Over the past twenty-five years Robert Zandvliet has developed a versatile as well as consistent oeuvre. That diversity is expressed the choice of motif, but also in the manner of painting, in the degree of figuration and abstraction, in the character of the brushstroke and in the use of or perhaps even the very avoidance of color. The coherence among the works has to do with their subject matter. From the very start Zandvliet has been fascinated with the medium of painting. As a theme found throughout his work, the desire to fathom its potential is given shape in all sorts of ways.
Zandvliet uses the tradition of painting as a guiding thread. Aside from traditional genres such as the still life, landscape and, in recent years, the human figure, specific works by other artists can also serve as points of departure. Whether he opts for a commonplace utilitarian object, a 'coulisse' landscape, an etching by Rembrandt or a painting by Picasso, the motifs are no end in themselves but rather a means by which to relate to painting; to its grammar and vocabulary, its pictorial richness, its eloquence and energy.
Zandvliet operates in the realm between abstraction and figuration. This is precisely where painting, in his view, has the opportunity to unfold and reveal its true diversity. The motif provides the painting with a foundation. It prompts the choice of painterly means and possibilities and, in that way, continues to have resonance in the finished painting. During the process of painting, the image becomes autonomous. Abstraction keeps the personal anecdote at a distance. The paint takes over the narrative. The development of Zandvliet's oeuvre follows no straight course. One can sooner speak of circling movements. In his search for the purest form, Zandvliet frequently shifts his focus. New motifs give rise to other painterly challenges, and applied artistic solutions are further developed or set aside in order, once again, to make new discoveries possible.
For a number of years Zandvliet concentrated on the control of the brushstroke, the basis of painting. In his paintings he developed the movement of the brush into a distinct handwriting of his own. The acquired virtuosity became an obstacle for him, however, and in 2014 the dancing or sometimes fluid movements of the brush gave way to the recurring imprint of a paint roller. Zandvliet now painted his immense canvases in a single session and, with Seven Stones and the 2017-18 series Stage of Being, he pinned his hopes on the 'momentum' and the physical and mental energy that this could generate.
After a period in which robustly applied black gesso predominated, color has returned in full glory to his recent works. Zandvliet's investigation into the essence of individual colors led to a range of ways in which to apply the paint. Striking in his recent paintings are the tactility and subtle nuances of the painted surface.
In his pursuit of the ultimate image, Zandvliet also goes back to motifs and painterly solutions from previous work. With the boulders placed centrally on the image surface in his Seven Stones, he went back to his earliest paintings of commonplace utilitarian objects; in Stage of Being the screen from his early 'cinema' works returned. With the landscapes from recent years, his earlier, nearly abstract approach to the genre was given a new twist. Motifs recur; they acquire new uses and new levels of meaning. As Zandvliet's oeuvre grows, the paintings take on new interrelationships. These make his body of work even more tightly woven and challenge the viewer to discover its wealth of meaning.
Hanneke de Man
translation: Beth O'Brien
photo: Machiel Botman
In the 'insights' paintings from Robert Zandvliet's oeuvre are brought together in combination with a number of statements by the artist. The perspectives chosen for the image sequences highlight three characteristic facets of his artistic practice: The movement of the brush, The landscape-like quality and The motif. In the successive images, the scope of these themes emerges, in terms of time as well as diversity. Also revealed are visual and connotative relationships that distinguish the coherence and stratified nature of his oeuvre.
movement of the brush
In the paintings of Robert Zandvliet, the movement of the brush is a visually defining and characteristic element. Robust and transparent, meandering in fluid lines or dancing in short strokes, recurring in a rhythmic pattern or merging to form a tactile painterly surface, the painted stroke in his paintings takes on many appearances. Not only the act of painting, but diverse qualities of paint and canvas, and the decision to use a brush or a roller, are also significant in this respect. It is the very interaction of all these factors that determines the alternating character of the stroke as well as the energy and intensity of the image.
From the very start, the landscape has been a recurrent theme in Robert Zandvliet's oeuvre. In his paintings there is no rendering of a specific place to be found. Due to the degree of abstraction, the origins of the image are often scarcely recognizable. Even when landscape can indeed be recognized as such, the depiction plays a subordinate role. The entire focus is placed on the pictorial representation of landscape-like qualities: vastness, light, spatial dynamics, a changeable and fluctuating quality or, on the contrary, a tranquil and timeless one.
Sometimes a motif serves as a point of departure for a painting; in other works it is more emphatically present. Several motifs continue to crop up and have come to be part of Zandvliet's iconography: the rearview mirror, an empty movie screen, an unpainted canvas, a vertical strip which both divides and connects and which evolves into a path, an opening or a crack of light. The motifs share a common quality of evoking few associations. That indeterminacy gives Zandvliet the room to provide them with a new presence and meaning due to his way of painting.
Hanneke de Man
translation: Beth O'Brien