THE ARTICULATION OF MOVEMENT
Jeroen Hofhuizen – Raymond Cuijpers
translated by Cole Verhoeven
“Hey, you still painting?” popped up one day on one of my social networking sites. It was a message from Raymond Cuijpers. We studied together in the early 90’s at the Academy of Visual Arts in Maastricht. An uncle of mine provided us with our own studios above his shop and we subsequently spent more time over there than at art school. We came to realize that what we were doing, living the lives of postgraduate art students, was not entirely acceptable to the Academy. But the work I made then was better than everything else I had done up until that point. During that time Raymond and I talked constantly about painting; conversations that could effortlessly be picked up and expanded upon today. We hadn’t had such conversations about our work and what drives us in a long time. Early in 2011 I caught up with Raymond in Amsterdam. I visited him in his studio and recognized immediately his singular work style. Actual painting still existed! We decided to look for like-minded painters together – to show that we still exist. The following captures how we think about and what we have to say about art.
I worked on that large canvas (Ryder) on and off, about four times during a four or five month period. I started with a few sweeping areas of color, just to fill up the canvas, give me something to paint over. After doing that I left it for a while and started work on smaller pieces. Of course that large canvas was constantly in my field of vision but it wasn’t something I took the time to sit and stare at. It was more about having a work in progress that could wait until I had the time, the money for paint and ideally a clear head. The second time I approached the work I was pretty unfocused. I used up leftover paint and spread it over the canvas without any expectations. During the third session, a month or so later, I worked very wildly and intuitively. I used a medium sized brush and a lot of white and ‘scratched’ multiple lines throughout the work. I was largely unaware of what I was doing but when I finally did step back to look at the piece, I saw that I had done something I normally never do. I had broken through my own routine way of working. I stopped working on it at that point, considered it finished. But then about a month later I had money again to buy paint. And I found the time between cycling, driving and family life to go off and paint for a few hours. I painted away the sections that I didn’t like without losing the dynamics of that last breakthrough. And after an hour the piece was finished. I didn’t do a lot of contemplating; rather I sought out the productive moments during which to work. During those key moments my concentration peaked.
Another aspect that plays a role when there are such long intervals between painting, is that the paint has dried by the time I begin again. I’m actually applying a new layer on top and the previous layers still have a voice or role in the final piece. When I began work on Ryder I stood on a chair to paint in order to reach every corner of the canvas. In the last session I no longer used anything extra to stand on. The beauty of it is that in the four months I myself grew to fit the proportions of the canvas. Working longer on a canvas is then a conscious choice because I missed a deeper form of consciousness in the canvasses that I finished with one or two hours.
Is nature a point of departure for you when you start work on a painting. By nature I’m referring to both the observable and your inner nature.
No… And yes. I’d say no because I don’t like to think in terms of a starting point. But I’d say yes because during the process I come to realize that that is precisely what I am painting. But I think that when one (and I prefer the concept of an inner nature) tries to name or define nature before beginning on a canvas that nature will definitely remain elusive during the process of painting. During the act of painting you strive to know nothing. And in the process, if you’re lucky, there comes a moment when you recognize what you were looking for even though you didn’t know what it was precisely you had hoped to see. At that point the painting is done. And my inner nature, my essence is in every line, hole, dab of paint, thin film of pigment and in every thick layer, without ever having defined it.
And one shouldn’t explain, I feel, at least not within a painting. What strikes me about my paintings is that there seems to be an aggression within them while I’m anything but aggressive. It might be the athlete in me that brings that out. I don’t think about it. I work more towards a certain type of painterly light, layering, energy, movement, dynamics or course… but I stop only when I see that that light I’m looking for.
Elusiveness or making the invisible visible. That’s what I think happens. I think an important question is what is the purpose? What function do our paintings serve in relation to what has already been made? I think that the approach and the way in which it is painted in not necessarily avant-garde but more an in depth investigation or introspection. ‘Es gibt keine Avant-garde mehr. Wir brauchen Vollendung’, Lüpertz says. Does that not sum up what we are talking about and doing?
