A Non Something
Raymond Cuijpers – Kirsten Hutsch
When I saw your work and heard you talk about it, I thought that you
make paintings in the way a sculptor would: you erase the paint and
start out at the essence of its materiality. The canvas is not a
window or a hole, but a thing, an object. Yet, in one way or another
there’s a painterly light in your canvases. Do you build up to that?
Or do you work more from the act, like rubbing and scraping until it
is physically impossible to get more paint of?
The latter, Three years ago I began to explore painting, and this
developed towards a process-based approach that sought to avoid
illusion and representation. From these initial abstract works I
became increasingly interested in how process might shift emphasis
from self-conscious aesthetic composition towards a greater autonomy
What do you mean by a greater autonomy of the subject?
That the function of the painting does not stand for anything other
than itself, the object becomes the subject, rather than merely being
If you continue from this point onward, the material will be reduced,
deteriorated, impaired to such an extent that holes will start to
appear in the canvas somewhat like old worn jeans. Less will be
almost impossible. Maybe you ‘ll end up with a few strands of a frame.
Georg Herold-ish. Then you are back to sculpting. Do you think you ever
end up there again?
I’m a sculptor by origin, but not medium-specific. Some mediums are
better suited to my research than others. The scanner-bed prints, for
example deal with painting even though they are stripped of that
traditional, medium-specific context . So sculpture is not ruled out.
These scanner bed works are basically twofold: you apply a direct
action on the surface of the scanner bed, sprinkle kitchen products
such as flour or couscous on and scan it, then, you make a print of
it. The medium puts a layer between the initial operation and the
printout. Do you create that distance on purpose?
Yes, it’s exactly this layer that appeals to me. It embraces a number
of facets. For one, the technology registers a process otherwise lost.
Secondly, a painting preserves the instant act of the gesture of that
moment, on a canvas, whereas the gesture visible on the print is not
real-time. Moreover, the process of the scanner generates an altered
image of reality, one on which normal conventions like
foreground/background, light/shadow, up/down don’t seem to stick, thus
questioning reality anew.
You’re aiming for an utterly non-representational image, an
abstract stain bothers you because of its reminiscence of a
cloud or a landscape. Due to your working process there’s the
appearance of an edge, darker than the rest of the canvas. This edge,
this framework, ironically, can be considered as a frame – a window
frame -, can it not?
The edges are the leftovers of the work process. This research aims
to render the mechanism that underlies representation visible,
resulting in a search for the non-something, rather than the nothing.
This involves liberating the viewer and the artwork itself from the
interpretative frames and conventions that that rule our perception,
leading to objects and images that hold a middle ground between
something and nothingness. Whether something is an image or not, is of
course a convention between creator and audience, but these works seek
to give room for the medium itself, over its standard function of
Can you elaborate on the distinction between a non and a-nothing?
I meant the non-something and the nothing. The main goal in these
works isn’t the reference to nothingness but that it does not resemble
something other than itself.
A painter adds, and scrapes paint as an adjustment to the canvas. To
me your paintings sometimes resemble abraded doors, such as painters,
now I mean a house painter, do. The door will be repainted, in
different layers, to a perfect finish. Your paintings remain in the
‘abraded’ state. Is it your intention, beside them being objects, to
tell something with this bare boned state of the canvas? A reflection
on the crisis perhaps?
By using the flat-bed scanner alongside more traditional paint and
canvas, I seek to open up new frames of reference. The simple,
anti-heroic gesture left by a baker’s flour on the bread board or a
janitor’s mop, or a window cleaner’s squeegee; I try to use such
daily, common or even mundane gestures inherent in humble workmanlike
duties to occupy an area normally reserved for an artistic
sensibility. What I hope to bring to the field of painting is a
sensibility whereby conventional methodologies for depicting something
are subverted in the search for the reality of the work itself:an
auto-portrait of the gesture, not a reference to the gesture nor a
associative referent through the medium to something else.
I follow you in your reference to the everyday movements of cleaners
and such, the mundane gestures. To what extent are those ‘ordinary
gestures ‘in line with your own natural gestures, your motor, the
movement that your body is accustomed to make?
