Maaike Schoorel

Aptly titled “Album,” Maaike Schoorel’s first solo museum show offers eleven paintings from the past four years that are as ungraspable as sun-bleached photographs or developing Polaroids. At first, Schoorel’s canvases seem almost blank; they appear to be abstract monochromes in shades of white. However, with some effort on the viewer’s part, subtle brushstrokes of pale colors and soft lines convincingly emerge to suggest an image.

Schoorel’s slow art aims to intensify the act of perception. In providing only the fragments of an unknown scene, her paintings are reminiscent of Cy Twombly’s works of the early 1960s. But formally, there are great differences between the two. Schoorel’s fragments imply meaning only in relation to one another, whereas Twombly’s marks can also be read as separate symbols. It is the potential connection between certain entities that interests Schoorel. She asks us to visualize an invisible structure and to think about how one sees and composes images. Her focus is on the workings of observation, that domain in which forms, figures, and atmospheres are exchanged. Still, it seems that Roland Barthes’s famous interpretation of Twombly’s painting as constituting an “event” also applies to the much younger artist. “We must take a painting,” Barthes wrote in “The Wisdom of Art” in 1979, “as a kind of traditional stage: The curtain rises, we look, we wait, we receive, we understand.”

It would be inaccurate, however, to accept the interaction between painting and viewer to be Schoorel’s sole concern. The artist very consciously selects her sources, and the viewer is expected to recognize these in the “event.” Titles are helpful in this matter: Still Life with Carafe, 2006; Birthday, 2004; Naomi, 2008; or Parnassia Beach, 2006, all hint at traditional genres in Dutch painting, thus calling to mind familiar images. But the expectations around the conventional seascape or portrait are always challenged and sometimes not met. Take The Wedding, 2005, where even after minutes of observation there is still no wedding ring, no flowers, no people, not even the shadow of a wedding couple. Is it abstract, in the end?

It is clear from her most recent paintings that Schoorel keeps balancing on the thin line between abstract and figurative painting. Girl with Dog and Young Woman Turning, both small-size works from 2008, are surprisingly straightforward. Although painted in light tones, the representational image is present from the very outset. It is as if the artist were interrupted in the process of gradually reducing her figures, so that in the context of the show, these more fully rendered paintings seem paradoxically unfinished, like studies. Or, on the contrary, they could be taken to illustrate the point at which the observer almost completed the trajectory of uncovering the image from what first seemed to be a monochrome. These paintings do not offer the silent exercise of looking, the physical participation in the perceptual event, which Schoorel’s earlier, and more intriguing, near-monochromes prolifically do.

Saskia van der Kroef