Yes, introspection. I think that we differentiate ourselves from history and from one another because we are painting our inner natures. We delve deep into ourselves and put a lot of attention into each canvas. Ray Moon describes it as follows: “I do think that we are looking for a new connection between painting and the world. Abstract Expressionism is by comparison quite formal. Our painting is more of an attempt at a one on one relationship between being and painting which is also informed by movement (the act).” And that definition means that we too are avant-garde. I’m looking for a new connection with the world through action, doing, and movement. A painting is a dynamic platform that is more varied and differentiated than can be described. It’s an amalgamation that exposes your being, the articulation of your body, your thoughts, your understanding of things, the world and the core of existence. You find it in the stillness. None of us is commenting on society, perhaps intrinsically we are. Maybe Frits van der Zander (former professor at the Academy) was right about Cézanne – that painting is both a way of getting a grip on and creating your place in the world. Starting from a point of nothingness is more difficult than trying to tackle a mountain. From nothingness you generate work from within and about your own id. You create a veritable wormhole in your own personal cosmos, but then eventually you reach a point wherein you are communicating with the world as it currently is.
We are attempting to position ourselves in a world within which cynicism, superficiality and at times even pure stupidity are the dominant factors. At the same time and maybe also because of the current (financial) crisis, there is a group that, perhaps out of necessity, is returning to the basics, to the core of things. There is a group of people who want to make and do real and authentic things. I consider us to be in the latter group. We must work hard in order to be able to paint at all and therein we have nothing else but our integrity… In actuality I’m not conscious of a line of thought or placing myself with a line of thought. When looking at a Raoul de Keyser painting I’m not thinking of any other works of art than his. Of course I know where the works stem from, which (art historic) links can be made. But the defining factor is this: I’m standing before the painting and I’m looking at something that is made by someone with a sensitivity that only he possesses. And the more I think about painting and about my contribution to painting, the more I come to the conclusion that I want to reveal my soul in my painting. And at the same time I realize that the canvas is subordinate to the abstraction and is therefore also chillingly distant from my person, my self. What I’m saying is this: in your best work you act as a medium (how silly that word may sound) of something elusive inside of you. And the satisfaction comes from knowing that no one other than you could have made the canvas you just created.
You’re saying quite a lot about your painting and about painting in general. ” And the more I think about painting and about my contribution to painting, the more I come to the conclusion that I want to reveal my soul in my painting. And at the same time I realize that the canvas is subordinate to the abstraction and is therefore also chillingly distant from my person, my self.” Can you explain what you mean by the canvas being so removed from your self? Is the sublimation of your soul through the medium of painting not what it’s about? In the moment this is a successful process, and by that I mean a pure process. It seems to me that there is a quality here. A quality that can only be achieved in a specific way. That makes a work unique and quite possibly allots it a position in the development of art history. What do you think?
What I think is that I don’t want to concern myself with art history and at the same time I’m aware of portraying myself as simply a boy kicking a ball against a wall… A boy who derives satisfaction from repeatedly performing the same action, and he’s not in a stadium with other boys, other players… Of course it’s about navigating the impulses of the soul through the medium of painting. More pointedly, the painter is the medium that reveals the soul, and hopefully much more, to the world. But I think we’re dancing around the fact that this applies to all good art. Picasso puts his soul into a bird but also into a still life, a woman…
For example, in my smaller, newer soccer tactics paintings I’m doing something that only I understand. Yet someone who knows nothing about football and art can see that there is something going on there. That’s it’s not just about spheres, triangles and dotted lines. There is something behind it, a way of constructing, of making of knowing.
In these canvasses I know what I am doing. I can follow everything exactly. In the purely abstract canvasses, such as Ryder, I hardly know what I am doing until I step back, stop painting and decide, or rather know, that the painting is finished. Everything I am is on that canvas and at the same time I am not that canvas. It is now elevated to another realm, a world that I cannot describe… what I may mean is that you cannot actually expose your soul in a painting. At best you can let hints of your soul seep through. But because it is not static and always fluctuating, there is no actual point to put your finger on.
