OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Jeroen Witvliet

Wayfarer - Hounds
Oil on canvas
190 x 260 cm

The moody, nearly monotone world of JEROEN WITVLIET's paintings appears to be one on the brink of destruction or already just past it. It seems like tremendous clouds of dust from a recent disaster have settled over the surface of everything. Regardless, Jeroen seeks to reveal the presence of the "Poetic" amidst the aggressive stadium crowds, the beached and overturned boats and the endless piles of broken boards and branches. Jeroen earned his BFA from Willem De Kooning Academy in Rotterdam, Netherlands and his MFA from the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada. He has had solo exhibitions at Slide Room Gallery (Victoria, BC), Zerp Gallery (Rotterdam) and Elissa Cristall Gallery (Vancouver). His current solo show, Wayfarer, at Kelona Art Gallery in British Columbia will close on October 18, 2015, so there's still time to see it. Born in the Netherlands, Jeroen now lives in Victoria, British Columbia.

OtherPeoplesPixels: The definition of wayfarer is "a person who travels on foot." In the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, many words with vastly different connotations are cited as synonyms: drifter, gadabout, gypsy, knockabout, maunderer, rambler, roamer, rover, stroller, vagabond, wanderer, nomad. Who is the wayfarer in your current show at Kelowna Art Gallery in British Columbia, Canada? Do any of these connotations apply?

Jeroen Witvliet: The Wayfarer is, to me, an abstraction, a situation one might find oneself in, a place where we wonder, where decisions need to be made or  a place in which we feel utterly lost. Lost by accident or by choice. A wayfarer is also a person who travels between communities without being part of either one, a person who brings tidings from one place to another. A messenger without roots. The wayfarer in this show is everyone and no one at the same time.

Part I
Oil on canvas
180x200 cm

OPP: I see both narratives and symbols of violence, aggression and the aftermath of destruction. It's in the dead bodies of Part I and Part II (2014), the recurring beached and overturned boats, the drones and the fighting figures of Feral, as well as the chaotic landscapes of Wayfarer. Are you an optimist or a pessimist about the contemporary world we live in?

JW: The work comes into being while being surrounded by media and news images, reading newspapers and listening to radio. Violence and aggression finds a way into the work, but I am not making any direct references to specific events. I can't say that I am neutral, but I try not to have an overtly pessimistic world view get in the way of creating images. I need them to carry a sense of the Poetic. Something you can't put your finger on, a sense of wonder and beauty even though that might not be the first association made by the viewer. If the work escapes definition they become like the the world I find myself in, nothing is either this or that.

Man in front of Crowd
Oil on Canvas
30 x 24 cm

OPP: Could you talk about when you choose not to exhibit your paintings on the wall? I'm thinking about the moveable display structures in Wayfarer and the unprimed, unstretched canvases of Feral. What makes one painting right for the wall and another beg to become more sculptural?

JW: The choice to take paintings of the wall and exhibit them as movable displays took some time. I have experimented with mounting work on different structures or as loose canvas hanging off the wall for some years and have, for now settled on showing work that is placed on custom-built wooden structures. This way I can vary the space in between the works and give the space in which the work is displayed a new feel. I can move works closer, opposite of each other or angle them and so create charged, in-between spaces. It is important to me to show that the work is two-dimensional and contains some sort of lie. The suggestion that we look into a space, a painted space, is being addressed by showing the backside and the structure that is used to stretch the canvas.

The works in Feral, on the other hand, are based on banners that are carried in protests. Instead of text, I use images that relate to protests on the banners. They are carried around by whoever wants to during exhibitions, constantly changing the way the work looks. When the works get dirty or damaged a sense of the passing of time is present. This adds to the work. The idea of time also plays a role in the structures with mounted work on them. While observing the work the viewer is asked to move around more, discovering relationships between the various works, linking or creating different narratives. Awareness of space and the passing of time become more present.

Acrylic on unprimed canvas on found wooden support bars
Variable installation

OPP: You are predominantly a painter, but have also studied film at Emily Carr University in Vancouver. Some paintings—Stadium, empty field (2013) and Lights (2013), for example—are based on stills from videos you made, but you don't include the videos themselves on your site. Is video and film just a tool for painting in your practice? How has thinking about the moving image affected your work in painting?

JW: Video and film can give us a a different sense and sensation of the passing of time. To me they can investigate and address issues surrounding spatial experience, narrative, angles of viewing and memory. How images in film are sequential has influenced my way of thinking about repetition, rhythm and how to deal with the possibility of narrative in the paintings. Editing in video has taught me how to edit my work when hanging a show. The work is made with the presentation in mind, the relationship between the works are of great importance to the overall experience of the work.

My video/film work stands by itself even though there are very distinct similarities. The video work has become very simplified over time, a single point of view recording the passage of a vessel or stadium lights turning on. These recordings do influence the way I paint. I might ask what changes take place over time when observing something for 30 minutes or more. Does our sensation of time apply to painting where we assume the image is static. To me there is no static image in painting: you look, turn around, come back to the same painting and a shift has taken place. Your memory and consequently the associations are triggering the possibility for different perspectives.

Day to Night to Day, Hands II

OPP: I see a connection between the grasping hands and packed stadiums. While the hands are about the relationships between a few people and the stadiums are about the crowd, both have implicit elements of connection, disconnection and desperation. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the relationship between these repeated motifs.

JW: The paintings of hands and the stadium pieces are both investigating the ongoing relationship of an individual to a group and the shifting mentality of society to idea, belief systems and radical thought. How does the mentality of a group relate to the feelings and emotions of the individual? How does one become part of a group and act accordingly or how does one become outcast/separated from a group?  With the hands, I am looking for intimacy of one person to another, realizing that in a group a different intimacy might exist. The fragile bond between individuals extends itself to the bonds between the group and the individual and between groups that define themselves as being different from the other group. The hands might hold something close to desire, longing, desperation or eroticism. They are human. This humanity can be easily lost in the group. I’m interested in questioning how we maintain our sense of self when confronted with chaos and change or the radical outburst of groups—whether small or stadium-sized. Are we spectators or participants or is that line too blurred to even distinguish?

To see more of Jeroen's work, please visit jeroenwitvliet.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Stacia recently completed an installation for Chicago Artists' Coalition's 2015 Starving Artist Benefit and is currently working towards a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, for O’Connor Art Gallery at Dominican University (River Forest, IL). The show will open on November 5, 2015.