Joost de Jonge about his work

Joost de Jonge: Neo-Modern Synthesis by Peter Frank




The overall principle of his work is the expression of an unconscious infinity as described in the art-theory of Schelling, which emanates from the joining of nature and freedom in the work of art. Hence, he looks upon his work as a painterly Nirvana, the expression of an overall blissful state.

Another main thought for Joost de Jonge to express, is the travelling of the individual Soul in an endless universe; a thought and feeling which is inspired by the writings of Hinduism.

In general one creates borders for oneself, to create a frame of reference, you can look upon the painted picture as such a frame, only this frame, i.e. Joost's painting, refers to the elusive dimension of space; space as an abstract quality, but the actual space too, in which everything exists; the actual space of the universe of which science (Newtonian physics) has not been able to determine it's border, these scientists talk about an expanding universe, but fail to describe in which space the universe expands. It is this realisation that Joost wishes to express in his work, the dimension of the divine , the endless depth of creation ,the unattainable, yet which is so real and innate to the experience of being human, the sublimity of human consciousness.

The initial spark

I always start working with small sketches, sometimes on small pieces of paper that were left over from a previous work. Usually I just start looking for formal relations, intuitively, almost as with ‘écrire automatique’, which the surrealists applied (Masson/Tanguy and others); just reaching within myself as I move my pencil. Do I find something substantial? If I do, I'll work with these forms and repeat the pattern; adjusting it over and over until I find the drawing/composition that fits and matches the initial spark. It really is about this spark; the spark that remains a mystery; without this spark there's no art. The inspiration determines the start of the work and the meaning of the lines/composition. The inspiration is all-determining. The execution of the work strives to maintain this original initial spark; to enlarge it and to make it understandable to the viewer.

On colour

I like to see a colour as an abstract quantity. You cannot imagine the end of a colour when you say red, for instance. Think of this impossibility to define the quantity of a colour, as you experience it in your mind; then combine this with a specific tone of colour and you've got my idea of the quality of colour. For me it is so that I sometimes close my eyes and experience an overwhelming flux of colours; for example when listening to music I can experience the vision of numerous different colours flowing freely. Each of these colours has a very specific value of recognition in my memory and actual experience. These colours do not refer to any concrete reality or experience that is outside the colour itself. The colour contains its own base; is its own axiom. I like to grant the colour a true life of its own. Imagine the light of a star coming to you. You can still see this light, even though it has travelled over a million light years. But the star sending it to you has already vanished; there's only the light. So I see colours in my mind that shine like the colours of that star.

Thoughts on the progression of my work

My work is developing into increasingly complex and layered expression of meanings. I am gaining more and more insight in composition; in the interplay of form and its effect on the spectator as well as in the psychology of perceiving images.

Also the depth of my spirit and understanding of, for example, what heaven could be and what my experience of God is, religion & the Self, is expanding; these acquisitions of knowledge are mixed with experience and artistic growth. It's my aim now to always express, above all, essentials like: truthfulness/redemption/love/infinity; but this never without great enjoyment of my skill and stretching the material to the limits of its possibilities.

I really don’t want to fear being too elaborated, or to be including too many subjects. I have a lot of interests and am fascinated by almost every aspect of painting and am happy to research all I can in the medium of my choice. Of course I've set clear boundaries, [I’m an abstract painter] for I want to attain a result that has a consistency and the possibility of meaning something on the modern art scene; the art of this era. I feel that one of my greatest powers to mean something in modern art is emphasising the individuality of colour of a shade of colour as individual and stressing the abstract value of this colour; the endlessness of its existence in the frame of spiritual awareness; of the human imaginative faculty.

Artists I admire

I truly admire Cezanne, van Gogh, Gaugain, Seurat, Odilon Redon, Mondrian, De Kooning, Pollock, David Shapiro, David Reed, David Hockney, Chardin, Macke, Kandinsky, Klee, Delaunay, Picasso, Tapies, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Botero, Morandi, Enzo Cucchi, Mark Rothko, Giacometti, Soll Lewit and many others, for very specific and differing reasons.

Odilon Redon has enchanted me and captured my attention for the arts; I was nine years old when I saw a picture of his (the cyclops) in The Kröller-Müller museum, the Netherlands, that touched me inside and made me aware of my soul. It was a moment where time and space were limitless. It made me decide that I wanted to be an artist. It gave me an idea what was to be the topic of the artist; the topic was the reference to his soul and to make others recognise their soul in themselves. In painting, part of the artist's topic for me is also to express the great pleasure and longing the reference to my soul and a more universal awareness of 'The Soul' brings me.

Joost de Jonge













By Peter Frank

The paintings of Joost de Jonge – bright, rhythmic, voluptuous – seem at first glance high-spirited, easily devised, and readily comprehended. Their actual complexity hides behind their immediate appeal. Determined in fact through relatively elaborate reasoning, the paintings are driven by deeply felt philosophical perception, aesthetic consideration, and art-historical consciousness.