And I don’t actually want to do that. I have no desires while I paint. I want to quite literally be a medium, a medium of my inner self. At the same time I want to produce a good painting that reflects my consciousness, a painting that reflects everything that I know about art, the world and myself. And consciousness and soul are in different categories. Consciousness is quality. By working longer on a canvas you can sharpen and define the nuances of your consciousness in the paint. And if you can do that, you can more clearly determine your place in art history.
I want to make that distinction between soul and consciousness because while your consciousness is both viewer and creator, your soul is only a creator. Your soul is honest but your consciousness is smarter, has the ability to manipulate and can also provide distance.
That is an interesting point. The rupture between consciousness and soul. Personally, I think that the word consciousness still contains more content. Consciousness is, according to my definition, performing a task with utmost concentration so that you become the action. At that moment, consciousness can no longer manipulate. You are Zen. (Funny anecdote: A student asks his master, “Master, what is Zen actually?”. The master replies, “drinking a cup of tea”. Consciously performing a singular action without the arrival of any other thoughts.
Your color palette is unique to you. Is that a choice that has evolved intuitively over the years or have you made conscious decisions?
I still use a great deal of the colors Frits van der Zander (former professor at the Academy) suggested in the first lessons: titanium white, ivory black, cadmium yellow, yellow ocher, lemon yellow, burnt sienna, viridian green, cerulean blue, ultra marine blue, cadmium red, madder. A few of those such as the cadmium red, cerulean blue, ivory black and burnt sienna I no longer use, but in their place came Prussian blue, burnt umber and phthalo green instead of viridian green (because phthalo is cheaper).
For the canvasses that I made in one take a few years ago, I mixed the paint in washed peanut butter jars. I improvised a mixture of boiled flax seed oil and turpentine. The paint in the jar needed to be easily spread. I mixed almost nothing on a palette and instead ‘threw’ the paint using large brushes directly onto the canvas. The colors blended together on the canvas but the overall appearance is quite primary and even flat. These canvasses got stuck in that energy and I wanted to push past to more than that. That’s why I made the decision to work on each canvas longer. I squeeze the paint out onto a wooden plank or plate and I do a lot more of the mixing on that now. I’m trying to lose that loudness and bring a suffused depth into the colors with multiple layering of wet on wet pigment.
Sometimes I barely had any money. I would buy paint, but only titanium white, ultramarine blue, phthalo green and madder. Sometimes even only titanium and ultramarine blue. I painted over old canvas because I no longer liked them and because I wanted to get rid of all of the figurative work. And because I had no money for new canvasses, I used the sections of the old canvasses that I still liked. Those sections I left open. Eventually there were new layers and the open sections, the holes, got smaller. But there was still and interplay with those holes and the new painting.
I have often had to reduce my palette out of necessity, but that actually was a good thing. I was forced to be more conscientious of color and also broke through the old pattern of just responding to spots and colors like we did at art school. Where once was a color-driven way of working, color is now at the behest of the light, the painting, a color that is murkier and at the same time has more light – painterly light.
I talk a lot about circumstances that have nothing directly to do with painting like a lack of money or a lack of time. For me those have been extremely important factors. Because of those circumstances I have made the hard decisions that I was previously unable or unwilling to make.
The white canvasses I’m currently working on could reference Ryman but at the same time they’re totally different. It is perhaps and investigation of the color white but I’m extracting something else, something completely idiosyncratic. I also think it is important to do this. For me it’s about pushing the envelope with regards to the use of oil. During the process you notice when something happens that is of value to the image being created. I write this because I want to form a clear picture for myself as to what extent a ‘limitation’, in this case color, also applies to your work.
The choice to carry a task out in a specific way. For you that is immediately intuitive. With ‘Ryder’ you changed something in the process. You started ‘scraping’ with white. A change and an innovation in your way of working. Do you carry that over onto the next work? Do you save that information so that you can do it again next time or so that you can investigate further? This is important because I know of no other painter who has done this so consciously.
