At the beginning of the 1980s Christie started making paintings in which she used art history as a source of inspiration. Initially, she was mainly guided in this process by the power of the image as opposed to the specific meaning of the depicted subject. Apart from the paint on the palette, the chosen postcard or picture from an art history book constitutes her basic material, as it were; a starting point that even though it remains hidden in the final work, also becomes part of a new world. By finding itself on a new canvas centuries after it was first painted, it has arrived in the modern era and will now also be assimilated into a new visual language of complex patterns in which it functions as a building block rather than as a vehicle of meaning.
In the painting Erasmus, it is highly likely that the spectator will have to look hard before spotting the small figure on the bottom right of the canvas. In contrast to the original work by Holbein, here he is not the centre of attention on the square canvas. On the contrary, that place is now dominated by a maze of both geometrical and floral patterns that even partly overlap with the figure. The thinker Erasmus seems to have stumbled into some kind of psychedelic explosion of thoughts that you might not directly associate with the man himself and his serene aura, or with the spirit of the age he lived in. Nonetheless, he can be regarded as one of the first modern thinkers and in this painting he literally is a building block of the new world that we, the present-day humans are living in.
The fact that technological progress keeps pushing on at a rapid pace is typical of our current society. In one respect it is making our lives ‘easier’ all the time; smartphones and the internet, for example, enable us to take care of more and more things in our lives at the push of a digital button. In a manner of speaking, we would never have to leave our homes again as it seems that an increasing portion of the world is within arm’s reach. Others say that, in contrast, this development simultaneously promotes individualization and a loss of contact with our surroundings. You only have to walk into a random café to see that many people are not communicating with each other, but with their phones (on which, at that same moment, all kinds of other connections are taking place). The digital world is also responsible for the fact that our ‘escapes’ from daily life have become more numerous and compelling; we play games, watch movies and television series online etc., etc.. On an increasing scale, people venture into a fragmented reality in which all kinds of layers exist side by side or are even interconnected.
The paintings Diskoboulos and Constantine were painted in 1983. Although no one had heard of the internet in those days, the above mentioned developments were of course already underway. Besides that, I regard the work from the perspective of the age in which I currently live and I have no option but to look at it and interpret it with the knowledge that I possess now.
This immediately demonstrates how timeless the language of visual art in fact is; the work doesn't merely exist in the vacuum of the time in which it was created, but also provides a dialogue that, in a certain way, could continue forever and can, or maybe even should, be revised every now and then.
The diskoboulos (discus thrower) is immediately recognisable because his face is painted in the distinctive rotated posture. He is not placed at the top of the canvas, as one would expect, but dangling right at the bottom. His body has been left out of the image and he is not looking at the object that, in the original Greek sculpture, he is holding in his hands. As some kind of flying saucer the discus, a detached object, is hovering above his head. There is also not just one, but multiple discusses depicted on the canvas, together forming one of the many patterns in the painting. Right across the various playful and soft pattern layers, there is a more dominating and harsher pattern, bearing some resemblance to geometrical roses, that makes everything on the canvas seem in motion and motionless at the same time. Just like a still from a movie, the image is momentarily frozen as a snapshot in time, a temporary state of being.
In the original sculpture the figure appears to be exuding an enormous amount of power and self-control while in the painting not just the melancholy look on his face, but also his disassembled state of being would sooner evoke a sense of fragility and disharmony. Perhaps the work refers to the never ending pursuit of balance and progress in our existence, the same thing the Greeks were already searching for in the classical period, but at the same time it demonstrates how complex this endeavour is. Apart from all the comforts we enjoy in our present age, the world has also become extremely complicated. The numerous choices we are faced with and all layers or digital screens that we use and operate create an environment in which dissociation, alienation and discord are lurking in the shadows.
Although the paintings tell us something about the current age, at the same time they also tell us that human emotions are universal. In the painting Constantine the powerful emperor is placed at the top of the canvas from where he is looking straight at the spectator, emphasizing his position as ruler over his empire. Even though he is exuding a powerful forcefulness, the world around him has again been set off balance. The eyes of the figure are dissimilar in size, giving him a somewhat bewildered and dishevelled appearance and the many different little patterns crawling criss-cross over his face and across each other create a chaotic energy. In my view these patterns emphasize the contradiction between showing off on the one hand and the often more layered inner world, that is partially kept a secret to others, on the other. Constantine was not only responsible for warfare and numerous massacres, he also proved capable of murdering his own wife and eldest son. Revolting and unimaginable crimes such as these unfortunately not only belong to the realms of history. The greatest atrocities that people are capable of in order to, for instance, obtain or retain power, are still of the order of the day as we can see from the images on the news and the internet and read about in newspapers and magazine articles. But what we often do not get to see is the way in which these kinds of actions find their way into the soul, into the spiritual side of the self. In my view it is impossible for this kind of behaviour to not bring about internal conflict and doubt. In these paintings the complex stratification of the internal world is brought to the foreground to dominate the external side that manifests itself in daily life.
