past Exhibition

Kees Visser & John Zurier
Where we are


April 5 - May 11, 2024


Is time travel possible within the object or act of painting?
And does the past always linger in the present?

The paintings of Kees Visser and John Zurier converse in many respects. They paint abstract color field paintings, consisting of many layers. However, there is a clear difference between their works and their artistic methods are different.

“Painting counters the world’s cacophony,” John says when I ask him what painting means to him. “In painting, something and nothing can exist together side by side in the same place and time without opposing or destroying each other.”

The time in painting
John’s works evoke a strong sense of time. The titles underline this experience. Time as memory, or a feeling. Like the artist is eager to grasp a moment, using a medium that demands time. “I want a feeling of stillness and a continuum, and time moving in an envelope of color and light. The present moment is instantaneous. It’s fast. So fast we usually miss it. I’m trying to pay attention to it when painting and what happens then is the present feels slower.”
John’s paintings are light, the layers are thin and in the work process he removes some of them before he continues. The result is a painting where the process shines through, as well as the texture of the canvas. The feeling is light.

“Kees is always moving forward, whereas I look to the past,” John says when the three of us meet and chat over a cup of coffee. He’s referring to the fact that Kees adds layers without removing them, like John does. This is how Kees' work becomes weighty. Many layers on top of each other make the painting’s surface sculptural, when the paint dries it creates a texture reminiscent of moss on the bark of a tree.

Serenity towards the painting
I start thinking about Kees' influences that he had told me about when I visited his studio a few days earlier. The essay collections Silence by John Cage and Against interpretation by Susan Sontag. He also mentioned Zen Buddhism, which emphasizes intuition and mindfulness. "I don't judge," he said. "I accept things as they happen." He continues. Next layer.

I had also asked him about his interest in mathematics, when I looked at his older work; spirals and systematic color schemes. He said he was not a mathematician. "I'm not systematical, I'm more methodical," he explains. The difference perhaps lies in the attitude at the beginning, he does not favor a system but a method. Does not directly come up with a plan, except the plan to follow a method, which comes to him by different means.

Memories in the painting and memories of paintings
John says that memories are fragmentary and this is how they also appear in his paintings and work. “Every moment contains memories of past moments. At first, color is the only sensation I see, then a second sensation arrives, the memory of an object, a thought, scent, experience or a feeling that was the same color or became ‘colored’ by that first sensation. This slows down my sensation and internal perception of time. Slowly memories get pieced together from fragments.” John says the same goes for brushstrokes. They carry with them the memories of other brushstrokes, other paintings. “The more paintings I have in my head the more memories are stored.”

John says that by merging light, color and brushwork he seeks to make the work specific and – simply – itself. “The more exact I can make it the deeper it becomes. By this, I mean emotional depth. This emotional depth I experience as a duration in time rather than a spatial depth. Art is unexpected and time dissolves in color like pigments in glue or oil color in thinner.”

The frames and barriers of a painting
The colors in Kees' works are more saturated. But where do they come from? Kees doesn't say anything when I ask him, just gets up, goes to a bookshelf and seemingly without thinking grabs a handbook: Icelandic lichen by Hörður Kristinsson from 2016. "This is a great color catalog," says Kees, handing me the book. It is filled with post-it notes and records.

Before Kees starts painting, he cuts out a frame, which he uses to protect the contours of the painting's surface. His paintings that at a glance, at first sight, may appear to be monochromatic rectangles, are not at all. You only have to look for a few seconds to see that there is something "askew" about them. Ambiguity is the word Kees uses when he talks about the importance of form in his works. "It prevents you from really understanding anything."

But the frame he uses to protect the form, has secondary effects on the resulting painting; both its texture and color. The outer edges are more finely grained, which enhances a three-dimensional perception. The oldest layer forms a thin line at the outermost edge, appearing when the work is removed from the work table, reminding us that the past always slips through somehow. Even in acceptance and mindfulness.

Repetition – memory – intuition
John and Kees agree that they don't really think when they paint, and neither seek self-expression. They use intuition, body memory and repetition. They know what they are doing, without thinking about it. They know the way, their own path, which they have found themselves. Kees with a method he has developed throughout his artistic career, John in search of ever-disappearing moments with haunted brushstrokes.

Text by Halla Þórlaug Óskarsdóttir
BERG  Contemporary
BERG Contemporary
Smiðjustígur 10
Klapparstígur 16
101 Reykjavík
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