Maybe they do exist but this is a very big step. I ask this because you still seem to think that we are skirting the issue of why we paint what we paint and what that all means exactly. I think that the process of the way in which we are consciously engaged in painting is what matters. It is only about the process, the journey, the investigation? The things we do now were not done and could not have been done in 1950. We’ve taken all that and bring it now a step further. What more should there then be?
I think all artists, even those or precisely those artists we do not see, are consciously engaged in what they’re doing. I think that the consciousness must reside somewhere under the many layers of our paintings. These points of consciousness points are capable of tearing the painting apart, turning it upside down, elevating the canvas into another realm. Something that allows you to show that you understand how it all fits together… I am trying it out now with soccer tactics. Trying to perceive a world that has less to do with painting and more with conscious thinking. I like ‘Ryder’, but even the breakthrough moment in that canvas (the white ‘scratches’) remains within the realm of painting and is a painterly act within the conventions of painting techniques, perhaps internally revolutionary in and among themselves but still internal.
If within the painting that larger realm of consciousness that transcends painting yet reveals your understanding of the world and of yourself and your place in the world occurs, then I think that we’ve gone a step further than what was happening in the 1950’s. The painting is perhaps not a means to an end but more a way of reconciling and communicating.
In all the interviews I have tried to reveal the source of each creator and I believe that one’s personal life also belongs there as part of the source. I cannot separate painting from my situation as a man. I am a boy, a man, a father. I have a family. I was able to freewheel it for a long time but now I have to work very hard just to even be able to make a painting. In addition, I was once a soccer player and now find my Zen in cycling. Without all that background I would not be able to make a single painting. At least not with the intensity that I do now. I think that you have to make painting important, you have to intensify it. And your consciousness as a painter will grow precisely because of the value painting has received. The problem is however that someone else will never look at your paintings as precisely as you would. Another viewers gaze is more neutral and perhaps even more moderate. At any rate the viewer will certainly view the work with more distance but will see the intense consciousness, the individual implications. A painting must have meaning, your meaning.
I just want to go back to the intuitive. When you are practicing repetitively with a ball, the ball becomes at a certain point a part of you. There comes a moment when these exercises become second nature during a soccer match. You don’t think about them, they have become a part of you. This second developed nature is embroiled with your first nature. You could argue that the intuition has been enriched. I think this is also true for painting. My question is now whether you’ve experienced something similar in your own work? Are you aware over the years that you are now making different decisions that previously? How can that process remain pure?
You’re talking about training and repetition. In soccer you have a guy like Wiel Coerver. In the eighties he trained very young players. He made them make the same movements thousands of times until the boys could execute the movements in their sleep. Perfect, but mechanical and soulless actually. Painting can be very much like that too I think. If you perform certain motions, utilize certain color combinations and techniques very often then it becomes mechanical and what the professors at art school would also call a trick. I’m not striving for that. That which you call the second developed nature is in my opinion an artificial nature that I don’t think belongs in the category of intuition. Of course you do have to develop technique but perhaps an untrained person, painter, soccer player, comes closer to intuition.