Yes, these specific gestures are equal to those movements.
studioview Kirsten Hutschemakers
Robert Ryman is an early favorite of mine. In art college, I also
painted white canvases with a small brush, behind the repetition of
brushstrokes that whiten the beige cotton, lurks a Zen-like pleasure.
There was no decision making within the painterly surfaces, the act
of whitening was already a decision that emerged on its self. Do you
direct the visual image, left on the canvas, within the process of
mopping, scraping and sanding? Or is there a process of decision
making in advance? This canvas has to be blank, whatever happens along
the way is a side effect, goal is to empty out the canvas in which you
can see the remains of paint or gesso.
The recent works apply to the last option. It’s to see how a surface
can be negotiated with a humble intent, not merely free from reference
or depiction but also free from the concerns of composition, drawing
and virtuosic display.
When do you determine that you have finished sanding? There is always a
time when you let go of the canvas, that you abort working on it. Is
that a planned moment before starting? In other words, do you work
towards the image or are you guided through the process? In the latter
case, there is a moment at which you say, now it’s finished, a moment
that can reveal more about your vision on painting, your vision of how
one painting should be.
That differs with each painting; it could be on completion of the
planned action, or when paint no longer comes off, or somewhere in
mid-air, for the readability of the action.
Recently I saw work of Willem de Rooij at the Stedelijk Museum in
Amsterdam. It involved a blank canvas of unbleached linen, there was a
purplish thread worked through it. Beside it being badly stretched, I
liked the work. But there wasn’t any labor to it. That fact alone, to
me, does not turn a canvas into a painting. The time and labor you
put in the abrasion of your canvases, gives it his power. An energy
not yet present in a canvas newly stretched. What do you think
differs a blank canvas from an empty out canvas? In other words, when
does a canvas become a painting?
The purple thread in De Rooij’s work is an acrylic thread, weaved as
weft in a linen warp. The resulting canvas is then stretched on wooden
stretcher bars, making all components of a painting present and
consciously prepared. To me that’s no empty canvas but one where the
signifier and signified collapse into one another, towards object as
subject. This approach is not far from the paintings I am currently
engaged in, the Inox paintings, a collection of untitled paintings
where conscious and lengthy steps have been taken to eradicate the
applied paint from the canvas. The painting finds significance in its
own negation. Whether a piece of canvas is a painting or not, is not
related to the labour invested, but in whether the rationale to its
creation is sufficiently re-enacted in the result.
I don’t think Willem himself even worked for a second on that
canvas. I think he had it outsourced. Which makes it more of an
conceptual work. Do you think it is necessary to do your own labor on
the canvas or can it be carried out by someone else. Is the idea – or
rationale like you put it – the beginning of a work? Could anyone else
sand down your canvases in order for it to still be a Kirsten
There are different reasons to let a third party join in on the
production of a work. Like specific technical skills, lack of time, or
even to question authorship like in Martin Kippenberger’s series “dear
painter paint me” in which he asked another painter to paint
photographs selected by himself. To me these painting are totally
Kippenberger. To me the question if someone did or didn’t physically
work on an artwork is irrelevant to the end result, depending of
course of the aforementioned rationale. Every work, outside the studio
process becomes autonomous and from that moment onwards gains meaning
from the spectators perspective. From this point onwards, is it still
of any relevance who technically participated in the work or even
whose idea it was?
I think one of the principles of The Act of Painting is that the work
on a canvas has to be solemnly done by the artist himself, only then
something can happen in the process of making that transcends the
production. Your intuition comes into play, and this holds a crucial
role. Thinking and acting coincide, so you do not think of anything
but think through and by the making; you are simultaneously part and
observer of the work process. This contact of your subconscious whit
your conscious mind will be lost if a third party is let in on this
creative process. Then, in fact, everything becomes merely production.
