Galería Maior is pleased to present ‘arcadia’ a solo exhibition by Dutch artist Evi Vingerling (Gouda, 1979).Pareidolia is a psychological phenomenon by which human beings seek to discern recognisable forms where there actually are none; it is a kind of automatism that our mind is set to trigger to help us understand or find meaning in external or previously unknown stimulus. It is about bringing something that is essentially alien closer to the realm of the familiar. Evi Vingerling seems to be aware of this mechanism and so her artistic practice is about exploring the plastic and aesthetic possibilities that arise from it. Her quasi abstract paintings confront the viewer with a type of imagery that very often asks for a repositioning, a mental exercise by which the beholder is able to apprehend the represented image wholly —what at first looks like scattered brushstrokes progressively reveal themselves as part of a larger structure. Vingerling’s paintings are then something akin to an event because they implicitly convey the notion of time; time for the viewer’s mind to capture the image and make it its own. The truth is that there is something very refreshing in Vingerling’s approach, one that asks the visitor to remain attentive, on guard.Evi Vingerling’s body of work sits comfortably between abstraction and figuration; her paintings are indeed a fertile ground in which she cultivates a productive relation between the two realms. Fast and agile brushstrokes, usually combining two colours, feverishly swarm the surface of the canvas that little by little conform the bare structure of an image, sometimes in a more or less obvious way. As the artist herself explains ‘the thing should not look too important’; this statement points not only to the mundane but also to a special kind of intimacy in her relation with reality, her main subject of investigation. From it stems an attraction and a subtle awareness for the quotidian that, quoting French author Maurice Blanchot, is inherently inexhaustible, open ended and perpetually becoming. Taking a quick look at her paintings it seems that the artist finds most of her inspiration in landscapes, plants and flowers; imperceptible things for the many that have the extraordinarily capacity to attract her attention and become worthy of representation. Here comes to mind the work of Ellsworth Kelly, especially his exquisite Plants Drawings, or Clyfford Still’s abstract compositions that so often recall the abrupt orography of North America’s mountain ranges.‘arcadia’ presents a new set of paintings inspired by the idea of transience, a notion the artist relates to change and development, and with it to the idea of potentiality. An enthusiastic ethos impregnates her understanding of life, one that celebrates movement and energy as well as it appreciates the little nuances of the everyday life. Following this train of thought, it could be argued that her paintings work as somewhat opposed to the idea of the traditional ‘memento mori' (in Latin, ‘remember you will die’), so common in History of Art specially in the Netherlands during the seventeenth-century with the genre of the ‘vanitas'. Instead of perceiving the inevitable passing of time as a source of decay and death, Vingerling takes on a fearless look into the future and appreciates the fleeting nature of a reality in constant flux.The apparent lightness and fluidity of Vingerling’s work contrasts sharply with a creative process that sometimes can be quite physical and mentally exhausting. Starting from a vivid memory or a photograph, the artist reworks the image to later subdue it to a savage process of reduction of forms —arguably, Evi Vingerling’s practice is all about devouring reality. This visceral approach is also present in her painting methodology where she feverishly applies all the brushstrokes at once in a very short time lapse. And the result is excellent; her paintings are a mix of abstract and recognisable forms that, as the choice of bright colours indicate, bear no direct correspondence with reality. Here we can spot a form of irrationality and ambiguity that turn her paintings into echoes of a distant and ever changing reality.Recent exhibitions include: Art Rotterdam, with Tegenboschvanvreden, the Netherlands (2018), New Works, Kristof De Clercq gallery, Ghent, Belgium (2017), Work on view in collections at Bonnefantenmuseum Maatricht, Schunck Heerlen and Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, the Netherlands (2015), Project room, Wiels, Brussels, Belgium (2013), Unisono26, Stedelijk museum Schiedam, Schiedam, the Netherlands (2013), New Work, Ellen de Bruijne Projects, Amsterdam, the Netherlands (2013)
Text by Steven ten Thije, translation Pierre Debuffet
‘The thing should not look too important.’ It is a statement with the typical, casual precision that characterizes the work of Evi Vingerling. She says it, almost apologetically, to explain the specific, loose brush strokes often found in her work. The paint is not thickly applied to the canvas; instead it sweeps lightly across it in broad, open strokes. So in her work there are no fat clumps of paint, unctuously and self-assuredly (not to say conceitedly) performing their endless magical dance between the simple fact of being paint – the substance – and the reference to something else – the image. Vingerling’s work seems to prefer the image to the substance. Of course you can come closer and study how specific blocks of colour are assembled or how the background is painted, but close to the canvas a number of the most powerful effects of her work vanish. Take a few steps back and look again, and you no longer see paint on canvas, but an image.
