Saturday, February 21, 2009
Iris van Dongen (Tilburg, 1975, lives and works in Berlin) is a snake-charmer in art. Her work evokes soft sounds, but also a suspicion of furtive danger. She creates painterly drawings that are dominated by women: monumental, multicoloured and mysterious.
With dual layers of pastels and charcoal over one another, Van Dongen evokes gorgeous heroines in a shadowy environment. They could be sisters or, to put it more imaginatively, modern descendants of the goddesses from classical mythology: eternally young, beautiful and strong, and adorned with the allure of a (tragic) princess, even in their sorrow.
Moreover, reflections of the present day and current surroundings converge with memories of romantic or symbolic painting from the nineteenth century, by English Pre-Raphaelites such as John Everett Millais and Viennese Jugendstil artists such as Gustave Klimt. But even with their entire wealth of history, her women are clearly ambassadors of the twenty-first century.
In a period of five years, between 2003 and 2009, they have developed from melancholy girls to emancipated celebrities, who seem to have stepped directly out of a film noir and subsequently perform as pin-ups. Whereas they once let their minds drift away, as endearing figureheads of gothic subculture, clad in black-and-white sweatbands and scarves covered in skulls, they now stand tall and unflinching before the public: as magical creatures with red flash-light eyes, who can indulge in living dragons as amulets and allow a tangle of snakes to twine around their legs.
These femmes fatales are mistress of themselves, nature and the beast in mankind. At the same time, the snake is their weapon, their jewel and their alter ego. The title given by Van Dongen in 2008 to the series of drawings is Suspicious, and it immediately sounds as if the snake himself is speaking. His hissing ensures us that one cannot mock these heroines, alert and self-conscious as they are. They are the high-priestesses of women-power.
Although Van Dongen's work is appealingly well drawn, delicately coloured and richly decorated almost to the point of decadence, that duality of worlds consistently recurs. The seductive and the treacherous are willing bedfellows. Just as the king, queen and jack are duplicated as inverted busts on playing cards, and on tarot cards the fabulous figures lend themselves for an abundance of interpretations, Van Dongen's drawings are replete with contrast: inner and outer, light and dark, life and death, all revelling in a continuous role-play.
Night has Fallen (2005) displays a young girl cloaked by shadow, carrying her heart in her hands, as if she is offering it – perhaps to us, her public, perhaps to a lover who is out of the picture. Elsewhere she advances side by side with death, in works with significant titles such as She is the Night (2004). Here, she emerges from a garden in which a skull can be seen in the leaves of the trees, as in a vision. Her hypnotizing gaze reinforces the feeling that she is situated in a twilight zone, halfway between the present-day and the hereafter, where a skull is more of an object than a symbol; it is more of a creature, like a snake.
The skull, the snake and the devil. In the latest work, Mephisto appears on the scene, sometimes in the background as a sculptural decoration near to a seated woman, but also in person. We see him half dancing with a woman who is hanging in his arms, drowsy with sleep. Their loose embrace is tender, with elegant gestures, and the threat of a cruel twist of fate hangs eternally above them. The drawing entitled Echo (2008) sublimates a moment in time: the indivisible oneness of light and dark. Or, in the words of Van Dongen: ‘It is as if the woman's spirit has become visible next to her body.' With the skull, the snake and the devil, she has life and death walk side by side in all her drawings, as do good and evil. ‘Because that is simply the way we live: with our demons in and around us.'
To accompany the exhibition Iris van Dongen. Suspicious. Drawings 2003 – 2009 a catalogue with a wide selection of the drawings will be published in conjunction with BnM Uitgevers. This book, with an essay by Sacha Bronwasser, will be available in the Museum Shop for € 25.
Quote taken from a conversation between the author and the artist in her studio in Berlin, 13 November 2008
Iris van Dongen. Suspicious
Tekeningen 2003 – 2009
25 januari – 10 mei 2009
Peter Schjeldahl February 9, 2009
Frank O’Hara pegged the going look of urbane sex appeal, in 1962, as “a little ‘down,’ a little effortless and helpless.” He could have been forecasting the dominant fashion in painting almost fifty years later, exemplified in the resonant languors of Luc Tuymans and Elizabeth Peyton and positively exalted, to peaks of forthright ambivalence, by Peter Doig. Concurrent shows, at Michael Werner and Gavin Brown, of the Scots-born, Canadian-raised, English-educated Doig, who lives in Trinidad, answer the question “Why paint now?” with eloquent shrugs. His brushy landscapes and dreamlike or, better, half-awake visions of odd personages (notably “Man Dressed as Bat,” in two versions, at Werner) variously recollect Munch, Klimt, Nolde, Matisse, Rothko, and other past masters, in a spirit less of homage than of smart despair. Doig’s is an art up to its nostrils in historical quicksand. His raffish drawing and quite wonderfully seductive color promote this fix as our best available fun: post-everythingness, for the hip heck of it. ♦