Persimmon Life Studies

Complex Entanglement – Jasper van der Graaf

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Brent: I had the privilege to see you in action recently for 100 years since De Stijl, at the Open Air Museum De Lakenhal, in Leiden. I’ve been intrigued with what you do for a number of years, without actually getting a handle on why that is. And I think that this is okay – for a practice to be wrapped up in the mystery of the thing, revealed by the staying power of the experience.

JaspervanderGraaf, in progress, Openlucht Museum DeLakenhal 2017Your body of work includes large in situ wall murals and smaller paintings on canvas. Both bodies embrace no more than two colors that play with positive and negative space, with one color suggesting skeins that are either soft curvilinear edges, almost suggestive of a calligraphic mark, or harsher, yet no less elegant, angular thoroughfares reminding us of the use of tape.
Was it always like this?

Jasper: At the time I was finishing art school in Rotterdam and talking with the painter Ronald Zuurmond who told me that my thin looks fitted with my linear organic-shaped paintings! So in a way, yes, it was always like this with abstract graphic biomorphic imagery, varying in complexity. Later on I reduced my idiom for more clarity: I had a lot to say, and was saying it with too much. So I chipped away and reduced the number of colors, took out the figuration, cleaned out my surplus of stories and then proceeded.

I like how you put it: mystery wrapped up in the thing, revealed by the staying power of the experience. It is my ambition to give the spectator a sense of wonder, like my own wonder that is the source of my artistic production.

Brent: When it’s pared down to just two colors, whether the lines are thick or thin (a thin line suggesting the balance of a thick space, and vice versa), thinking in terms of content, how does the limiting of choice reveal more of the wonder? And, for the record, as you are certainly an add/subtraction guy, what are some of the rules you engage yourself in to get a wall work done?

Jasper: Hypothetically, I could work with more colors in one mural. But I really need some focus, or clarity, and therefore I apply restrictions to color, shape and the working methods. I’m also very aware of more banal limitations: time, money, transportability, proximity of materials and inexplicable things like strange personal artistic ambitions and intuition. With the walls there’s also surrounding elements like sockets, heaters, doors and windows, plants, chairs, surrounding light and sometimes even a client’s preference of colors. So maybe there are no real rules, just objective and banal surrounding elements – and myself, with a reflexive speculative mind. Also, to add to this, a work emerges out of a combination of former choices, the actual current circumstances and the yet realized ambitions. And I think it’s cool that something so chaotic can end up looking pretty clear.

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Brent: Elastic Collision, 2016, at Vishal Haarlem works out to be just one color, in fact. It’s beautiful. And it reads connected to the environment in which it is installed, within its own constituents. That said, there remains a hell of a lot of empty space. You don’t make a design and then scale it up to wall-size, instead, as I understand it, you go through the play of…  and this is what I want to know! How does the work remain connected, and how and when do you decide if it’s working?

Jasper: With the big wall paintings it is like tattooing a space. In Haarlem it was necessary to make a bold piece, contrasting & working together with very dominant historical features (columns and brick floor) and the measurements of the wall which were very stretched. So for the piece to be effective, a big, bold and long, and an unelaborated design was necessary. With a wall piece you’re always adding something, and in this case the spatial elements, including the ‘empty’ space, finished the whole piece. I only had to touch it up (a bit valiantly) with one strong color. It was a painstaking process to make a design for this environment, and a real puzzle. I did make a small-scaled design, but in doing so I was thinking about the spatiality and was relying on earlier experiences. I had to grasp the ‘stretchiness’ of the wall, and in that way came to a stretched design with the vivid bouncing chained elements. In advance it’s no science, though looking back there’s an implicit logic in the choices I made.

The rule of thumb is if I can, I check out the wall on site then I quickly ascertain if I can make something worthwhile, or meaningful. The site itself evokes possibilities that lead to an artistic ambition. That takes care of a lot as the result has to look as if the artwork should be there, inextricably connected with the spatial ambiance.

Jasper van der Graaf, Mondriaanhuis Amersfoort, De Beuk Erin, 2016

Brent: The piece at Mondriaanhuis Amersfoort, De Beuk Erin, is bold and much denser. The color, red & white – noting the white reads as color in this mural – is extremely dynamic while the environment in which it is made is kind of standard and almost office-like. What considerations did you need to take on board to get this piece working?

Jasper: This was a wall, about 9 m by 3.5 m, in Piet Mondriaan’s house of birth which is a museum now, in a show called ‘De Beuk Er In!’ (‘Smash it up!’), with almost no room to take any distance for an overview, and it was the starting point to enter the whole exhibition. So I had to make something that stood out, and it had to look convincing whilst looking from a sharp angle, on a stretched wall. So I went for a dazzle-like stretched red wall painting, with very long lines in a complex entanglement. It proved to be very effective with the surrounding white architecture. Not as an addition, but more like an insertion.

Brent: The piece in Rotterdam, 2017, magenta (pink) and black, reminds me of a dance with Matisse. The floating wall heaters, suspended lighting – all rectangular – along with above painted white parallel floor joists, create a very cool synthetic environment, one that plays off the shifting of the thick and thin lines of the mural.
Our ‘bottom up processing’ fixes much the ambiguity, or the sense of being out of sync with what’s going on, which spares us much of the rough ride of having to put things together. Miraculously, experience ends up being pretty darned comfortable.  However, in your mural, add the different vectors and there is this feeling of losing track of the sensible, which confuses, or heightens the sense that there is not a simple visually translatable system to soothe the discrepancy between the mural’s flat visual impact amid the system of the architecture and the practical things within it.

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Jasper: It’s nice that you point out this discrepancy. In our conversation I have mostly talked about the way the work connects with the surrounding architecture and elements, but this connection also is about contrast. The ‘togetherness’ of work and the surroundings is on one hand confirming a symbiotic relationship, while on the other moving away from that confirmation, which can lead to reading the work as something unwanted or an intrusion –  love-hate relationship. Sometimes the wall looks too small for the work and doesn’t seem to fit, or goes on beyond the wall.

Brent: On a small rectangular canvas – another aspect of your production – there are none of these distractions and a canvas stands alone. Or does it?

Jasper: Maybe the making of a canvas is a greater achievement just because of the lackUntitled, 30-25 cm, acrylic and oil on linen, 2017 of restrictive and challenging elements. Yes, a canvas is a standalone, it is an object, a screen, with a different relation to the spectator. That said, ultimately, it’s an object amongst other objects in a space. It’s the combination with the surroundings that makes a painting pop.

Brent: Any reason for canvases being mostly small-scale?  And while I’m quite familiar with the biomorphic pieces similar you had at Heden, some of your recent small pieces have a distinctive geometric interconnected web look. What brought them about?

Jasper: I love the way that quite banal conditions determine the artistic production: availability of time, money, working space, production materials and other things such as transportability, personal circumstances, accidents, crazy ambitions and so on. So, for me, a painting has to be small because I don’t have a large studio and I really have to plan my working time due to other jobs. A small painting is also a very transportable thing and doesn’t present storage problems. And, as said before, I like the way small works integrate with other objects in a space.

My work always merges geometrical and biomorphic shapes. In a few recent paintings this resulted in web-like forms describing the flat surface.
It looks like on reflection, I was trying to enlarge my repertoire.

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