Take for instance the work Untitled, 2013, which consists of little more than a collection of white dots and short dashes on a black background. Although the motif has been made so abstract that it is unidentifiable at first glance, the painting is based on a photograph of an exploding firework. What is left on the canvas is the same flower-like logic of the explosion, in which all dots and dashes emanate from the same nucleus. This is not positioned in the middle of the painting, but slightly higher and right of centre. Neither do the dots and dashes fill the entire frame – they are concentrated in that upper-right corner, so that an even black edge is left on the left and bottom of the painting. What you see, looking at the dots and dashes, is not so much the individual elements that make up the image, but the relationships between the points. From a distance and looked at calmly (staring slightly), the network of points starts to vibrate and a complex dance unfolds in the eye of the beholder. What looks so simple at first glance proves to be a major challenge for the eye to penetrate. New constellations continuously form in the web of dots and dashes that come to the foreground and, as in a piece of classical music, form little phrases out of a greater whole and then merge into the next passage. The effect is extremely delicate and consists of a sophisticated selection of visual elements that cause the picture to move continuously back and forth from a clear and complete image to the separate (optical) building blocks that make up that image. The reason your eye becomes so restless as you look at it is that it is unclear where the emphasis should lie. Should you see and understand the whole picture? Or should you in fact look at the construction of the picture in order to fathom its wordless statement? If you look longer, the emphasis ends up on the back and forth movement between the two.
Its casual materiality is an important means of achieving this effect. It causes you not to look at the painting ‘point by point’, but rather to see a series of changing ‘planes’. These are not planes set alongside one another, but changing constellations of varying size – ten dots there, three dots there, there a few dots together with these three dashes, etc. – with ultimately the whole picture as an overarching plane to which you return every once in a while in order to rest. To use the analogy with music once more: it is not the individual note that stands out in the melody, but short passages, which continuously merge into the unifying theme. The light, quickly applied touch is an important means for this, which seems to respond to a sort of primitive, physiological base element. The high tempo at which the dots and dashes have been set on the canvas has also caused them to end up on the canvas quickly one after the other, and it as though your eye mirrors this temporal ‘proximity’. Unlike Cézanne, Vingerling did not sit endlessly pondering the painting and then applied a specific stroke with great decision; instead she quickly applied all the dots and dashes in a sort of ‘flow’ within the space of a few minutes. As a viewer you don’t think about this, but your eye seems to understand the message immediately. ‘Don’t just look at me,’ say the individual dots and dashes, ‘see me in a cohesive way.’ Your eye borrows the agility of the touch and leaps lightly and happily back and forth, composing many images out of one picture.
This subtle interaction of planes can easily be lost in the unemphatic aspect of the work, which a hurried spectator will easily walk by. Precisely because we communicate so visually today, our eyes are accustomed to this sort of optical hyperboles, making us desensitized to the small gesture. We want to see recognizable, or at least dramatic images, which self-evidently throw their own weight into the world. An ordinary slice of the sky with a few clouds and some blue, or nothing but grey, is not for us; we want a sunrise or a sunset and nothing else. These are the symptoms of a kind of visual obesity with which we are all afflicted. Our eyes are becoming desensitized by how much we see. Not that we don’t see a lot (look at a recent action film like the ‘Bourne’ series and compare this with an action film from a decade ago, and you will be amazed at how quickly our eyes can now look and decode) but we see mainly sharp contrasts and are becoming blind to smaller nuances. We don’t look, as it were, with our whole eye; we see only the centre. Looking at Vingerling’s work is therefore also something of a massage for the eye, in which cramped muscles are kneaded loose again; as though a camera, set for years on the same ‘depth of focus’ briefly opens itself to a different, forgotten range.
If you want to position Vingerling’s work in terms of art history, the specific position it has developed also lies in this ‘forgotten range’. The work is unmistakably part of a ‘modern’ tradition and features many components familiar to those who have grown up with Western painting. The optical, kinetic effect of the image that is produced by the coming together of a reduced number of visual elements is reminiscent of post-Second World War abstract art in the United States. The American art critic Clement Greenberg, whose art criticism played a decisive role in formulating the framework within which this type of modern painting was (and is) understood, described it as a flattening of the canvas, whereby the emphasis increasingly came to be placed on what was literally going on in the painting. The painting had to reflexively reduce itself to its own means – it is paint on canvas – in order to explore, with these means and these means alone, the basic laws of what makes a picture a picture. Painting should not produce (photographic) illustrations, but ‘pure’ images, which would make the fundamental grammar of the image understandable. This art theory sensitized the viewer to the tension between the materiality of the paint and the visual unity of the image, with the ultimate example, for Greenberg, being Jackson Pollock’s ‘drip paintings’.
