Artist Profile - Jan Maarten Voskuil

Posted by Seena Shahmardi on

The work of Jan Maarten Voskuil (Arnhem, 1964) is based on the idea that an item of art is simply an object and refers to nothing else but itself. In his work, Voskuil makes use of a limited number of forms whose origin lies in the circle and/or the rectangle. His objects consist of white-primed canvases, spanned on wooden frames, adorned with one or a few colours. However, the wooden frames are curved so that the paintings become three-dimensional and thus assume the shape of sculptures.

The ‘distortions’ of the wooden frames are systematic and are implemented according to mathematical principles. As a result, circles can change into polygons. By placing the canvases in a corner or against the ceiling, they link the wall with the ceiling or the walls with one another. Through the curvature or fragmentation of their surface, the canvases themselves breach their two-dimensional nature and infiltrate the space in which they find themselves. Cornered Square (2007), Ambivalent Shape Gold (2011), Dynamic Monochrome (2012) are titles of objects that have been installed in a dynamic and light-footed way, different from the manner in which a painting or sculpture is normally hung or positioned. 
A series of small canvases, based on a circular shape, each with its own colour, bears the title The Alphabet of Silly Colors. ‘Alphabet’ is the term for a collection of symbols for a script – colours in this case. Although the colours largely determine the character of the symbols, their role is subject to discussion: it is allegedly ‘silly’. With this, the system of formal ordering (variations on a basic form) is qualified by furnishing it with apparently insignificant colours. With this approach, which can also be found in other works, Voskuil puts into perspective the rigid visual language that is so typical of earlier minimal and concrete visual art. He allows the objects to explain themselves, as it were, in terms of form, colour and title, rather than comment on them himself.
The title of the exhibition Jan Maarten Voskuil. Pointing Inside, also emphasizes that it is about works that refer to nothing else but themselves. This principle was first formulated by the Dutch artist and theoretician Theo van Doesburg in 1929. According to Van Doesburg, art did not need to represent perceptible reality; art did not issue from nature but from the ‘mind’ of the artist and, for that reason, should not attempt to resemble nature but ought to be abstract. An artwork is made in accordance with a preconceived idea, using elementary visual resources (colours and planes) that do not refer to our surrounding reality. This notion had much influence on the development of modern art in the twentieth century and enjoyed its last peak, at least for the time being, in the minimal art of the second half of the 1960s.


The visual language of elementary forms and colours that accompanies this notion is once more a hot item. A new generation of artists, including Jan Maarten Voskuil, is again exploring – in its own individual way – the possibilities that this language offers. The title ‘Pointing Inside’ is also a comment by Voskuil on the dominant artistic attitudes of the 1970s and 1980s, when artists had an urge to change and conquer the world. In this framework, the emphasis was placed upon the environment in which an artwork manifested itself, instead of critically reflecting on the work itself.

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