I don’t think I could have made the paintings I make now when I was in my early twenties, although I now want to make nearly the same paintings as then. In the period between the Rijksakademy and the birth of my son I made an enormous amount of work. I made figurative paintings, abstract paintings, work with text, works referencing the news, but from those ten years only a handful of paintings will be left over. The rest are being painted over. The works I’m most content with, those that still have significance for me have usually been the first paintings in a particular series. The first paintings represent uncharted territory for me and unconscious decisions and unknown outcome. The past few years I’ve been trying to delve deeper into the abstract paintings. But therein is the danger of repetition. The artist may see the differences in the details but the canvasses will appear too similar to each other. Sometimes I try, within my method, to breakthrough my own ways of working. I’ll then do something that’s totally different from what I did in a previous period like adding for example a large yellow patch or lashing out at the canvas wildly and without thinking, basically not wanting to make anything instantly beautiful. The big canvas ‘Ryder’ came about in this way, in phase over a long period of time. In the soccer tactics paintings I try not to think of painting at all. I approach these as if they were a coach’s notebook, but then with the tools of a painter. I mentioned earlier that I don’t want to think when I’m painting. I don’t think a soccer player does either. He is in the game, in the zone and that is where everything comes together. I’d rather think about creating the right conditions. The moment when I’m working on a canvas feels like the most important. And that is because of my weekly work schedule as a bike messenger and driver and my family routine. Right now I’m doing most of my painting on Wednesday mornings. Whenever I’m able to do some biking on Sunday mornings and think about things including the canvas I’m currently working on, not really trying to pre-visualize it or anything, but more to create the desire to do some further work on it. After cycling my head is empty and I am mentally recharged. Generally that Sunday biking is a necessity for getting me in the right physical and mental state to paint something that really works. Many times the conditions are not optimum and then I realize that it is better to do preparatory work and because the final canvas will amount to nothing otherwise. At the same time I know that precisely when I’m not clear minded and concentrated I’ll mess up and that that can provide a break through. In the past I would not leave the studio before I was satisfied with a canvas. Now I think, partly because I can’t spend days holed up in the studio, that I have to have patience. The canvasses that I’ve worked on for longer periods of time (a few months) come closer to the deeper abstraction I’m trying to achieve. It apparently doesn’t happen at once but ripens during the intervals.
There is such a thing as coincidentia oppositorum. This term comes, I believe, originally from the Cabala. Metaphysically speaking, it is the coincidence of each one’s opposite. You come to a point of nothingness and travel through it only to arrive in another dimension. I could suggest that by allowing consciousness and intuition coincide in painting, you then reveal that other dimension and then channel it onto the canvas. Is this then more than simply your own input? And what else could it be? The total sum of consciousness?
Yes, something like that. Showing that you have a certain understanding of how things work. Good work will have that, but also good soccer players, even politicians, and good books, you name it. In really good work there is always this consciousness. There is someone who is at work and who knows exactly what his place is in the world, how he feels about that and how he can navigate out of it if he wants. What I mean is that the ability to see things outside of one’s own perspective shows consciousness. I’ve often thought about what it would be like for a soccer player to crawl out of himself and take a seat in the stands. And from that vantage point look down on himself on the field functioning as a soccer player.
I think that just like that soccer player, the painter also takes a position in the stands, sometimes even while painting. You are creating and you are seeing what you are making, judging it. You are critical. You are player, coach and spectator together in one person and even in every brush stroke. The problem is that one can’t always embody these three characters. And even in your best moments you still have a certain blind spot. You still have a tendency to reach for the same resources, the same solutions. Only when the blind spot has been removed and when you are looking at yourself objectively, only then do you have more than your own perspective. But I think that you must always start by mining your own content. And then you can determine if you can reach a point where you can transcend that place, a point that is quantitatively more than the ultimate expression of your existence.
Perhaps an important question to pose beforehand is ‘with whom am I trying to communicate?’. With people or with something greater? I believe it’s something greater. It would be beautiful to discover that that which comes out of your brain, something you invented by doing, a painting wherein the structures of everything we know and don’t now about the universe, can be found.
A soccer ball is for example based on The Divine Proportion, 12 hexagons and 20 pentagons. As a soccer player I paid no attention to that fact. But now, as an artist I find it to be an essential part of soccer. Twenty-two men kick an object that has perfect proportions and in so doing play a game wherein the underlying structures possibly mimic the movements of the universe. From beginning, when I first started drawing and seriously thinking about a life as an artist I was preoccupied with movement. At the age of 16 I was drawing soccer players. They never stood still. I drew several legs layered over each other to show that a player was always moving. Movement has never left my work. My own movements, literally the brush on the canvas, are essential to me. I definitely could not have made those larger canvases if I would not have been able to move. I’m not only a moving eye; I’m also a moving being. Ultimately all of the movements in the painting solidify and sublimate onto the canvas, forty years of movement at a glance. When you examine a painting of mine I want you to see in fact the abstraction of my understanding of the way things work.