11 Sep 1999 – 16 Jan 2000
work in collection
The oeuvre of Marc Mulders is ruled by what may well be the major theme in the history of art: the eternal cycle of life and death. The expression of living and dying, death and resurrection, has long held a central place in Western painting, and Marc Mulders has deliberately situated himself in this tradition. Not only has he painted religious them as such as the suffering and death of Christ, he has also produced series of paintings of flowers and dead game, fish and fowl. The paintings are expressive, thickly painted and colourful. Mulders transforms the theme of transience into a dynamic and vigorous image. His ultimate aim is to have the cycle of life and death to continue in the painting, to transform the paint from dead matter into a living image.
Mulders’ early works often contain motifs that stem directly from the Christian religious tradition: the passion of Christ, the crucifixion, the crown of thorns and the Pietà. These motifs often include references to artists whom Mulders greatly admires from a painterly point of view: Rembrandt, Mantegna, Dürer and Grünewald. In Studie naar Rembrandt (Study after Rembrandt) (1989), he paints a reclining Christ figure after Rembrandt’s Anatomische Les (Anatomy Lesson). And in Schors M.G. I (Bark M.G. I) (1992) he places the monogram of Matthias Grünewald, the artist who portrayed the suffering of Christ in the most poignant way possible in his Isenheimer Altar, on top of the rough ‘skin’ of red brushstrokes, as though it was a scar. Catholic iconography provides Mulders with recognisable symbols for the human tragedy, for suffering and the hope of redemption. These references and visual quotations do not mean, however, that Mulders is merely in the business of nostalgically reflecting upon a lost religiosity in art. Quite the opposite: his painting has lost nothing of its force as a means of engaging with and commenting upon the world. Mulders constantly provides the traditional images and meanings with current relevance by relating them to contemporary society, to the violence of war zones or metropolitan suburbia, with which the media confronts us on a daily basis. Thus he combines
photographs of contemporary violence and images from art history in his montages and shows that strife and suffering belong to all ages.
The paintings with a religious theme are followed by series of paintings of flowers and dead game, fish and fowl. Mulders does not paint the dead game and fish as tableaux in the classical sense of hunting still lifes, or as macabre depictions of flesh and blood. His aim is not so much to render a visual representation, but rather to transform the terminated life into a dynamic image. The beauty of the body and the skin are reborn, as it were, in the paint. The game - skinned, splayed or hung from a hook - reflects our own fragile corporality. Through the intensity of painting, wet into wet and layer upon layer, an almost physical relationship comes into being between the subject and the depiction. In Mulders’ own words: ‘the flesh becomes paint, and the paint becomes flesh’.
In contrast to this inescapable mortality, however, the artist also reveals the beauty of life and Mulders’ paintings are often unapologetically beautiful. The impasto paint bursts off the canvas, the colours radiate intensely, or do just the opposite - remain hidden in splendid nuances. Brushstrokes and line vibrate with energy and expression. The Bevroren rozen I and II (Frozen roses I and II) (1992, 1993) and Ree II (Roe II) (1993) still have the deep, dark colour of clotted blood, but the Papegaaitulpen (Parrot tulips) (1994) burst open in a whirlwind of lighter colours. The various paintings of fish also show the skin of the body glittering in the paint.
The still lifes with flowers are taken to the edge of aestheticism. In Pioenrozen, ranonkels VII (Peonies, turban buttercups VII) (1996) and Bleke irissen (Pale irises) (1998) the vigour of the painting is such that the flowers almost tumble from the canvas. Buds, calyxes and pollen-loaded stamens attest to the sensuality of life. But this magnificence, too, has an ephemeral quality that makes us aware of our own transience, as Mulders paints his bouquets in every stage of blossom and decay.
Marc Mulders is an intransigent artist; a painter who opts, in terms of both craft and content, for a contemporary standpoint in the tradition of his discipline. For him, modern art reaches its apex in the absolute intensification of the personal experience. This is an intensity he also recognises in painters like Pollock, Reinhardt, Ryman and De Kooning. Modernism as a forced notion of originality, however, has nothing to offer him. It is indeed tradition to which Mulders is indebted, and which can feed and inspire the present. In his own words: ‘So the art isn’t new, nor are the subjects. It’s the classical exemplary themes: scenes of passion, the depth of heaven and hell.’