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ad van rosmalen
arjan janssen

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At ninety-degree angles, the horizon and the vertical line are in extreme contrast; in principle, any other angle in the painting or drawing could nullify this contrast. What seems at first sight to be the main aspect of the work, verticality and its obedient horizon, actually emanates from the fundamental choice of the right angle. This one right angle results in an additional three right angles. It is a unifying principle; an obtuse angle always produces an adjacent acute angle, creating a confusing number of coincidences instead of unity.

Once the painter has found the right angle, a range of expressive elements and moments of decision opens up: distances between lines, repetitive patterns, interferences, overlaying matrices, rhythm, measure and broken rules. The choice for a unifying principle produces endless series of consequences, while chance is finite in a single, solidified representation. If I paint a cow, I can decide afterwards to paint another cow, and another one, but it remains a single painting, while the consequences of a unifying principle such as the right angle, are not predictable the way a herd of cows is.

With a unifying principle it is possible to constitute a universe in the same way that the principle of the hydrogen atom underlies the matter of our cosmos. Painting paintings and drawing drawings is actually a way of creating this possible universe. The works are not representations of, for instance, a particular rhythm; they are this precise rhythm itself. One matrix is not combined with another to get an attractive work of art, but the painting thus created is part of the universe that becomes possible as a result of the constituent principle of the right angle.

The painter follows the principle, creating the universe, but a painter is not an engineer who can build a bridge anywhere based on constructive principles, or raise a tower to the skies. The principle enables the painter to mark out his universe and define its different components even before starting the painting. Only then material and paint, colour and action appear, with which the painting is created as a concrete object of the universe. The rhythm is not represented, but is rhythm in itself, with material and paint, colour and action constituting the representation of the rhythm.

It is clear from this that the painter is not a machine, a computer that can supply a finite number of products on the basis of rules laid down in a programme. The painter is free to choose the material in which he will call the shifting matrices into existence, for it is his personal task to make it clear that the painting as a whole is not an image, but a materialisation of the universal shifting matrices in a particular colour at this particular moment. The subtle difference between being and becoming, between eternal and temporary, subsequently emerges as the painter’s main motif.


The right angle leading to a question of being and becoming is a dazzling thought causing more conceptual problems than it can solve. The question as to whether the rhythms and matrices exist somewhere before the painter materialises them in the painting, is such an issue. The next question is that of the existence of the image. An equally infinite universe of conceptual problems looms at the horizon, only because the painter chooses to use the right angle instead of Christ on the cross, Marat’s death, four apples in the bowl or the black square.

Even if the date of birth of modernity cannot be determined, as Stephen Toulmin says, or even if we were never modern in the first place, as Bruno Latour thinks, somewhere in the seventeenth century ideas were proposed which would prove decisive to European thinking and to history as a whole. The contrast between rationality and irrationality was never sharper, and as political or religious power shifted, taking an intellectual position had consequences that could mean life or death for people of principle who refused to deny their ideas.

Whatever position people chose, they all sought with unequalled passion for solutions and answers to the questions that had not been asked anew during the past centuries, and they were willing to take great personal risks in their efforts to develop ideas into theories, theories into ideologies and ideologies into methods to lead a morally sound existence. Surprisingly enough, another three centuries would pass before modernity, contrast, passion and risks would play the same fundamental role in the visual arts as they had done in people’s view of the world, and humanity within it, in the seventeenth century.

The painting, in its tradition-based figuration, seemed better able to resist pure abstraction than thinking. Later on, the painting is also understood in its abstraction, and paintings can be seen as direct ideas instead of illustrations or accounts of them. The painting turns from metaphor into metonymy, from representation into image, from an object through which something is shown into an object that shows. Suddenly, the painter emerges as the colleague of the scientist, the friend of visionaries and the guide of the searchers of meaning. But was this his intention in the first place?

‘Yes, for who else but the king-philosopher, who else but the painter-poet, can see reality?’ ‘No, for it is too pretentious a position in current times!’ A familiar question, as a confirmation, a modern reply, as a negation. Working on a new painting the painter is a confirmation turned human; stepping back and looking at what painting it became, he has to deny it. The painter is, the painting becomes, creating anew a transition of being to becoming, again an unchangeable position and a coincidental condition. What the painter is after is the painting in nothing less than the truth.

Ad van Rosmalen.