Jan Andriesse

30 years of drawing

23 Sept 2006 - 7 Jan 2007
work in collection

Artist and researcher: Jan Andriesse (Jakarta 1950) takes many approaches to the phenomenon of light. As one of the makers of the documentary Hollands Licht (2003) he set out to discover the characteristic properties of light; as an artist he attempts to express its miraculousness in images. De Pont has followed the work of Jan Andriesse for years and has a number of drawings and paintings by him in its collection. The exhibition that the museum is now dedicating to his work provides a retrospective view of drawings produced since 1978. The emphasis lies not so much with completeness as with diversity. In the early drawings figuration is juxtaposed with abstraction. In the later work small drawings are alternated with several larger ‘drawn’ paintings, a drawing done directly on the wall and a maquette of this exhibition. But the most striking aspect of Andriesse’s drawings is that direct observations from nature and carefully constructed, geometric drawings coexist in the work as two expressions of the same fascination.

No matter how he approaches his subject – light, space and water – observation remains the prime concern. Jan Andriesse never gets tired of the view from his houseboat studio: the Amstel River, always the same but constantly changing according to the weather conditions, the time of day and the time of year. In a series of studies on water, from 1998, Andriesse has captured the agile play of reflective light. Sometimes a single detail evokes the actual situation: the hull of a boat that casts a heavy shadow, the reflection of the moon that becomes multiplied on the rippling water, or a coot that swims by and leaves a V in its wake. But usually the drawings consist of graphic patterns of light and dark which, despite their diversity, are always recognizable as depictions of water. Aside from the observations of nature, there are the meticulously constructed drawings of curves and lines that intersect, meet and divide each other. These works are closely related to the paintings in which Andriesse evokes, with minimal means, the current of the river, the profile of a bridge or the dividing line between land, water and sky. While the curved lines and forms do not reveal their origins in the paintings, the drawings show the geometric construction on which the composition is based. Rather than being preliminary studies, these are drawings made in retrospect, as a kind of justification for the developmental process that took place in the painting. In that process the ratio of the golden section plays an important role. Just as the Renaissance painters made use of geometry for the construction of a central perspective, so are Andriesse’s compositions based on a framework of triangles, rectangles, pentagons and curves in which the ratio 1:0.618 of the golden section continues to recur. This is how he anchors the bend of a spiral, the position of the curved lines or the point at which these meet. The laws of geometry provide stability to the ‘panta rhei’, or pervasive flux, of light and water. And at the same time the golden section, the Fibonacci numbers and the seven basic forms of the curve furnish Andriesse with the autonomous and universal set of instruments by which he can give shape to his sensory emotion without lapsing into the overly personal or to the banality of the cliché.

Andriesse ‘discovered’ the golden section during the early eighties, when he was grappling with the issue of what course to take, having rejected both abstraction and figuration as being too limited. A 1979 drawing involving a square and a long, tilted rectangle still shows this abstraction. The geometric forms relate to each other not only in terms of position and color, but also in size. Though the square and the beam differ in appearance, their surface is identical. The title of this work, the same and the other, has been borrowed from the Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras, who allegedly gave this as an answer on being asked about his image of God. The intangible nature of Pythagoras’s all-embracing characterization is conveyed in the work of Andriesse. Despite, or perhaps in fact because of the concreteness of his mathematical constructions, the analogies with nature are maintained; in the form of the ellipse, in the catenary as an embodiment of gravity and in the principle of natural growth, which forms the basis of the number sequence of Fibonacci.

Echoes and analogies can also be heard among the works themselves. In the organic shapes of the series studies for Caryatide (1994) the curved lines of undulating water recur in a different form, as upright and materialized hybrid shapes: the same and the other. Among the carefully constructed drawings, there is one that stands out. On a large drawing from 2004, a brownish cloud-like shape is interrupted on the right by an austere, white rectangle. The transition from dark to light and the blending of organic and geometric forms has not been created deliberately but has come about by chance, due to the effect of moisture on a blank sheet of paper; when this happened, the rectangular area was covered in such a way that the moisture could not affect the paper there. All that Andriesse himself added to this work is the text: alle richtingen – andere richtingen (all directions – other directions).

The text refers to a traffic sign that he encountered years before, while driving through Belgium, at a T-junction: alle richtingen appeared on the sign pointing left, while the one pointing to the right read andere richtingen. In the paper damaged by a leak at his studio, Andriesse finally found the visual equivalent for this paradox; the same and the other.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a special publication, dedicated to the subject Kitsch.
Contributions have been made by roughly forty authors who, at Jan Andriesse’s request, conveyed their thoughts on the phenomenon.