Friederike Nymphius

Minimalism and After, ‘Jan van der Ploeg’, Sammlung DaimlerChrysler, Berlin, 2002

Jan van der Ploeg has been using “Grip” for his painting since 1997. This motif is a ready-made in the form of a horizontal, long rectangle with rounded corners, derived from the hand-holes in the cardboard boxes used for removals. It is essential for the artist that this is an easily recognized everyday form that he can shift into the context of painting, without making any changes. Grip also appeals linguistically for a similar reason, as it has the same connotations in both Dutch and English, and so can be understood ʻinternationallyʼ. Grip is the only starting-point, the module, that Van der Ploeg uses, varying from his murals according to the architectural conditions he finds, to his small, intimate panel paintings.

Van der Ploegʼs first Grips appeared in 1997 on the walls of buildings or back yards in Amsterdam. They were conceived like schematized figures, faces or punctuation marks, and had the same sort of character as ʻtagsʼ, the personalized signs that graffiti sprayers use to sign their work or mark out their territory. The link with ʻtagsʼ seems appropriate, as Van der Ploegʼs work is anchored in Piet Mondrianʼs Neoplasticism and the De Stijl movement around Theo van Doesburg. This connection is reinforced by his concentration on painting, which is anachronistic and traditional in today’s terms, and by his use of wall painting as a creative device - one has only to think of Van Doesburgʼs designs for the Amsterdam University. Van der Ploegʼs wall paintings are made up of a number of layers of glazed paint, with which he achieves a similarly smooth, un-textured appearance to that of his panel paintings. The artist has developed a colour vocabulary of his own for his work, consisting of black, white and contrasting shades like pink, purple or orange. This further reinforces the impression that the colour has been reduced to a mere surface. And yet the combination of various areas of colour with precisely related dimensions creates a remarkably three-dimensional quality, The colours do not seem to be embedded on a plane surface, but develop a volume that does not change the way in which the surrounding space is perceived, but includes it. Van der Ploegʼs murals are able to create space, both in their dimensions but also by the use of colour, but without expressing it visually in terms of perspective. ʻSpace paintingʼ would be an appropriate term for this. The key feature here is that all the particular features, like a ledge or a door, are included in the painting. This emphasizes the three-dimensional effect of the works and gives them a sculptural accent.

Painting as sculpture was one of the key developments made by Minimal Art protagonist Ellsworth Kelly. The painter wanted to make the picture into an object, and this led in the 60s to the “shaped canvas”, in which the inner structure of the image was to become an art object, liberated from all connections. Concepts introduced by Kelly like “colour as shape” or “shape as form” apply to van der Ploegʼs wall paintings. A key element in Van der Ploegʼs painting is variation. The wide range of possibilities found by the artist is constantly amazing, and seems inexhaustible. Each wall painting is different in the choice of colour, size, detail and in the combination of Grips. Thus the murals can seem ornamental, three-dimensional, flat of dynamic as a result of their longitudinal form. They make different effect in each location. Sometimes they even seem to perform the function of an architectural keystone, without which the architecture is unable to maintain its tension. It is important to Van der Ploeg that the original formal model should be recognizable and that its function as a ʻsignʼ should be retained. The American Richard artschwager found a formal module that functioned in a similar way as early as 1967. He used his pastille-shaped black “Blp”, like Van der Ploeg, in relation to the graffiti sprayers’ tags and logos. The Blp was visually ordinary and without any connections in terms of its content, and was intended to become a part of everyday experience and mark places for the sake of looking at them for no particular reason. If Blp or the Grip are seen as logos, then they are markers that record the artistsʼ geographical movements and make them into a network. At the same time, they are the most universally binding and clearest linguistic statement that the artists can find.

Jan van der Ploegʼs Grips link painting, sculpture, system, and seriality. They fit in with the everyday world in their overall effect, and function as signs and ornaments, as well as producing a painterly illusion. The Grips are a design device that allows formal reduction, but also inexhaustible variations. They create the maximum effect with the minimum of artistic resources.

Friederike Nymphius ʻMinimalism and Afterʼ, Sammlung DaimlerChrysler, February 8 - May 20, 2002, Berlin, Germany.