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Esther Tielemans and Jon Pilkington

30 Jan 2017 Heske ten Cate

Currently, Esther Tielemans and Jon Pilkington exhibit in Rotterdam CINNAMON. Heske ten Cate is researching the works of both artists to trace the background of the works.

Esther Tielemans, ‘the past inside the present’, installation view,courtesy CINNNAMON, Rotterdam photografie door Noortje Knulst
Esther Tielemans, ‘the past inside the present’, installation view,courtesy CINNNAMON, Rotterdam photografie door Noortje Knulst

Esther Tielemans
Those who have followed Esther Tielemans (1976) over the years will know that she has tested the outer limits of painting. Beyond simply turning to a single medium and pallet, she seeks to comprehend the foundations of painting and its significance as an art form. Her transformation has been so remarkable that one might forget that Tielemans began as a landscape painter. After her graduation she picked up the trail where the great landscape painters Monet and Bierstadt had last left their mark, carefully continuing their journey. This pilgrimage finally led to her monochrome artworks; so glossy and reflective that they place the viewer within the landscape. A new dimension was born, one that would leave Caspar David Friedrich scratching his head, full of self-satisfaction; man is placed directly within this new world, as its centerpoint, but even so, only takes form as a dubious contour.

Her sculptures then followed, used by Tielemans to construct new landscape decors. After the reflection of her epoxy monochromes, one could interpret this next step as a metaphorical mirror: does the ‘landscape’ even exist, or is the artificial human fabrication that we call landscape just as ‘real’ as the mise-en-scène that Tielemans so precisely constructs with her sculptures in the museum gallery? By deconstructing the land, reducing it to facets and colours, the artist tinkers with a deep collective memory of the landscape. 

All roads, periods and styles meet in the series ‘Past inside the present’. Tielemans’ three-dimensional sculptures are reduced to the planar surface, however the matt depth applied in layers of paint and the ‘frame’ in which the panels are presented ensure that they by no means lose their spatial quality. The six monumental artworks hang next to each other like large windows, compelling the viewer to enter the new world created by the artist within the confined space. Although the epoxy is absent - you are not confronted with your own presence - the paintings draw you in. The viewer's presence, albeit more subtle, still plays a fundamental role. 

The colours that highlighted her landscapes years ago now lurk luxuriantly beyond the black painted contour. Esther Tielemans’ brushstrokes are liberated of reserved precision. They are more relaxed, vertical and above all else, radical. Deep, dark tones are applied over luminous colours, engaging the same theatrical spirit as her sculptures; as if you are witnessing an unparalleled natural phenomenon from within the wings. The geometric shapes appear to dissolve into the black. Disregarding hierarchy, the artist grips both sharp forms and an expressive painterly touch by the horns. The horizon has vanished, but it is still there: in the form of an Anthropocene world in which the earth and the atmosphere are intertwined, navigating between psychic abstractions demanding submission and the time honoured tradition of landscape painting. 

Jon Pilkington, To Be Titled, 2016. Oil, wax crayon and lacquer on canvas, 150 x 120cm,courtesy CINNNAMON, Rotterdam photografie door Noortje Knulst
Jon Pilkington, To Be Titled, 2016. Oil, wax crayon and lacquer on canvas, 150 x 120cm,courtesy CINNNAMON, Rotterdam photografie door Noortje Knulst

House Pictures door Jon Pilkington 
At first glance appearing cheerful and seemingly swiftly constructed, paintings by British artist Jon Pilkington belie their complex creation. The artworks are a precise balancing act between the free hand and the rigid use of line and composition. Their basis is almost always figurative, the subject matter derived directly from real life. A jug, a vase, a window frame, a piece of fruit, table or chair: the domesticity that surrounds us daily serves as the starting point from which a first outline is created. Thus begins the artist’s complicated and demanding endeavour. Layer by layer, section by section, abstraction sets in, continuing until the original is abandoned and spatiality comes to exist; a place holding greater universal significance rather than a single object. The repainting of successively smaller areas transforms a vase of flowers into a space that can be traversed in thought. The artist explains: “There are motifs in the work that recur painted over and over until the motif loses all connection with the origin and plays with authenticity and creating synthetic highly contrived images. Collage plays a big part, but I don’t think they are collage paintings. They are all so close; it may be one group of drawings that have influenced a series of works.” 

The horizontal line that reappears in each work is worthy of note; sometimes occurring at the bottom of the painting, sometimes placed more traditionally, just below the centre. These lines mislead the eye for a moment, as the eye assumes that the interplay of the lines is an actual game, given their carefree and playful nature. In reality the paintings are more like a ritual; a manic experiment in which the same patterns are repeated and evaluated, again and again. Much like Esther Tielemans, Jon Pilkington attempts to decode the basic conventions of painting; analysing the major concerns of composition, color and shape. “Form is the most important. Compositionally, the fragments within each work that separate decisions and cover the history.” 
The use of colour is remarkably sweet and warm, but by no means gentle or tacky; a result of the artist using his atelier floor as a palette, mixing the colours directly upon the surface. Sand, dust and dirt mix in with the pastel colours and leave a somewhat foul undertone behind in the resulting colour layers. 

A delightful failure can thus be a valuable stroke of luck, permitted and recognised by the artist, by looking attentively, looking again, taking distance and looking once more. This open eye and alertness for the unpredictable makes Pilkington a convincing artist. The essence of Jon Pilkington’s work lies within the search leading to the perfect composition. 

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