (albeit still a painting). Presenting them this way worked really well, I thought.
About that time I was asked to create a screen that could be used as a room divider.
(That reminded me of the Japanese silk and paper screens, especially the Rinpa School. - Rinpa (琳派) is one of the major historical schools of Japanese painting. It was created in 17th century Kyoto. The term "Rinpa" is an abbreviation consisting of the last syllable from "Kōrin" with the word for school (派, ha) (pronounced as "pa"), coined in the Meiji period.)
Of course I used the honeycomb cardboard for this. And because they were an object as well as a painting, I came up with the idea to put them inside a U-shaped black metal frame (that could be pivoted on its axis).
"Poppy Field" (oil & glaze medium on honeycomb cardboard, 2x 122 x 260 cm).
"Dark Hearts". With lots of time on my hands and no possibilities to go out the door (except for those essentials), I thought about creating another graphic novel. A kind of a lockdown novel. And as seen the circumstances everything pointed in the direction of a graphic NOIR. It took me a little over a month from start to finish. If I had known that this Covid-19 shit would take forever, I could have made a 1100 pages novel instead of the 110 pages one.
"Dark Hearts". Story: Chicago, 1949. When Mobster Joey Gallo, a.k.a. "Tough Joe" finally gets out of jail, he doesn’t want to go back to his former life, although that turns out to be more difficult than expected, even after he did a six year stretch for his boss Clemente. Everything seems to be determined to get him back to Chicago. Lack of money for instance, but most of all his former fiancé Lucy, the bosses daughter. "Dark Hearts" (paperback, 110 pages, 18,5 x 25,5 cm, b/w)GRAPHIC NOVELS & Co
Meanwhile I found some leftover canvas at my studio so I did a few landscapes on them as well.
I kinda liked this one best. "River" (oil & glaze medium on canvas, 100 x 140 cm).
I guess I made this painting as a kind of reaction to the situation we all were into. It didn't help much though… "STOP!" (oil & glaze medium on canvas, 170 x 170 cm).
Being cooped up inside all the time started to drive me mad. Luckily I had Gin, my pal, my buddy, my trusted studio dog. You just can't stay inside all day when you had a dog. Lucky me.
At least walking with your dog didn't feel like a lockdown. "Perfect Fit!" (From the series "Walking with Gin").
"Mushroom Flowers" (From the series "Walking with Gin").
"Oasis" (From the series "Walking with Gin").
Because I got out of materials to paint, like oil paints and big sized canvases, I found and old box full of used oil-sticks. Of course, you can't make dripping's like in the paintings, so I switched into a comparable hand gestures, like in this small painting "Heather" (oil stick on canvas, 40 x 60 cm). It where the perfect go-between paintings for what came next…
When Words Feel - When hand gestures became words.
I had to admit, my appetite for making painting diminished by each day in this fucking lockdown. I never had any "blank canvas syndrome" in my life nor any lack of inspiration but what now slipped into my mind like a slow working poison was different, it just drained all my energy and lust for life, drip by drip.
How to put in words-signs-drawings how this lockdown felt like? "Pandemic" (acrylic & oil stick on paper, 75 x 110 cm).
And to top it off, there was the "I Can't Breathe!" movement that triggered the Black Lives Matter movement. It was as they say - the straw that broke the camel's back. "I can't breathe!" (oil stick on paper, 75 x 110 cm).
And so I became more and more interested in using words as signs.
What I meant with that was, if you paint a sunrise, you could paint a sunrise with the word sunrise. Sort of. "Sunrise" (acrylic & oil stick on paper, 75 x 110 cm).
And yes, my energy kept leaking. "Drip Drip Splash!" (acrylic & oil stick on paper, 75 x 110 cm).
You can't draw a ghost but you could name it. "Ghost" (oil stick on paper, 75 x 110 cm).
As I discovered, there were many ways to integrate writing into a painting (and many ways to repaint a painting). "Paradise Lost" (oil & glaze medium on canvas, 100 x 150 cm).
"Apple Tree" (oil & glaze medium on canvas, 100 x 150 cm).
And of course, even in these word-paintings, Bruegel wasn't far away. "The Fall of the Rebel Angels" (oil & glaze medium on canvas, 100 x 150 cm).
By that time, even with the depressing circumstances of the pandemic, I really got the hang of this word-for-images thing.
A window, outside the window it's raining. Heavy rain, water is rising. There is a flood. "Looking Out At The Storm" (oil & glaze medium on canvas, 175 x 200 cm).
The word "sunrise" is rising like the sun. "Sunrise" (oil & glaze medium on canvas, 120 x 150 cm).
From the "Into The Wild" series onward I no longer "painted" the words, I scratched them in the still wet surface. Scratching into wet paint maid it even more a part of the work. Things were getting tense in my life, the act of scratching lighted up the mood somewhat, just as the pandemic lockdown got a bit lighter halfway thru the year. How easily we were fooled (by our own desires).
Do you know that moment, just before the storm, when the sky gets dark, the air seemed heavy and the birds are sitting silently on the branches? "Before the Storm" (oil & glaze medium on canvas, 170 x 170 cm).
