Saturday, 13 August 2016

Charlotte Mouwens / William Morris

Oddly, within the context of this blog, William Morris has not been an example or Master in my experience as an artist. More than that, as a painter I wanted to write about Goya instead (and beautiful pieces about Goya have indeed been written on this blog). However, as my work continuously changes and moves into various pathways, new people and new sources of inspiration appear. In this way I discovered the magical world of William Morris.

In search of abstraction, I had been working on patterns for a while, when a friend showed me a book about Morris. Wow, it was beautiful. And impossible to equal. But I identified with the dynamic playfulness in his designs.

Probably, William Morris has been the most important designer in the 19th century. His style was placed in the 'Fantasy'­genre. It consists of romantic, dreamy, fairy­tale­like images, which attract me very much. You can get lost in them, while they stay fresh and tight.

William Morris
Corncockle furnishing fabrik

Besides his elaborate and ceaseless designs, there are more reasons why I look at William Morris as a remarkable Master. One of them is his idealistic view on society and his longing for equality of all people. To his own frustration, he could not live up to his ideals – his designs were popular especially with the richer circles, which led to higher price­tags. However, he tried to compensate for this by treating his laborers as equal to himself and he created a good working atmosphere in his studio.

William Morris is especially known as the spiritual father of the Arts and Crafts movement in Western Europe. In this role, he was a multifaceted man, which is another reason for his remarkableness. He was involved in literature by designing, printing and publishing books. He designed wallpapers, textiles, tiles, carpets, furniture, leaded glass and interiors. Many renowned artists were connected to his firm – Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co (Source: Wikipedia/ William Morris).

From looking at Islamic as well as western sources he saw the beauty of repetition, symmetry and simplification. The beauty of a William Morris pattern, that the Google doodle captures very well, lies in its combination of simplicity and richness.

The patterns he designed are still famous worldwide and cherished particularly within wealthy classes. The patterns are patented, but they are continuously reprinted on utensils as blankets and pillows. Still, walls are being decorated charmingly for substantial sums of money with the patterns of this Master, beds are being spread with fairy­tale­like scenes, and couches are being seated on surrounded by gracious pillows. This way, his designs stay in existence and appear as ageless among the wealthy. But would William Morris, with his aversion for mass production and class societies, not turn in his grave if he would be able to see this endless reprinting of his patterns for the rich?

William Morris
Strawberry thief
textile pattern

Frequently, animals play an important role within his interweaved flowery patterns. Birds, peacocks, but rabbits as well. One of his famous designs is called 'Brer Rabbit'. This brother rabbit reminds me of the dreamworld full with animals by the cartoonist Winsor McCay. Would McCay have been inspired by William Morris? He, likewise, had a distinctively elegant, tight and strong handwriting. In comic books, he assembled perspectives in ingenious ways, like a kind of Alice in Wonderland.

Charlotte Mouwens
Wild Patterns (detail)
ink on paper, wall­relief

In my own work, in search for a more abstract way of thinking, I have started thinking in patterns more and more. Recently, I was able to apply this for a commission in which I transformed a small piece of forest into an enchanting place. I wanted a homely atmosphere to arise in the dark, which would lean towards spookiness.

I particularly wanted the patterns to break out of their frames, in order to take shape as overgrowth. Instantaneously, this is what clearly distinguishes my patterns from Williams patterns. His patterns neatly stay within its two­dimensional boundaries, whereas my patterns need their three-dimensional escapes.

Charlotte Mouwens, 2016
special thanks to Julia Heuwekemeijer

Charlotte Mouwens (NL)
Natural Phenomena
during summer 2014
residency in the Van Gogh studio, Zundert

Friday, 22 July 2016

Bart Lodewijks / Jeroen Bodewits

Jeroen Bodewits
Heritage (Наследие)
Russian Series
wood, IKEA laminate, metal, epoxy
ca. 95 x 180 x 400 cm