A while ago there was a controversy between David Hockney and Damien
Hirst. Hockney, in his recent work, a traditional painter who does
everything himself. Hirst, the director of the Hirst-firm, none of
which carries his name was made by himself … Kippenberger (a series
that was to more or less repeated by Francis Alys, who, in his series
asked Mexican billboards painters to copy his own small paintings, and
he mentioned their names during the show), I certainly consider this
series to be a true Kippenberger (ans similarly in the case of Alys),
but indeed, the authorship is conceptual rather than material. The
process that has taken place in the painting, is transferred into a
social process in which the value of art is being denounced. The myth
of the artist as a master is overthrown; and there is certainly much
to be said for this. Still, I think TAOP harks back to the traditional
values of a painting in the sense that our approach is quite a
classical one. Carrying this in mind it is appropriate that one
performs one’s ideas oneself, because the meaning is in the failure. In
other words: if the work is done by craftsmen, then you probably end
up whit perfect flawless work that lacks soul. If the work is
performed by oneself, due to weaknesses of skills, the resulting
abnormalities show a piece of oneself, of one’s consciousness. So
doing these things yourself; sanding, mopping or reducing is essential
in that respect, although your canvases are no structures but objects
an sich. Does this not render them more impersonal?
You keep referring to my paintings as objects, I may have given cause
to this in previous answers, but to me they negotiate the painterly
surface. Although I agree that the completely sanded down canvases
appear to act as objects in the room. An interesting phenomenon.
To me, in my paintings, the matter is not what I do, but what it
does. In short, what does an image consist of? How does the image
work? What role does the individual perception of the spectator who
perceives it hold? I’m fascinated by the complex nature of the latter.
The artist doesn’t put in the meanings that the spectator extracts
from it. Meanwhile the spectator is under the impression that his
interpreted meaning is imbued in the work by the artist. As artists,
we are apparently seen as the ones who rule the meaning of a work of
art, who intend it. But rather than being its master, we are the
work’s servants, and also the servants of its ultimate meaning. The
work of art generates its own meanings to be able to research this
mechanis it is necessary to render it as a-personal as possible. By
erasing myself from the works make, I can attempt to sidetrack overly
one-sided or overly non-ambiguous interpretations by the spectator. I
do not approach TAOP from the concept of action and response, as you
do, but I rather try to see what happens if movements inherent to
something like cleaning or mopping a floor are presented in an
When you pass a building site or a house being renovated, you
sometimes see things resembling your paintings; a stucco wall, sanded
door, worn-outs. The rough material. which makes me come back to your
background as a sculptor. Sculptors generally are much more material
based than painters. Painters prefer a white surface to work on.
Sculptors put the material much more to their hand, edit it until they
have a grip on it. Is the function of sanding a method for you to get
grip on the canvas?
I indeed make the choice for these specific paintings, and for an
approach to paint as material, to be able to rob the medium from its
classical role of depiction, illusion and representation. The function
of sandpapering the surface however is not to grasp the canvas but to
rob it from any content, so the visual form is merely an emptied
Does your work have anything to do with the Minimal Art of the
sixties / seventies? I think so. But then, how do you sketch the
relation from that period into the future?
Amongst others. There are of course parallels, but I also see
parallels with structuralism, absurdism, fundamental art, postabstract
art, abstract expressionism as well as with the ideas of the avant
gardist painters. In fact there is a tradition that embraces similar
views and a similar questioning that goes as far back as
constructivism. They made a radical turn from aesthetics to poetics.
Their research concerned the minimal conditions for the production of
visual effect, almost stripped of content. This tradition persist till
now, and will probably into the future in spite of the fact that the
zeitgeist keeps changing: it is a recurring universal set of
questions, that can generate new meanings and take new guises in any
Can you be more specific about these new meanings, what are the
meanings and how they manifest themselves in the present day?
What I mean is that in every period of time, art will be read and
interpreted differently. The way art was viewed and interpreted during
the industrial revolution or the interbellum will have been different
from the liberal Seventies, or now. This is not merely caused by a
growing sophistication of and acceptance by the public. This public
also reflects its own era’s mentality and Zeitgeist. The different
meanings the use of materials can generate in a specific period of
time can serve as a good example The materials used by the minimalists
in the 1970s: the concrete blocks used by Sol Lewitt, or the floor
works of Carl Andre were used because of their pure and basic shape.
using these same materials now would probably immediately lead to a
specific socio-political aesthetics, so far from pure, simple and
uninterpreted. We are overly observant in this timeframe. All is
interconnected and there is some kind of hypersensitivity in the air
for relational meanings and contexts for interpretation.