Michael de Kok

Podium space

10 Nov 2018 - 20 Jan 2019

Michaël de Kok (Hilvarenbeek, 1958) paints landscapes. Yet this is not the first thing that comes to mind on seeing his exhibition of recent works in De Pont’s podium space. Most of the works consist of two juxtaposed, apparently monochrome surfaces. Any trace of figuration is gone. Even the horizon – the line that separates land or water from the sky – has vanished from his landscapes. Or has he rotated the canvas?

Ever since landscape was invented as an independent genre in painting, it has been an endless source of inspiration and delight. During the seventeenth century, the Dutch masters were the first to record their surroundings in paintings full of meticulously observed details. But no matter how realistic they appeared to be, these images were rarely topographically precise renderings of specific places. The landscapes of Michaël de Kok are based on recollected images – observations or experiences transposed into paint. Anyone who asks him where he painted a work will always receive the laconic response: ‘in my studio.’

But his sources of inspiration are no big secret. He enjoys walking with his dog in the vicinity of Tilburg, where he lives, but is also drawn to the rugged, desolate mountain landscapes of the Spanish Pyrenees. And the changing light of the seasons influences his work: subdued light in the autumn, for instance, and sharp contrasts of color in winter.

The observation and experience of a tangible landscape is what prompts De Kok to paint. The American artist Agnes Martin (1912-2004), known for her serene grid paintings in delicate colors, once stated in a lecture: ‘Experiences recalled are generally more satisfying and enlightening than the original experience. It is in fact the only way to know one’s whole response.’ In her view the memory has inestimable value.

In his quest for the essence of a landscape experience, all narrative elements – the lone wanderer, a dilapidated shed, a swimming pool no longer in use – gradually disappeared from De Kok’s paintings. Ultimately an abstract play of light and color takes shape; an interaction of absorbent and radiant surfaces of color, free of the coercive presence of a horizon. In an interview with the Belgian art critic Eric Rinckhout, De Kok summed up his approach as follows: ‘During the process of painting, there comes a moment when the painted image displaces the recollected image, and the realistic quality of memory gives way to the suggestion of that which is painted.’