"Theo, Danielle, Tobias, Esther, Marjon, Hans, Tobias, Hanneke, Huig, Arjan, Maarten, Emiel, Judith, Frank and Jeroen." I chant some names of people who arrived at the art academy St. Joost together with me in 1991. In retrospect, I can say with certainty that they influenced my work more than the artists who fill the museum galleries or artbooks. After art school most of my sources of inspiration disappeared out of sight. Every now and then I heard something of such or such, but after four years it became apparent that my year group had barely produced professional artists. Most of them have become successful people in other sections of society, not necessarily in the arts. They are all people, often with families, who unfortunately do not qualify to be included in this blog, because it should be about the 'dead'. My year group yielded one dead artist. One of us was snatched away from life brutally. The chills run down my spine when I think about the car accident on the Antwerp ring road, two summers ago already.
Currently Jeroen has the entire hall of the dead of the academic year 1991/95 for himself alone. Indeed a solo, but one that came too early. Is that a comforting thought? With foresight, I declare that he will receive all of us, his fellow students up there at some point. He will do well. In life he wanted a reunion, at least that's what he told me when we met at an opening by chance, a week before the fatal accident.

A Russian soul creeps into his work already at the art academy. I notice that his last name is of Russian origin. His sculptures are becoming increasingly layered and cover more rooms. As a viewer you seek, get lost and leave the labyrinth with something other than what you came for. Innocent-looking details in his work turn out demonic on closer inspection. Jeroen could speak very clear about the world covered with mystery. He was, after all, at home. He knew the way to the tsarist court before he took one step in Russia.
He managed to travel far without setting off. This defied my imagination. Mind you, we were not even nineteen and didn't travel the world. How did he manage to guide 'us' so excellent through the unknown? He went to the real Russia later. A period where I lost sight of him for a while.
Jeroen articulated, he was cautious and wary too. Before he undertook something or started a new sculpture, he prepared meticulously for the adventure. You can recognize this in his sculptures. They lie there like relics that are preserved for eternity. The narrative character of his images continues to inspire me. As to caution and preservation, as in many other respects, however, we were very different from each other. Going on a journey together failed, but our lives continued to intersect. "You are so different from me. We are a kind of opposites that reinforce one another", so we said to each other a week before the big solo came.
Now only his work is visible. It takes me back to the beginning when we met and wanted to be artists. It brings me back to the greats: Theo, Danielle, Tobias, Esther, Marjon, Hans, Tobias, Hanneke, Hugh, Arjan, Martin, Emiel, Judith, Frank and Jeroen.

Bart Lodewijks
Gent, March 24, 2016

Bart Lodewijks (NL/BE)
chalk lines on homes in Diepenheim, part of project DRAWING FRONT
(photo R. Korten)

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Janus Metsaars / Jan Mankes

Jan Mankes    
oil on panel
27,5 x 37,5 cm
Museum Belvédère, Heerenveen: loan private collection

My first conscious encounter with the work of Jan Mankes was in Museum Belvédère in Heerenveen. Han Steenbruggen combined our works together in a cabinet in the exhibition Reshuffle in 2008.

From an interview with Han Steenbruggen by Henk Sletterink in MB-0 dec. 2008:

Not all combinations in the exhibition Reshuffle are obvious. Jan Mankes and Janus Metsaars for example.
And precisely that combination was the first that came to my mind. In both their works lies the need to grasp the bigger mystery in the things around us. And while attempting to fathom these secrets they lay their souls bare. What I like so much in both the work of Mankes and Metsaars is that matter dissolves before your eyes and becomes immaterial, however different their technique is.

And it does not matter that the one works realistic and the other abstract?
I do not see any difference. If you look closer at this guinea fowl by Jan Mankes you surely see the subtleties of color and tone, your eye disappears into that beautiful color glow. Then you feel that the guinea is reason to evoke emotions that lie much deeper. It's pure abstraction. Metsaars does no different. He sees the evening light reflect in water or moss grow on a tree .. They both connect a sort of cosmic consciousness with earthly things. At least that's how I experience it.

Janus Metsaars
pigment. binder, linen
30 x 35cm
collection Museum Belvédère, purchased in 2016 

Janus Metsaars (NL)
pigment, binder, linen
30 x 35cm
collection Museum Belvédère, purchased in 2016