George Meertens


29 Jan - 27 March 2011

On display in the project space is an exhibition of recent paintings and works on paper by George Meertens (Stein, 1957). Meertens has been active as an artist since the late 1980s. In recent years his painting has taken a new turn, which he describes as a journey through unknown realms. The questions that he asks himself give direction to that quest. How does one capture the non-visible in an image, and how should such an image, about to establish its place in the world, be designated?

‘Listen, O my son (...) and incline the ear of thy heart,’ begins the prologue to The Rule of St. Benedict, written by Benedict of Nursia (480-547) and used by monasteries to this day. These words are greatly cherished by Meertens. In his manner of painting, by dismissing any preconceived image and by responding to what occurs during the painterly process, he wishes to put into practice this appeal to listen. Sublacus is the term by which he sums up that approach. Consisting of the Latin words sub (under) and lacus (lake), it refers to the site at which Benedict found solitude as a hermit. Seeking the most profound point, the abbot chose a cave at the lower end of the lake as a place for contemplation and introspection. As Meertens sees it, the studio can also be regarded as the Sublacus, as the place where an artist tries to cast aside all certainty and does what the painting-in-the-making demands of him. Painting thus becomes a form of focus, involvement and surrender.

The paintings of Meertens have taken shape layer by layer. They are abstract, lyrical fields of color which occasionally have connotations of landscape. Sometimes the works are dark and stirring, other times peaceful and light, often hushed and withdrawn. Only after prolonged observation do they reveal themselves. That’s when we notice the marks left by instruments used to apply the paint, but also those made by scraping and wiping paint away. There are deliberate changes, but also unanticipated effects. On looking closely we see a sparkle in the specks of color and are struck by the way in which colors blend with each other or, by contrast, maintain their distinct qualities. Here and there, scratches made by the palette knife come into view as ‘scars’ that show the vulnerability of the painting’s ‘skin’. And throughout all of this, the transparency of layers remains as they come to an understanding with each other, as it were, and become part of an underlying structure.

Contrary to the wrought quality of the paintings, there is an almost ‘casual’ sense in the drawings produced as series. They seem to have come about naturally, like the humming of a spontaneous melody. The patterns are extremely simple and follow the impulse of a moment. Here painting is reduced to a straightforward act. Yet this simplicity and directness, so characteristic of the works on paper, have not failed to affect the paintings. In the most recent ones, we can discern a development toward greater clarity and precision, in which the number of steps has been reduced to a minimum.

Throughout his quest for images that tell about an inner experience, Meertens has gradually come closer to painting itself. References to visible reality have disappeared entirely. Instead, the paintings convey the story of their own development, and they reveal their nature in the colors and actions through which they have taken shape. The approach to the image has, in fact, become the image itself.

Accompanying the exhibition is the book Sublacus, published by Timmer Art Books, on the recent paintings and drawings of George Meertens, for which an introductory text has been written by Hanneke de Man. 

Website of the artist