● Born a. Darss
5 July – 30 August 2020
Beyond the Resemblance – Jenseits des Offensichtlichen
Oil paint sculptures
Last year I bought a small oil painting simply named : Landscape 20×30.
I was so pleased with it that after I returned home, I took a picture of it to send to my daughter in London, so that she could share in my delight. It was quite late in the evening but I didn’t want to wait until the next day, so I installed my halogen desk lamp above the painting and took this photograph: Landscape 20×30.
The makeshift lighting revealed a relief which had not been visible on the pictures in the catalogue nor on the site. Contrary to what I had originally thought, Han Klinkhamer’s paintings are not portrayals of landscapes but oil paint sculptures which, by composition, form, colour and relief, evoke the idea of a landscape. They do not have a frame which, like a window, suggests a view of the fields outside. The painting itself is the field; clods of earth stick out on all sides. Even the clouds are oily and pasty. The paint used is oil paint, not acrylic paint. What clay is for the fields, oil is for paint. I smell the painting, let my fingers glide over it. If I were blind, I would be able to read it like braille.
At first, the décollages did not really appeal to me. I had seen pictures of these immense (two meters by a meter and a half) works in the catalogues and on the site. Only after several visits to Han’s studio did I begin to discover their artistic dimension.
I had the feeling as if a door had been opened and I was invited to enter into a world through which I have since wandered.
The décollages take their name from the tendency in the Sixties to promote partly torn off posters to Art. Contrary to the paintings, which grow during a long process of painting layers upon layers and then scraping layers of oil paints off, the décollages arise by tearing off pieces of paper. This, too, was an unexpected discovery. The décollages are not paintings but enormous sheets of paper into which Han slashes with a Stanley knife and then tears off the loosened snippets.
The fragility of the paper, the kind of Stanley knife and its size impose a restriction on the shape of the torn off snippets. Of course you could “attack” the paper but then you would cut right through it and that isn’t the intention. The intention is to tear off pieces of the top layer so that the underlying layer becomes visible. The layer itself should remain intact. Well, in so far that is possible . Hence, the repetitive patterns of leaves and strips motives; thanks to the removal of these little snippets of paper, the work as a whole is retained. Sometimes the skinning of the paper goes on for so long that the underlying layer is damages as well. Then the only possibility left is to provide the work with a new underlying layer. Han works with a tiny Stanley knife on a surface of several square meters. Only after some time , a pattern becomes visible which will exercise a compelling effect on places which have not yet, or have already been worked on and which, at a later stage, have to be brought in accordance with the pattern. That process could take years! “ You can compare it with the way in which Lucian Freud worked”, Han says. “When Freud painted a portrait, he started by first painting a part of the eyebrows, then a piece of the nose and after that a part of the cheeks. In the end he had to alter the initially painted pieces in order to fit within the framework of the entire painting.”
One of the décollages (Décollage 2014) was worked on so long that not much more remained except a pattern of fragile black lines on a white background which had been torn away in such a way that a second sheet of paper had to fill in the gashes and gaps of the first layer. It makes me think of Robert Rauschenberg’s “Erased De Kooning Drawing”. I can hardly stop myself from inviting Han to take the last step. “Come on Han, keep on working just a while longer and then you will have the ultimate décollage, a heavily scarred, entirely white sheet of paper. “
A slow local train takes me from Den Bosch to the little train station of Ravenstein on the border of North Brabant and Gelderland. Han is waiting for me there. In his delivery van we drive through picturesque Ravenstein and from there along the Maas dike to Demen. After a rather steep exit we stop in the shadow of the dike at a former elementary school.
Han is originally from Oss and after a learning process in Germany, he returned to his native grounds. Abut forty years ago he was able to buy the school in Demen. It was badly rundown and about to be demolished. Han left the front in its original state and after a thorough renovation , installed a spacious and lofty studio in which he retained the built-in porch. He needs this enormous space in order to be able to work on his décollages without being disturbed. They are so huge that Han hoists them up so he can work on the lower parts and stands on a footstool to be able to work on the higher parts.
The studio looks out over the Maas dike, beyond which lie the flood plains. On the other side, not visible from the studio, are the arable lands of North Brabant: heavy river clay which changes to sand about 40 kilometers further on. Arable lands and flood plains are the themes of Han’s work. The fields are seen again in the paintings; the flood plains, crops and plants in the décollages. “You probably set up your easel somewhere in the surroundings and go to work”, I asked him during my first visit. “No not really. I do everything by heart. The landscape is so familiar to me that the pattern of the fields, the structure of the plants, flowers and shrubs determine my work, inspired my inner self. One of my clients, a University botanist, elatedly informed me that he had found rare plant on one of my painted flora. So there your have it: Art is the preceptor of Nature.”
It occurs to me that not only his décollages but also the paintings are mostly black and white. The arable fields lie fallow. Plough and tractor have drawn deep furrows in a winter landscape. There is snow on the fields; water and ice in the furrows. The crops are withered and black, standing out against the white background. A perfect likeness to fossils remains. When I had a closer look at these crops, I was amazed to see little touches of yellow which I hadn’t noticed before. “Yes”, says Han, “That’s how I like it. Life seems absent but has actually only withdrawn and it squeezes through the weather-beaten bark here and there.
Beyond the Resemblance
On the kitchen wall I see a true to life little oil painting. “Yes, it does bear a resemblance ”, says the portrayed person. “But to whom? I don’t think it resembles me so much but much more the conventional portrait paintings of the Renaissance. It actually prevents you from seeing me as I really am.”
I once saw a portrait of Diego Giacometti .His brother had worked on it so long that his pencils actually went right through the paper. Does that drawing really resemble Diego?” “It depends on what you think the word “resemble ”means. In Giacometti’s opinion, the heads of Egyptian, Chinese and Babylonian statues mostly resemble each other.”
Giacometti began his career by “painting from Nature”. After about ten years he discovered that painting “from Nature” means exactly the opposite of what is normally understood by those words. Nature is hidden by a curtain. According to Giacometti, Art exists by drawing away that curtain. That is also what I do in my paintings and décollages. I begin my paintings or décollages with motives ‘derived’ from Nature: plants, shrubbery, a landscape. After that , I try to release something which is close to their quintessence; however, without having the illusion that I will evert succeed in doing so. Art, according to me, is the effort I must endeavor to scrape off things from the surface and clear the way to the quintessence which lies underneath.”
Art is never finished
Paul Valéry once said that Art isn’t about the result but about the process that leads to that result. Therefore, the words “piece of art” get a totally different meaning.
Han’s paintings and décollages show stages of a process which leads us from stereotype landscapes and still lifes to the archaic fields and primeval crops which are so characteristic of his works. They reveal a fundamental world beyond the world of the real resemblance. We cannot ask more of Art.
Prof. dr. Maarten van Buuren, professor emeritus at University of Utrecht, Netherlands, June 2020
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