In recent paintings Robert Zandvliet has taken a new step in his exploration of painting. Just as his other works, these hover between abstraction and figuration. For the first time, however, they have descriptive titles such as Red Studio, Pyramide de crânes and Hoeizan shutsugen. The titles refer to paintings by Matisse and Cézanne and to a woodcut by Hokusai. Whereas painterly genres such as the still life, the landscape and the portrait have been Zandvliet’s point of departure until now, concrete works of art form the starting point for these works.
The depiction plays a subordinate role in Zandvliet’s painting. He is mainly interested in the painterly image: in the fluid movement of the brush and the rhythm of strokes, in the transparency or the materiality of the brushstroke and the expressiveness of color. The genres on which his painting was based until now served as a means to define the search for painterly possibilities. That process aimed at focusing creativity is given new direction in his recent works.
Zandvliet’s reasons for choosing certain paintings from art history are varied. Sometimes he would be struck by the uncontrived liveliness of the brushstroke, other times by its structuring quality or by the strength of the composition. But there are always connections to his own artistically postulated problems.
In L’atelier de ‘La Californie’ à Cannes this relates to his fascination with the unpainted rectangle in the center of the composition. With Picasso this strikingly ‘empty’ spot has its justification in the image: as the still virgin-white canvas on the easel in his studio. Zandvliet has taken this element and given it his own twist. In a series of sketches he stripped the image of every narrative aspect and zoomed in on the essence of the composition. Ultimately that process of reduction resulted in a large abstract- looking painting in which the white surface has been transformed into a deep black hole. The sketches have influenced the final result, not only as a means of breaking free of the original work but also in visual terms. Not often has Zandvliet been so restrained in his use of color and paint. The open strokes in L’atelier de ‘La Californie’ à Cannes are a distant echo of the table, the easel and the scattered canvases in Picasso’s studio scene. The forms have been ‘drawn’ in dry, almost grainy strokes of blackened gesso which contrasts in terms of color, with the unprepared linen, and in the scantness of paint, with the deep black at the center of the image. Although nothing has been left to chance in this work, nor in the other paintings now being shown, the canvases, several meters in height, do have a nearly casual quality. That, too, would be difficult to imagine taking shape without his use of sketches.
Zandvliet’s development is characterized by the desire not to become bogged down in one’s own idiom. To that end he has now entered into a dialogue with a number of works from art history. At the same time he seeks means by which to translate all of this into his own visual language. The way in which he gives new shape to Cézanne’s brushstroke in Pyramide de crânes, for instance, or transforms that of Braque into a grand gesture in Paysage au ciel sombre, is what makes these works true ‘Zandvliets’. Yet in his confrontation with Matisse’s Red Studio or Hokusai’s Hoeizan shutsugen, Zandvliet also puts the broad stroke, so characteristic of him, to the test and touches on the limits of his own style. By setting this task for himself, Zandvliet creates room for new discoveries. He operates not on the basis of uncertainty as to the direction he must take, but from the confidence that his art can become broader and more profound.
text: Hanneke de Man
translation: Beth O’Brien