Saturday, March 31st, 2012

Minimalism, Golden Age-Style: Still Lifes by Toon Kuijpers

Toon Kuijpers: Still Life/Dutch Heritage at Howard Scott Gallery

March 1, 2012 to April 7, 2012
529 West 20th Street
New York City (646) 486-7004

Some new art astonishes us with its audacity. Other new art assumes a more modest stance, arguing that novelty need not be sensational to convey loveliness and expressiveness.  Toon Kuijpers, a native of Amsterdam, offers a tantalizing but moving blend of the representational and the minimal, in the form of ultra-simple still lifes that can trace their lineage back to 17th-century Holland, yet still manage to look at least as  fresh as any display of contemporary minimalist abstraction.

Toon Kuijpers, Yellow Jug, 2011.  Oil on canvas, 20 x 17.5 inches.  Courtesy of Howard Scott Gallery.
Toon Kuijpers, Yellow Jug, 2011. Oil on canvas, 20 x 17.5 inches. Courtesy of Howard Scott Gallery.

All these oils on canvas were executed in 2011. All are small, ranging from 31.5 inches square to only 8 by 9 inches. Most focus on a single object, occasionally two, and even more rarely as many as four or five.  All these objects find their most natural habitat on a table top, for most are lovingly-rendered antique tea cups, with the occasional bowl or jug or (once in a long time) ceramic flasks.  The last-named grouping is reminiscent of Morandi, but most of the time, Kuijpers is his own man, because his palette is a lot warmer than Morandi’s, because of the radical simplicity of his single objects, and  because of the contrasts between them and their backdrops.  Sometimes these backdrops suggest tablecloths. Sometimes they don’t. Either way, they are usually divided into differently colored halves or quarters, lending an artificially abstracted setting to what are otherwise naturalistically-rendered subjects.

Clearly, these paintings are meant to summon up memories of Holland’s Golden Age, and artists like Heda and de Heem, but nobody painting still lifes in the wake of 19th century impressionism can escape the slightly less weighty brushwork of Manet,  so what we have in Kuijpers is a blend of traditions, including echoes of Mondrian or even Sol LeWitt.

Nevertheless, it is amazing how many beguiling changes this painter rings on what may seem at first a single tune. He takes his cues from the vast variety of porcelain, lusterware and other types of pottery created in Europe and Asia through the last four or five centuries. Yellow Jug pairs a good-sized pitcher with a small whitish chinois cup, seen in profile, while Versailles depicts a large, French-looking red, white and gilded tea cup and saucer, seen from above. Royal Albert presents, museum-style, four elaborate Victorian cups and saucers, but no other painting in this show attains the perfection of the smallest, Blue Cloth, with its simple, exquisite (though chipped) little bowl, and its sunlight pouring in from the left.

Toon Kuijpers, Royal Albert, 2011.  Oil on canvas, 22 x 22 inches. Courtesy of Howard Scott Gallery.
click to enlarge
Toon Kuijpers, Blue Cloth, 2011. Oil on canvas, 8 x 9.5 inches.  Courtesy of Howard Scott Gallery.
click to enlarge