Reflection on the work of Wim de Haan
It is about a year, a few months and several days since I made the first attempt to write about the work of Wim de Haan. It took me about the same time to contemplate and to extend the existing text. Not to make it lengthier, but rather to activate some of the silent spaces and the pauses in the initial reflection.
If only a text could become a drawing so that the lines can be easily accentuated and bent in a new direction. There is a difference between writing and drawing. Rules are framing the first, while the other has freed itself from any pre-given grammar. Yet, we can draw a parallel between the two. Both writing and drawing are translations of thought processes and experiences on paper. I recall a discussion during one evening when while talking about the very same subject the name of Wim de Haan weaved into the conversation.
Nowadays, the texture of paper slowly has become foreign to our skin. Taking even notes digitally, the eye loses the capacity to notice the different tints that give paper distinct qualities. Nonetheless, for an artist to whom materials are an intrinsic part of the work, choosing paper is never a hasty decision, as much as the atypical material for canvas is not accidental. Wim de Haan had a particular preference for materials. Applying matter to the rough structure of his canvases led to an aesthetic statement. Entwining delicate lines with the rawness and the weight of the matter, his works evoke emotional depth that grounds the experience of the viewer. By adding earth mixtures, ashes, and other materials de Haan alludes to ephemerality where the possibility for disintegration embraces the emptiness.
While carving this text two geographically distant words keep me company. I use the word carving instead of writing because it emulates the physicality of the action. Simultaneously the verb to carve out echoes the way de Haan worked through his experiences.
At first, I thought that these two words were only my curiosity. However, the longer I pondered over them I realised that perhaps the meaning they carry is closer to the practice of Wim de Haan than other words used to describe his work. At their core, both de Haan’s work and the words I am looking into, hold an intuitive spontaneity and touching emptiness where one meets elements which at times remain unnoticed, revealing stirring resonance of deeper introspection.
An image of a museum rack being pulled from the dark reverberates with me. I remember lights revealing variations of large and small canvases. Earthy colours disquieted by interludes of bright ones. Wim de Haan chose colours which gave his work capacity to resist the refinement many endeavour and developed an aesthetic which is distinct to him. Revisiting the reverberating image, I see the front of the canvases superimposed to the backside of other paintings by de Haan, noticing how the heavy objects that attached to the front slowly alter the flat surface. I move a few steps back only to notice: the change in expression, the search for a palette, the lines becoming delicate, a narrative turning into abstraction, the slow merging into a unified wholeness.
Studying an artist oeuvre as a whole is integral for entering an artistic practice. Oscillating between studying details and observing the composition of multiple works before me, I notice the lines of his drawings lingering amid the thick paint, earth mixture and assemblages. Sometimes laying over the paint and sometimes etched into it, the lines stir the tranquillity of the paint. His drawings uncover unrehearsed line structures, continuous studies of the intuitive application of the pen and ink onto paper. Balancing between the act of making and being, the delicate lines in his drawings unfold intense processes of quieting chaos. I realise that while Wim de Haan worked through different mediums in his career, drawing remained as an essential element of his work. Was it because drawing encompasses the time in its stillness? A drawing initiates a recognition with the moment of looking, a return to a past moment, a possibility to inhabit that space repeatedly.
Even though the work of de Haan reflects a lived time, his work cannot be perceived as fragmented keepsakes of the past. The oeuvre of Wim de Haan is continuous meditation of a lived time and the works are non-linear sequences reflecting the same past. Ruminating on previous episodes from his life that deeply influenced the way he later approaches being, his commitment to move beyond that precludes his work from becoming autobiographical. Instead, the works gain meaning from the tension created by de Haan’s exercising of the past and surpassing it. Doing so, his oeuvre is a testimony of experiences from past lived time that do not bend under the weight of former encounters.
It is precisely the moment of the never fully disclosed narrative in de Haan’s oeuvre that allows his works to be encountered in a season of waiting. A liminal space in which the viewer can recognise the works in silence. In this proximity, by meditating on the fullness of the materials, a viewer becomes aware of the personal experiences and thus create a connection with the thought processes of the artist.
Intentionally, I forgot to name the two words that I once discovered while practising a new language and which accompanied me while writing. It is for the same reason that in this text I decided to leave out any biographical references for Wim de Haan. Sometimes temporal exactness constrains a viewer or reader from intuitively entering an artistic practice. It is true that if I would describe the small stone which I took from a river two summers ago, it would be very difficult to talk about its curves without mentioning the flowing water and the presence of other stones. It is true that if I were to describe that I would fail in giving an accurate depiction as the stone is shaped without no preconceptions. Both the stone and the works can maybe be empty from a separate self, but they never become on its own. Their becoming rests in coexistence with everything that surrounds them.