Keir Leslie – 25 March, 2014
It might be said he is interested in the tricks of the trade, in exposing but also delighting in them. Sometimes de Vries makes his processes and methods very clear and sometimes he uses sleight of hand and of eye to disguise them.
Tjalling de Vries
4 March - 22 March 2014.
The punning, allusive pattern of the title flows through Tjalling de Vries‘ latest Christchurch show. The conceit (and conceit is an apt phrase for this exhibition) referred to is that the canvasses presented are scaled-up copies of small, playful compositional studies executed on card. This process is made visible by the choice to show one of those studies alongside the resulting scaled up effort, an exposure of the underlying way of working.
The resulting paintings are large. Most are on linen, with large expanses left bare, but two are painted on polyethylene, clear plastic revealing the underlying cedar stretchers. The blank spaces are littered with a collection of motifs gleaned from the detritus of the studio: the fringe of paint left behind on a surface when a work is taken away, rough pencil lines, the ghost images of masked out areas, cartoon figures, and scribbled loops of paint. The deliberate informality of the motif, and the seemingly slapdash compositions, are belied by the subtle but clear pointers to the precise and contemplative method used to arrive at this result.
For de Vries, painting is a technical process, a deliberate, skilled craft of placing pigment onto support. Clearly, this is a technical process he has a certain amount of mastery over, but one he is still fascinated by. It might be said he is interested in the tricks of the trade, in exposing but also delighting in them. Sometimes de Vries makes his processes and methods very clear and sometimes he uses sleight of hand and of eye to disguise them.
A step into this visible treatment of painting as a technical process is the grid. There are two physically underlying grids in most paintings: the grid of the stretcher, and the weave of the support. These are normally obscured by paint and fabric in the finished painting but de Vries makes them visible. He does this by leaving the support bare, by using a transparent support, and by propping up the paintings in such a way as to render the reverse visible. These grids, matrixes that arise simply from the material structuring of the object, are allowed to proceed into the image in order, it seems, to present a sort of naked truth about the art object.
Yet contrarily, he carefully constructs these images as fiction. The paintings often recall collage, but are resolutely flat, resolutely painted. They often appear spontaneous, but as the smaller compositions reveal, are carefully considered. It is through these contradictions, through these tricks of the trade, that de Vries evidences a complicated project of investigation into the visual complicity of painting.
And if we return to the grid, we see that besides functioning as a bare fact, it is also a sophisticated compositional strategy drawn from the canons of modernist exploration that de Vries has been schooled in. Seemingly off-hand, but coming from a painter who made his name with precisely gridded explorations of the self, it begins to suggest that this body of work is also autobiographical in a sense - a portrait of a practice.
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