Jan Andriesse

Jakarta Indonesia 1950, lives and works in Amsterdam

Jan Andriesse once remarked that making a painting is, and always will be, the only rational exercise in futility. This remark undoubtedly arose from his conviction that it is impossible to use visual art to make a statement about reality, let alone to influence that reality with it.

Andriesse spent his youth in El Salvador, a country of great contrasts. In New York, to which he moved in 1979, he saw people living on the street. The portraits that he was painting at that time came to an abrupt end. Andriesse considered painting useless in terms of the social reality. But he does accept its ‘pointlessness’, considering this its only quality.

Seen in this light, what a painting ‘is about’ in an anecdotal or descriptive sense becomes irrelevant. The issue is not to tell stories, but to formulate an idea which is both comprehensive and concise, which has the power of a symbol. In order to achieve this, Andriesse approaches his subjects with intellectual detachment.

‘Detachment provides access,’ is how he himself puts it. Painting, to him, is not an explosion of emotion. His approach is more closely related to what he calls Spinoza’s ‘selflessness’. By this he is referring to the method used by Spinoza – one of reason and the elimination of the subjective ‘self’ – to gain control of the emotions and ultimately to arrive at a sublime form of knowledge.

Translated into Andriesse’s own work: paintings of water are produced by him in New York during the early eighties. Here he confronts himself with the problem of how to make this amorphous substance materialize in a painting. During the summer he escapes the heat and the bustle of New York by going down to the river, where it is wonderfully cool and quiet.

Though the connection is very concrete and common, Andriesse approaches the phenomenon of water with a virtually scientific attitude. He becomes engrossed in physical phenomena. For him, this knowledge is like a script for an actor. It plots out the points of reference and gives him something to go on. It is a way to arrive at the most concentrated and controlled forms of things. The result, in the painting, is not a depiction of water but an approach to the essence of water, of light and shade, movement and reflection. Actually Andriesse attempts to go about his work like an artist from the Renaissance who was to have a more or less universal knowledge. In that time, art was inconceivable without science, without a thorough knowledge of the principles underlying outward appearances. Only then could the essence of each of these be understood and rendered in a painting.