Small things that burn and bite! "Fire Ants" (oil & glaze medium on canvas, 80 x 100 cm).
Detail - Just in case you missed the fire-ants!
The plagues of Egypt, certainly a good metaphor for that year's situation. "Locusts - Ex.10:4-20" (oil & glaze medium on canvas, 190 x 190 cm).
Detail - Just in case you missed the locusts!
Numbers were like words, in a way. "Painting By Numbers - Autumn" (oil & glaze medium on canvas, 70 x 80 cm).
Looking at them I realized (to no surprise) that these word-paintings where very much an expressing of the situation I was in. This was how enforced lockdown looked like…
What would an angel (in the classical sense) think of the world today, I wondered? "Angel Puking" (oil & glaze medium on canvas, 200 x 200 cm).
Simeon Stylites (c. 390 – 459) was a guy (saint?) known for sitting on top of a stone pillar to get away from things. I guess I could relate to that. "Simeon" (oil & glaze medium on canvas, 175 x 200 cm).
We are many things. "I Am" (oil & glaze medium on canvas, 100 x 140 cm).
I was thinking about alternative ways the make portraits. It spawned a whole series of new ideas (on paper). I named this series "Heads".
Adam, a guy not well known for his insights. "Adam" (acrylic & oil stick on paper, 75 x 110 cm).
We are what we remember. "Remember" (acrylic & oil stick on paper, 75 x 110 cm).
Losing your memories because of Alzheimer is terrible kind of darkness. "Memories" (acrylic & oil stick on paper, 75 x 110 cm).
From the series "Heads" it was just a small step from paper to canvas to the self importance of people. "Selfie" (oil & glaze medium on canvas, 80 x 100 cm).
Arrows are scratched into the paint and that hurts. "Saint Sebastian" (oil & glaze medium on canvas, 70 x 80 cm).
Than the second lockdown was dropped upon us! It almost automatically spawned the series "Home?". These works were done with all kinds of materials, anything I could get my hands on actually. Acrylics, crayon, pencil, oil sticks, paper and some loose canvas. It all felt very autobiographical, diary like. Not something I had the habit of doing so. "Thornbush" (acrylic, crayon & oil stick on paper, 42 x 59,4 cm).
Drawing a road didn't feel so much as a landscape anymore but a wanted escape route. "Country Road" (acrylic, crayon & oil stick on paper, 42 x 59,4 cm).
This life felt like the homefront of war. "War" (acrylic, crayon & oil stick on paper, 42 x 59,4 cm).
Being forgotten and dropped between the cracks of history. "History Drawing" (acrylic, crayon & oil stick on canvas, 55 x 125 cm).
One of the things I did to solve (at least partially) material shortage was by "confiscating" some older paintings and used them to create the series "Where was home?".
A home could be filled with sharp thorns. "Thornbush" (oil & glaze medium on canvas, 160 x 180 cm).
A beautiful golden-like landscape didn't bring the horizon any closer. "Cornfields" (oil & glaze medium on canvas, 160 x 180 cm).
If there was one thing I could say about the times I was living in, then it was that "Dictatorship was a Virus!".
As a result I ended up in a labyrinth, an appropriate metaphor for the question "Where was home?". It was undoubtedly also a metaphor for the isolation I (and everybody else) were forced into, be it by the virus or by government force. Come to think of it, a labyrinth was also a perfect metaphor for living in a dictatorship.
Where was home? Was it to the right...? Do I go straight...? Was it to the left...? "Labyrinth" (oil & glaze medium on canvas, 3x 135 x 140 cm).
No wonder the scratching became a thing on it self. By that time I got serious depressed by the whole lock-down shit, the lack of human contact and input of fresh ideas. The scratching into the paintings, especially the word "Home?", was no longer just about home, in became pure aggression, frustration and anger. "Lockdown 1" (oil & glaze medium on canvas, 70 x 90 cm).
Were these paintings about finding home? Or were these paintings about escaping home? And before I started scratching into myself I decided to STOP! "Lockdown 5” (oil & glaze medium on canvas, 70 x 90 cm).
Just to calm down a bit, I made a new fur-painting, the same subject (the nude) as in the Lockdown series but with a totally different meaning (I hoped). "Taking Five" (oil & glaze medium on artificial fur, 120 x 150 cm).
Then I finished a seascape that I started years before but never quite finished. I did so now. Anything to get my mind of that lockdown-prison feeling. "Midnight Sea" (oil on artificial fur, 136 x 400 cm).
The last fur-painting I did that year was that of a couple of wolves. But in contrast to all the other fur-paintings, this one I finished with a glaze medium. "Brothers" (oil & glaze medium on artificial fur, 140 x 200 cm).
Over time I developed the habit at the beginning of each year to clean my desk (studio) so to speak, but because of all that lockdown shit, I did that somewhat earlier, being fed up with all the scratching in paint, passive aggression and depression, and decided to take a deep breath, a very very deep breath.
Color was freedom, I always thought, so I went there and silence seemed to follow me. I think I even smiled a little.
“Colorfields” (oil & glaze medium on canvas, 175 x 200 cm).