Arjan van Es: internalised ‘landscapes’.
When you encounter a drawing by Arjan van Es, silence is required. In this confrontation you can’t do anything but banish your own thoughts, put your diary away, and surrender unconditionally to those silenced works.
Van Es’s drawings, soberly named either landscape or portrait, lead us away from the hip and seductive world of usually moving, smooth and precooked images which we so often see nowadays. His works demand of the watcher an intensive gaze and the utmost concentration.
Both the drawing technique and the genres of portrait and landscape have a rich history. If you practice them now, you need to have a strong motivation to express yourself – to give things meaning – through this particular medium.
Drawing is often seen as a technique that lends itself well for the direct translation of feelings. On the other hand, it also means control and having a clear oversight. Portraits by Van Es (he draws his own portrait in a mirror) are given shape with the pencil and usually crayon. They all have the same size: sixty-five by fifty cm. This implies a huge level of consistency that makes it clear that every piece has its own intrinsic value. However, every separate drawing is also part of a clearly defined course of exploration and trial. The compositions fully bask in this exploration and trial while also looking very compact and measured.
(…) It is clear that there has been a development in the work of Van Es. He started making portraits in 2000, and initially he only worked with pencil, following the contours and lines of the face relatively closely and centring the exposition neatly within the canvas. But even in those early days the image was built up of countless unconnected lines which were constructively untied in an agile game. Sometimes he added a single coloured accent to the grey pencil tones. Starting in early 2001 Van Es also used crayons to draw. The combination of pencil and crayon adds extra relief to the presentations. The drawings are given more layers; they gain complexity. Sometimes the presentation fills out the entire sheet, but at other times the drawing partly takes up the space below or above the sheet – also on smaller presentations. The lines are looser and more whimsical, and the use of both pencil and crayon adds contrast – and through that, tension – to the drawing. Newer drawings also tend to ignore the side of the pencil tip in favour of the actual tip.
In this way each piece becomes a choreography of lines moving in different directions. They can be thick or thin, vary greatly in length and sometimes cross each other. They also often vary in tone or colour. The variation of brown, grey or black lines with red, yellow, blue and green gives the drawing some extra subtlety.
When watching a Van Es piece your view is actually continually being unhinged. The appearance of a face is alternated with the image of a ‘landscape’ filled with lines, tones and colours. In a sense, every portrait is a new exploration of the map of a face: a search for the essence within. In his drawings Van Es isn’t looking for an end point. Every piece is, like he says, “an internalisation of the ‘landscape’ around me”. This statement points to a constant trial and search. It is a course that most likely won’t end any time soon.
(…) Van Es uses motives (portrait, urban landscape) which are readily available to him. Actually they play a subordinate role within the drawn worlds he creates. They are just the cause, just like pots and cans for Giorgio Morandi. Morandi painted the spaces around the attributes more, so those attributes are just a part of a unique and very affluent world of imagery.
Van Es internalises the ‘landscapes’ around him. The drawing technique is very useful for this, since on the one hand it gives easy access to emotion while on the other is very strongly controlling. In this way he constructs fragile worlds of imagery with a strong inner logic.
David Stroband (2003)