Ruud van Empel’s work can be seen in Galerie Fontana until January 20, 2024. Until now, photography and painting have been his frames of reference, but the artist is taking steps towards a new visual language.
At fairs, visitors invariably stand close to Ruud van Empel’s work to take a good look at how those extremely clear, mirror-smooth images are actually put together. A rhetorical question almost always follows: photoshop, right? There is a hint of contempt in it, as if it is worth less because it is not a photo au naturel.
Van Empel’s work, now on display in Galerie Fontana, looks like photography but is not. The artist started out as a classic collage maker, who put his compositions together using cutting and pasting. But in the 1990s he belonged – together with Micha Klein and Daniëlle Kwaaitaal, among others – to the first generation of artists who exchanged the camera for the computer.
Every square millimeter of Van Empel’s work is constructed, down to the shadows. Hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of computer work are involved. The saturated colors and extreme sharpness create images that are more than hyper-realistic. They are post-realistic. It is the reality of another level of perception.
Freckled heads and fat ones
However, as a viewer you cannot help but relate it to your own reality. This is especially true of Van Empel’s somewhat older children’s portraits, a number of which Fontana shows.
Generation #1 for example, shows a class photo with primary school students in all shades of color. A kind of United Colors of Benetton, the advertising campaign with which the Italian fashion brand was the first to consciously take a multicultural path in the 1980s.
But where the Benetton models were all undisputed beauties, Van Empel’s class is populated by glasses wearers, freckle heads and fat ones. However, they are perfect in their imperfection. Not surprising when you consider that they are made up of pixels, from carrot hair to a prickly spencer.
In Van Empel’s new work, children make way for trees and flowers. He pushes the most analogue imaginable, nature, into a digital mould. This provides glimpses into forests, where a red bush glows between mossy trunks and diffuse spots of light dance around that seem to have been applied with a very fine brush.
Painterly associations are even more apparent in the series Voyage Pittoresque. These compositions with flowers are reminiscent of 17th-century flower still lifes. Just like Willem van Aelst, Van Empel combines plants that you would never see together in the wild, but that contrast nicely in color and shape. You can also discover beetles, ants, butterflies and even birds among the flora.
Beauty of chemical dump site
With his fields of blooming wild flowers, Van Empel switches again to a more photographic and contemporary frame of reference. They have the same rarefied clarity as Poisonous landscape (1992) by photographer Wout Berger. But where Berger shows the deceptive beauty of a chemical dump site, with Van Empel there is nothing but beauty.
He must also have felt that something was missing and that he had to give his work an extra twist to make it more than photography or painting, but with different means. He found the answer during the corona period when he was messing around with ink and oil in his studio.
The series delivered that Pollution op: abstract compositions that evoke the image of poisoned industrial estates. But they are more than that. Spot on spot and drop on drop, they are at the same time endlessly deep and completely superficial. Here, something is no longer imitated, but something new is created. Van Empel takes a big step towards a visual language that is completely unique to his digital medium and can no longer be mistaken by anyone as polished photography or imitation painting.
Ruud van Empel: Making Natureuntil January 20, 2024 at Galerie Fontana.
Linen objects and sunsets
Fleur van Dodewaard (1983) shows eighteen objects in two materials, linen and porcelain, at Dudokdegroot. They are often small works of art. And porcelain also shrinks by 20 percent when fired, making the objects even smaller during production.
Van Dodewaard did not know that until recently, because she had never made porcelain objects before. Earlier this year she worked for three months at the European Ceramic Work Center (EKWC) in Oisterwijk. There she made things that were not particularly planned, but that happened at that moment. Objects that were created, for example, by a simple action, such as rolling a rolling pin over a ball of clay.
The linen objects are not traditional paintings with stretcher bars, they hang on the wall with nails. Sometimes they are folded or partly rolled up, other works are made up of different strips. The work is ultimately about looking. Van Dodewaard: “How do you relate to that object? I was looking for a certain kind of freedom. I hope that when looking at the work, a kind of poetic space is created.”
Galerie Dudokdegroot, Tweede Laurierdwarsstraat 1-3, until 18/11
Photos of sunsets remain irresistibly beautiful and kitschy at the same time, whether they are taken from the kitchen window or on a tropical beach. Popel Coumou (1978) took such photos from her friends and turned them into collages.
These are built up in layers and rarely have anything to do with skies or beaches. Interiors with an open window, a chair or a staircase, these are motifs that appear regularly. Coumou also shows the art of omission at Torch. With a few lines she conjures up a realistic staircase.
“You don’t have to make the entire staircase, our brain still wants to recognize everything and put it into boxes.” And because of the origin of the photos – the sunsets and other skies – the collages seem to radiate light. “Air is my photographic palette.”
Popel Coumou, Torch, Lauriergracht 94, until 23/12