Irene van de Mheen

Galería Magda Bellotti

Irene van de Mheen is a Dutch artist who has lived in Spain since 1992. Since she graduated from art school, her work has been connected to the Dutch Neo-Plasticist legacy and to its formulation, which was concerned with the oppositions found in the most basic elements of painting—color, line, and space. Van de Mheen has added another element to this formulation, one fundamental to her work: an emphasis on the manual nature of the artist’s work (especially drawing), as opposed to perfection. Another component that many Neo-Plasticists toyed with and that van de Mheen also uses frequently is the notion of space as both a real and a visual element, one with which artwork interrelates in a variety of ways.

A Dutch artist whose work is rooted in Neo-Plasticism might be suspected of seeking facile identification with an artistic commonplace, a sort of visiting card for a foreign audience. Van de Mheen doesn’t fall into that trap. Her works convey the emotion that lies at their core, in pieces that play with the relationship between theory and feeling. Her simple and beautiful drawings from the mid-’90s insinuate, on one hand, a contrast between the manufactured and imperfect, and, on the other, concrete constructed spaces. These theoretical formulations were soon transferred to real space: In 1996, she created Mera apariencia (Mere Appearance), an installation in La Capella de Barcelona, which made reference to both an existing architectural space and its immaterial equivalent, drawn on the floor and walls in colored chalk. Since then she has made various works that articulate an affinitive yet ambiguous relationship between physical space and the representation of the plane.

While her work has remained true to its beginnings, she has explored the use of a variety of supports and even moved into different media. Drawing is still important, but she also makes small sculptures, porcelain reliefs, piles of ceramic blocks, and even photographs of small constructions. The photographic series “Lugares” (Places), 2007–, portrays crude models of buildings, in which empty space is crucial. These works recall James Casebere’s images of architectural sets. But whereas in Casebere’s work the ambiguity between reality and stylization is crucial, van de Mheen accentuates unreality and falsification. Her work strips the image of ornamentation and underlines its facticity. Also outstanding are her small constructions in unglazed earthenware, which lie somewhere between models for potentially real buildings and pure spatial ideas. Here, as in her early work, the tension between the imperfection of the manual and the perfection of the idea—represented by that which might be constructed mechanically—is paramount.

Pablo Llorca

Translated from Spanish by Jane Brodie.