Ton Van Summeren

’T Venster

Are we ever disturbed, surprised, or awestruck nowadays when we encounter the lovely presence of gods and goddesses in an artwork? Maybe in the Middle Ages the mythical appearances of the classical gods could provoke the necessary shiver in the observer. But since the Renaissance the presence of gods and goddesses in fine arts has returned to the playful character it must have had during early Greek times. The erotic-playful connotations these figures suggest can offer great pleasure when we notice their presence anew in contemporary art.

In much of his recent work, Ton van Summeren seems to have responded to the call of the Roman philosopher Cicero: to attach the same godliness to the stars as to the gods. For several years he has been intent on recording the most extreme frontiers of our micro- as well as macro-world. Van Summeren uses the tradition of the mythological constellations, and gives renewed life to the gods of classical Western mythology, as well as those from the astrological domain. The artist’s risky, ambitious intention is to find metaphors in the celestial and cosmic planetary revolutions, metaphors that sometimes act as mirrors of his own artistic process.

Van Summeren concerns himself with the relationship between creation and photographic precision, both on the most elementary and the most cosmic level. He is caught in a strange symbiosis, in which his continuing discoveries of the structure of creation connect with the development of his own artistry. His ambition goes wrong when he takes his projects a bit too seriously, but his work is the strongest when the element of play comes to life and he lets visual and verbal jokes prevail over scientific connotations. The risk Van Summeren takes is evident in his effort to approach the boundaries of what can be made visible. One can see this problem in his work all too often: the ambition to outdo life itself. The eternal artistic desire to be larger than life is stirred up by the fantastic possibilities opened up by new photographic techniques. The artist is often swept away by the euphoria engendered by his project: the unraveling of the structure of creation. But in losing sight of his own dimensions he almost becomes one with the gods and goddesses that populate his paintings. That moment of deification of the artist is something striking. But I would rather see Van Summeren be spared the fall that is bound to follow.

Paul Groot

Translated from the Dutch by Ruth Füglislaller.