Erik Andriesse

Van Gogh Museum

In no other country is the tradition of painting as burdensome to contemporary artists as it is in Holland, and there is no other genre which respects traditional values as much as the still life. Whoever refers to specific parts of this tradition has to realize that he not only is stuck with an artistic but also with an exhausting moral baggage, which can offer hardly any relevant answers to current questions. Therefore, a contemporary painter who dares to tackle the still life anew has to have his senses tuned as much to moral as to artistic questions.

It has taken Erik Andriesse a lot of energy these past years to find a place in regards to this tradition. He never let himself be trapped by the realism of the flower still-life tradition of the seventeenth century, nor has he held with the genre’s rancid romantic revival of the last century. His paintings, which are set in a modern idiom, remain sensitive to the kitsch aspects that are often connected with this genre. But, at best, they seem to have only flirted with the consequences of kitsch. In the beginning, Andriesse seemed to hope for some sort of a free interaction between an abstracting tendency and the possible emblematic content of the still lifes. Later he studied the work of Chinese calligraphers, but the external results of these studies showed no transcendental clarity. His images that employed the traditional skull motif had the effect of seeming spectacular and fashionable. But where was Andriesse’s personal vision?

Perhaps I have underestimated the experimental power of kitsch, which turns out to be the binding factor in Andriesse’s development. For it is least of all the living image of the experience of nature or its possible claim to a spiritual, transcendental experience that make this exposition so successful. However, it is exactly in the alienating experience of his still lifes—the erotic poisonous colors of the amaryllis, the contained white virginity of the lilies, the blotchy skin of the pineapples—that the moral aspects of his work are made clear, further revealing an intensely personal moral search.

The first work here is the large-scale Amaryllis, 1988, the only canvas completely suited to the architecture of the museum. It is a painting in which Andriesse plays all his trump cards, creating a shiver-provoking, pleasurable contrast between the red of the flower petals and the green of the stalk leaves. The red of the amaryllis spreads in full intensity over the background, where it is integrated in a Rorschachlike structure that manifests itself as a bloody sunset. The plant stands out against this melting red—the saturated sensuality of the blossom, the filigreelike drawing of the pistils, the well-balanced variation in the design of the leaves. An incredibly fierce, touching, and aggressive image of nature arises, consumed with burning, blown-up, and fiery splendor. Andriesse cancels an age-old pictorial tradition with an image of almost magical eclecticism.

Paul Groot

Translated from the Dutch by Ruth Füglislaller.