APRIL IS THE CRUELLEST MONTH
Working in the tradition of figurative painting, my practice tends to explore big themes surrounding love, sex and death. My current work marks a shift from painting the human figure towards depictions of nature, interiors, animals and objects such as statues. Psychosexual and performative self-portraits dominated my early paintings. Personal experience, and other accounts from friends and strangers are often the starting point for my work. Bearing witness to the increasing dementia of my grandmother, the psychosis of a friend, and aging process of a dog were the initial impetus for these new works. Through the language of paint I am interested in depicting moments of clarity, comfort, isolation and frenzy. Loss and feeling lost in a mixed bag of memories are portrayed via realistic fragments and abstraction.
In the new grouping of paintings by Doreen Wittenbols she represents places and objects as points of reference conveying memory and a sense of displacement, solitude, melancholia, isolation, hope and renewal. The images function as “snapshots” of the artists’ personal repertoire of iconic windows and glances. If lost, we look to familiar imagery to grasp reality and ground us. An artificial fireplace, a sky with clouds, a landscape with flood lights, or the corner of a ceiling and lamp in her grandmothers’ room, are the kind of images of place which remind us of the moments of emotive memory which hold our reality together.
With titles such as Shine a Light, Matters of the Dark, Another Old Year, Souvenir and The Poppy Painting to name a few, Wittenbols’ paintings make a reference to the personal transposed into art as a fragmented poetic narrative. These settings form an ambiguous map, which in their macabre presence and atmosphere displace our sense of time. Events and perceptions overlap.
The artists’ view representing fragments of places evoke broader conceptual questions of how we hold our closest memories in our imagination. It is this reflexive experience, which engages the viewer in his or her own subjective interpretation of the works. Each painting is a trigger for an abstract associative process filtered and edited through our emotional lens. The viewer wants to complete the story as a sequence of events unfolding but is suspended between the juxtaposed images in the stillness and intimacy of banal moments. Hiding behind the melancholic moods, light emerges to challenge the surfaces with hope. These existential moments are the threads that connect the perceptions and memory of the artist. Each work expresses moments of light in contrast to darkness.
I’m now employing places, the landscape as well as objects as metaphors for vulnerability instead of the human figure, as in my past work.
Time becomes a memento as in seeing a loosely defined palm tree or the sketchy impression of a dog. In this visual poetic structure Wittenbols’ informs us about how we remember and build up our narratives through personal experience. How we use language to string our memories together in an intuitive and interpretive way. We want to make sense of the events that make up a lifetime but we see isolated presences, which we form and bring together. It is in this struggle to try and form associative connections in memory that Wittenbols’ work unfolds in space, mirroring time and intimacy as a projected place in the act of seeing as expression.
The paintings have an emotional energy and atmosphere expressed through loose painterly intense, brush strokes, using oil on paper, canvas and photographic prints. The paintings are installed in a specific compositional arrangement to intensify the meaningful relationships. The intuitive working process exposes slight differences in duration, time and iconography. Sometimes through small-scale changes, the shapes of the surface or the appearance of cameo like edges, often with strong color and contrast, the images remind us of camera obscura and pinhole cameras. Projected images seen in the minds eye, held in the imagination of the viewer. The stillness of the images makes the world stop for just a moment, enabling us to focus and reflect on our own stories, enabling us to see and feel our memory and imagination as performative experience.
I am interested in how I can articulate this not only in the content of my work but also with oil paint… a medium that is messy, sometimes difficult and disappointing, but also very sensual, seductive, feisty and fluid… like life itself. As much as you may want to try and control/manipulate or go with the flow, you never know exactly what will happen next.
-Interview & text by Charlie Citron