De Jonge’s palette, for one thing, may superficially look designed to elicit a childlike joy and excitement. But the color values, their combinations, and their disposition through each canvas render them, on repeated inspection, increasingly harsh and even menacing. Their chromas tend not simply to the sweet, but to the acidic, and the recurrence of colors seems at once random and relentless, as if de Jonge were setting up, then thwarting, a basic decorative pattern. As much as de Jonge’s extravagant curves and exaggerated figure-ground relationships initially delight the eye and perhaps even move the body, they ultimately insinuate a dissonant overtone into our visual consciousness.

This dissonance, abetted by de Jonge’s similarly rich, creamy, almost turgid painterliness, is as deliberate as is his superficial optical appeal: it is a constructive dissonance rather than a critical one, created for the sake not of provocation but of comprehension. De Jonge wishes to expand our visual vocabulary with such dissonance, to make us recognize its integrity, even its centrality, within the consonance of our quotidian apprehension. What bothers us about de Jonge’s painting is what benefits us; what attracts us to de Jonge’s painting is what brings us to what bothers us.

This subversive play of opposites comprises the kind of dialectical relationship that characterized modernist pictorial discourse – indeed, on which that discourse was in large part founded. De Jonge subscribes to the modernist impulse, to its construct of the world and the necessity of art within that world. The “modernist impulse,” supplanted by post-modernism at least a third of a century ago, hardly seems timely. In fact, the re-examination of that impulse in the wake of post-modernism’s apotheosis and subsequent exhaustion – and in the wake as well of the profound effect the computer universe has had on the entire fabric of our lives – has brought about a neo-modernist response, one which does not so much reassert the ideals of modernism as simply rekindle its idealism. De Jonge’s paintings in effect embody, perhaps symbolize, that idealism, bespeaking a sense that the forces of our world standing in polar opposition can in fact be reconciled.

The concurrence of optical delight and rational order in de Jonge’s painting manifests the resolution of a powerful dialectic, one with which modernism itself struggled valiantly. Evident as far back as ancient Greek discourse, the urge to synthesize the twinned human tendencies to impulse and reason has foundered constantly on the propensity of each tendency to demand primacy over the other. Modernism’s overriding agon, in fact, can be regarded as this argument – between cubism and expressionism, constructivism and surrealism, minimalism and pop art, and so forth, polarized tendencies that capture the extremes of a Zeitgeist. In fact, the “third stream” of modernism, from futurism and dada through fluxus and conceptualism, does propose (however awkwardly or incidentally) a synthesis of the Dionysian and Apollonian modalities – and it is this urge toward synthesis that impels neo-modernist investigation.

In de Jonge’s case, we can see – and feel – a conflation of sensuality and cerebrality, passion and logic sourced in modernist attitudes specific to (among other things) Dutch artistic practice. It may seem anachronistic in a trans-national age to identify de Jonge as “Dutch;” but if we can now define local styles as the result of taste and proximity rather than any sort of genetic predisposition – that is, as the result of environment rather than heredity – we can readily see how de Jonge’s sharp-edged but voluptuous forms and hotly hued but coolly chroma’d colors reflect equally the models of, for instance, de Stijl and CoBrA.

Significantly, de Jonge professes to have been influenced by the musical theory of Arnold Schoenberg (especially, but not solely, with regard to color relationships), and by the tendency of twentieth-century music in general to harness the passionate and the reasoned to one another. In his neo-modernist quest for dialectical resolution, the painter is by his own admission indebted to models of sonic and temporal expression as he is to static visual form. The notational procedure that informs de Jonge’s compositional method – rendering his preparatory drawings conceptually engaging in their own right – not only follows classic painterly procedure, but mirrors the task that befalls instrumentalists when they perform a composer’s score: they must adhere to described parameters and at the same time must inflect their performance with heartfelt interpretation.

Given de Jonge’s urge to synthesis, many artists, modern and earlier, have influenced his development to this point – especially considering that it was not that long ago he was practicing a visionary kind of figuration, one that relied on exacting technique to render unstable, dreamlike scenarios. Access to various philosophies and theologies (beginning with exposure to the Sufism his grandfather practiced) has also informed the painter’s attitudes and practice. And profound cultural and natural revelations, such as his exposure in depth to the work of Miro and Picasso and to the Iberian light and soil which shaped them, figure prominently in de Jonge’s evolution from the post-modernist dysphoria of his figural work to the neo-modernist play of his abstraction. 

Many contemporary artists, it is true, can claim similarly broad access to exotic sources and disparate phenomena; our rapidly shrinking world now puts its manifold gifts in our hands almost without effort. But de Jonge does not take these gifts for granted. He uses them to spur his own investigations and production, almost as if impelled by a sense of responsibility to the peoples of the earth whom he now finds so close at hand. If our globe has diminished to the point where we find ourselves next door to everyone else, we need to resolve fundamental differences and enter into a spirit of “serious play” with our fellow humans (as, indeed, with our entire environment). The dialectic between the creative and destructive, the rational and the uncanny, the considered and the impulsive, must come not simply to equilibrium, but to union – and in as delightful a manner as possible. Joost de Jonge’s art models this union, in this manner.

Los Angeles

June 2009