Amsterdam

Rob Van Koningsbruggen

Gallery van Krimpen

Rob van Koningsbruggen’s graphic work from the early ’70s cannot be understood other than as an ironic commentary on the all-too-easy mannerisms of the conceptual art of the time, Later, van Koningsbruggen put his brush literally in the frame, paradoxically by creating brushless works—paintings that painted themselves; canvases covered with a single color, still wet, were pressed face to face and moved or turned against each other to produce irregular patterns of horizontal, vertical, diagonal, or curved strata. The tones used were black, white, and the primary colors red, yellow, and blue.

Van Koningsbruggen maintained this “mechanical” style through the ’70s, but he has now retrieved his brush and relinquished his preference for primary colors. The work remains personal, and throws a remarkable light on the expressionistic painting currently so widespread. On first seeing it one might think van Koningsbruggen uncertain, a novice as yet undecided as to his direction. But this is only an appearance. These tiny, strongly dynamic compositions, suggesting a rejuvenated version of the geometric work of Theo van Doesburg, have slowly but surely proved themselves as achievements in the alchemy of color.

In one series of paintings van Koningsbruggen researches the color black. By mixing yellow, red, and blue he obtains a shade hardly distinguishable from that used to coat the insides of binoculars. His mixing of the primary colors so as to reduce them to colorlessness is reminiscent of a passage in Marguerite Yourcenar’s L’Oeuvre au noir (1968), a novel about a medieval alchemist: “Even the darkness moves, the mists of blackness disperse, giving place to new ones, abyss after abyss, dense shadow after dense shadow. But this black, a different black from the one our eyes perceive, is pregnant with colors, but owes its existence to the absence of these colors; the black changes to sallow green and then to pure white; the pale white is transformed to golden red without the original black disappearing, just as the glow of the stars and the northern lights glitter in what nevertheless is black night.”

It is as if van Koningsbruggen’s hues were not what they are, but instead glowingly opened themselves outward, reflecting spiritual landscapes, moving around the particularity of color. The most persuasive work here, a triptych, consists of one orange, one purple, and one black field, but studying it closely one realizes the inadequacy of this description. The orange is blinding, enclosing one in an impenetrable haze; the purple is fragile, as if it might break down into an amorphous combination of tints at any moment; and the black finally reveals itself as tones of a beautiful ultramarine, of the sort one might see in some rare geological formation. Van Koningsbruggen’s highly individual path has resulted in a remarkable body of work.

Paul Groot

Translated from the Dutch by Michael Latcham.