Vingerling’s work is understandable to eyes that are accustomed to look at this kind of painting, but it also stands apart. The difference lies in that subtle ‘range’ that the work opens, which is a different range from that toward which traditional modern painting, and a great deal of postmodern painting as well, focuses. The radical abstraction of traditional modern painting addresses the absolute polarity between substance and image – between thing and concept. A fundamental difference that originates in the most basic of human ‘programming’. In looking at this kind of fundamental art we learn something about the most basic building blocks of human senses. We discover the mechanics of looking from the inside out. The German art historian aptly Max Imdahl describes this as ‘seeing seeing’ (sehende sehen): the paintings open our eyes to the functioning of our eyes. Vingerling’s work also directs us to this; the difference with more traditional modern painting lies in the ‘emphasis’. For traditional modern painting refers with a certain amount of bombast to the workings of the eye. A work by Pollock is not a subtle movement; it literally slings you back and forth between the extreme material density of the web of threads that together form the image and the complete picture. You immediately see both – paint and image – and that is what makes it so intense. There is an anecdote about Greenberg that he went to stand in front of a painting with his eyes closed, in order to be taken off guard by the work when he opened them. This emphasis on the immediate experience is a good description of what the image of a traditional modern painting does. Vingerling’s work, however, places less emphasis on the materiality of the paint, so that the work remains more image. What you see is an image that in fact becomes visible at a distance, and therefore conjures up a different relationship between the viewer and the painting.
This relationship resembles the way the different visual elements on the canvas relate to one another. Just as the individual point does not swallow up the viewer and trap him or her in the interaction between paint and image, so the entire painting stands in the space with a certain nonchalance. There is a certain calm and airiness between the viewer and the work, among the works and between the works and the space around them. The unique ‘range’ of Vingerling’s work lies in this open dispersal of the viewer’s attention. Looking at the work, you are not staring obsessively at thick or incomprehensible layers of paint, as in traditional modern painting – your attention is in fact scattered and dispersed. Both substantively and physically the area you are looking at and thinking about as you look keeps expanding. This experience also contains the very subtle but not to be disregarded social or ethical component in the work, because this quietly expanding movement lets you see the world in a cohesive way. It sounds rather monumental, but if you were to distil a worldview from Vingerling’s works, this is not a view that starts from a centre, but one in which a variety of things exist alongside and in conjunction with one another. The motifs that interest Vingerling reflect this complex cohesion. Bushes, plants, or landscapes, which are not identifiable in their totality as bush, plant or landscape on the canvas, but are primarily to be seen as a cohesion of visual relationships.
It also tempts me, as an art historian, to sway along with the sweeping movement of the work, and so I arrive, in my mind, at a series of exhibitions in the 1960s in Zagreb, Croatia (Yugoslavia at the time): Nove Tendencije (New Tendencies). At these exhibitions, artists showed work that is now recorded in the history books as ‘Op Art’ – optical art. They are works that produce powerful optical effects with simple geometric motifs. Dutch artists like Henk Peeters and Jan Hendrikse also took part in the exhibitions. A Viennese art historian, Armin Medosch, recently earned a doctorate for research into these exhibitions, and he points out the same, special, social, ethical approach that united the artists. In socialist Yugoslavia, which had broken with the Soviet Union and wanted to develop a kind of ‘third-way’ socialism, artists were looking for a way out between the totalitarian socialism of the East and the capitalism of the West. It was a kind of modest proposal that was buried under the physical and ideological tumult of the Cold War, but one to which I feel drawn today. The appealing thing about it is that this outlook did not seek a final solution, or the next great step in a monumental (art) history, but focused more on the present and endeavoured to create a good living environment. I find the same respect for the space in which the work is situated and the viewer standing in front of it in Vingerling’s work.
She also has a description for this herself, with the same unemphatic precision with which she describes the subtle materiality of her work: ‘the works should not work like holes in the wall.’ Something you can understand as the desire to protect the viewer from getting lost in the work, as you are inclined to do for a work by Mark Rothko, for instance. Vingerling’s work conjures up a powerful experience, but it does not trap you – you are free to go and free to be. She also calls this experience ‘merciless’. There is something tragic about that, or actually I am tempted to use the German word trauer (sadness), because tragedy also conjures up a certain heroism that is not in keeping with the work. The sadness of the work lies in letting go, which is also an existential letting go: letting go of life. Against this sadness, however, there is beauty – however flat and banal that word may sound – and this unites and reassures. This beauty is not easy or spectacular; it comes from a sense of peace that emerges as you look at paintings that do not tell you who or how you should be, but give you the room to think about the cohesion between yourself and the world, by showing you that cohesion.