In the above mentioned works, masculine figures are at the centre of attention, but in the paintings that follow they make room for all kinds of different works in which the Madonna, or Mary, the mother of Jesus and probably the most frequently depicted female figure in art history, is the point of departure. Although the works are still layered with an abundance of overlapping patterns, now the female figure constantly occupies centre stage on the canvas. Here also, contrary to classical iconography, she is never depicted with Jesus in her arms, although in some paintings her hands are depicted in such a way that, in the original, she absolutely must have held the child. Now they are empty, but not in such a way as to suggest absence or loss, they focus more on an embrace of the self and exude an enormous amount of self-confidence. Maybe they emphasize the power of femininity which of course entails much more than motherhood alone.
The painting Sleutelmadonna ( Madonna of the Keys) rings in this new series of paintings, with its title also referring to the keys that, together with hearts, make up the many patterns on the canvas. Possibly it not only signifies a doorway into a new subject, but also confirms that by entering it, the right path has been chosen. The subject appears to be more intimate and seems to have originated from intrinsic values that, to me, are partly in keeping with the artist’s personality. I realize that this is a rather personal interpretation which, in the first place, is caused by the fact that the works in the Madonna series were in my memory the first paintings of my mother I ever saw. At various moments in time, several of these paintings hung on the walls of our home, or I would see them in her studio. A number of these works were printed on postcards and would hang as small reproductions in my little room. Years later I would use them as bookmarks or note paper to jot down a phone number or some other memo. The images were and are part of my daily life, so to speak, they have always been there and, because of that, have become a symbol not only of my mother as an artist, but also of her as a person. For as long as I can remember, I have seen her as a woman who is sure of her position, she knows what she wants and is confident that she will succeed and achieve the goal that she is pursuing. I have always admired the way in which she manages to organize all sorts of things, from running our family life to coordinating excursions for the art academy. In addition to this, I see her entering into an unending stream of collaborations, for example with the people in the building where she has her studio or with the neighbours to achieve a communal goal in the neighbourhood. Again and again, I observe that, with great energy, my mother takes the lead in these projects and by using her persuasive powers she usually manages to make her plan a success. In a similar way I see evidence of this efficiency in the Madonna series that was realized over a short period of time (43 paintings in one year!). It is obvious that Christie must have felt a strong sense of urgency to produce these works; they simply had to be painted. In one respect the women that are portrayed radiate a certain measure of serenity while at the same time they are almost screaming at the spectator that they need to be looked at. We can’t just ignore them; their vitality bursts off the canvas and, like some kind of boomerang, they radiate the same kind of life energy that created them.
Even though a religious symbol forms the basis of the work, in the end Christianity itself has little or nothing to do with it. Rather, the Madonna represents all women of all ages and from all backgrounds. And although the women’s appearance is different in each of the paintings, they are still connected to each other and can thus be seen as a polymorphous unity.
Today the Rozenmadonna (Madonna of the Roses) will probably sooner remind spectators of an Islamic veiled woman than of Mary, the Christian icon. The dotted patterns on the face of the Madonna Lippi can be interpreted as tattoos that you might for instance also encounter in Asian or Maori culture where a certain significance in the sphere of protection, strength or beauty would be attached to them. Simultaneously, tattoos are becoming increasingly common in contemporary street culture and, seen in this light, might therefore just as well be linked to popular, modern culture in which their significance might partly differ from their original meaning, but may also be partly the same. In this way, the significance of visual elements shifts as developments in time change their context.
In the paintings recurring veiled layers of patterns on top and around the women create a certain measure of amalgamation of the different elements. At the same time, they still maintain their strong individuality. Instead of concealing, this veiling has the opposite effect, exposing an extra layer of the powerful femininity that is of all ages. Of course Mary is an important figure in Christianity, but in a certain way her role is also restricted to giving birth to the ‘saviour’ while still remaining a virgin and allegedly pure as well. She is therefore a paradoxical role model that not a single woman could ever actually emulate. Christie’s Madonnas represent a completely different, wider complexity and a significance of femininity that is more suited to our modern world without losing sight of the historical dimension.
I was never brought up with the idea that I would have different opportunities or a different perspective than for example my little brother. My mother herself is the ultimate example of a woman who has always worked hard and has never been afraid of the patriarchal dominance that is not only still part of our society at large, but is to a certain extent also still in force in the ‘art world’. The present-day Madonna is a woman who will not hide and is not afraid to show herself and embrace and use the multiple layers of femininity. In doing so she represents a form of femininity that I myself also experience; I am equal to a man, but I am not the same and do not have to be the same. Women can make themselves look beautiful and have something to say at the same time. Christie’s paintings have contributed to instilling this message in me. Up to this day, her paintings have never lost the relevance they had at the beginning of the 1980s, when they were just made. The struggle is far from over.