Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Essay: Sjaak Korsten

Untitled, 1999 
Mixed media on paper
8 ¾ x 13 in.
$ 700

By Wim Roefs

For a short period in his career, Sjaak Korsten used an abundance of color. “I quit that,” Korsten says. “I didn’t need color. I can say things better without color. Or, rather, what I want to say has nothing to do with color.”

Mostly, Korsten limits himself to understated, earth tones, creating an aesthetic that relates to post-World War II European Art Informel, albeit not its sub-set of “matter painters,” who strongly focused on materials, not just composition. Korsten’s often-sparse compositions emphasize empty or large spaces in which life’s questions can flourish. He creates poetic, even romantic spaces in which he engages the age-old question of the meaning of life. The representative elements that appear in those spaces aren’t intended to be literal; they are meant to create associations about life. 

“My work isn’t guided by certain philosophical principles,” Korsten says. “It’s simply about things that happen and to which I have to react through drawing and painting because otherwise I wouldn’t feel at ease.”

Korsten especially engages time, in particular its fleeting quality, with a longing for what was and a wondering about what might be. Many of his pieces have a fading quality or contain erased spaces. Often he doesn’t draw what is but what was. “There it is, now it’s gone. I want to maintain that moment but at the same time show that it’s disappearing. That’s why I use so little color. Color has too much presence. I find the transitory nature of things fascinating.”

One of Korsten’s main inspirations is nature, country living, his background as a farmer’s son and a long-time worker in a rose nursery in the southern Dutch province of Limburg. He searches for the hidden logic of what is visible in the relationship between culture and nature, creating landscapes of the soul.

“In a sense, I pose questions to the viewers through my works of art,” Korsten says. “And the viewers in a sense attach their own meaning to the work. Many of my pieces don’t have titles. I do that on purpose. A title points people in a certain direction. The interplay of associations and hidden clues triggers suggestions in the careful reader of the work. Rereading the work over and over enhances insight into its structure and meaning.” The viewer should let the work do its thing like music does rather than approach it rationally, Korsten says. 

Although he conceptualizes and visualizes many of his paintings and drawings in advance, none of them are completed in his mind before he starts them. Making marks and applying paint, he seeks his way toward a work of art. “I am an emotional artist, not a rational one. Having said that, I have a thinking hand. The hand acts, and when I paint something the hand tells me in one way or another what needs to be added.”

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