Robert Zandvliet

Terband NL 1970, lives/works in Rotterdam

Robert Zandvliet joins in the pre-eminently Dutch painterly tradition which has been described by Svetlana Alpers as ‘the probings of the eye’. A characteristic of this artistic legacy is the investigative observation of the immediate environment and the true pictorial representation of this. Romantic tendencies, such as those which flourished in Germany, have never really taken root in the Low Countries. The Dutch painterly tradition attests to a sense of reality and great sensitivity to the complex manifestations of the visible world. 

The motifs which Zandvliet paints in thin layers of tempera paint have been reduced to a few planes and contours. Stripped of the picturesque and restored to their essence, one could refer to these schematically rendered objects as being ‘archetypal’. Untitled (1995), for instance, shows the absolute starkness of a television screen. The contours of the picture tube correspond almost exactly to the outer edges of the painting. The frontal flatness of the image is challenged by two white reflections of light on the tube and the black shadows along the edges, which suggest the tension of concave and convex surfaces. Significantly, Zandvliet has painted a television set which does not show an image, but rather is n image itself. In contradiction to the endless deluge of mass media images, the artist introduces the deceleration of the painterly eye.

An equally inconspicuous motif is the bare movie screen. Zandvliet has rendered this in Untitled (1997), the most mature of all the paintings that he has dedicated to this subject up to now. Here, too, the contours of motif and painting are carefully geared to each other; again, the suggestion of space conflicts with a frontal flatness. The concave movie screen, framed by black and ochre lines, has the look of a gigantic blue field, hovering in a dark space. Its shimmering color, consisting of many layers of paint, seems to light up at the edges. It is as though all of the film images that one has ever seen have been branded into a radiant field of sheer light. Strikingly, the blue neither advances nor recedes. The overexposed screen of the cinema is on the same level, so to speak, as the white canvas in the painter’s studio.

Zandvliet has also devoted himself to the landscape, a theme whose arrival was already announced in his early paintings of airplane and train windows with panoramic views. Dozens of small landscapes have been painted by him, all of them differing in character but bearing the same swiftly designated motifs: a road, a horizon, a sun, a small tree and so on. They are depictions, not so much of specific places as of landscape as a category in itself. In this series Zandvliet explores the potential to give contemporary expression to a genre that plays a prominent role in the history of Dutch art.

Untitled (1996) shows a vast space with a zig-zagging asphalt road and a row of small trees on the horizon. The constructive contours and surveyable divisions of space, characteristic of Zandvliet’s larger paintings, have given way to a loose, sketchy layout. The seventeenth-century river landscapes of Jan van Goyen come to mind, and Mondrian’s small paintings of the river Gein at dusk, done between 1904 and 1908. But above all, the small painting of Zandvliet has a synthetic look. The realism of Van Goyen and the symbolism of the young Mondrian are completely foreign to Zandvliet. He paints his landscape in magenta, bright red, deep black, yellow – unnatural, glowing colors that remind one of color negatives. Just as our perception is colored by an endless number of film and television images, our conception of landscape is influenced by photographic representation.