|Photo © Randi Anglin|
The Recent Paintings of Joost de Jonge
I know that Joost de Jonge’s recent work has been deeply inspired by music, as well as by the great tradition of modern European art. He is also stimulated and influenced by poetry and philosophical speculation. But the two features of his painting I would like to stress are its elementality and its freshness. When you look at a painting by Joost, and then at several in succession, you do not think of influences and echoes. The experience of his work is just the opposite: you feel an essential boldness, an elemental directness. Someone who knew nothing of Western art, say an ambassador from another planet, could delight in the colors and forms, the contrasts and surprises, the relations and connections, though an expert or connoisseur would likely appreciate them more.
What I admire most about Joost’s work is the directness, the wonderful playfulness, the sheer delight in the firmness of shapes and the relish for improvisation with pigments. There is a spontaneity, a lyricism of complement and contrast, the large with the small, the fat with the slender, the clash of colors, the advancing and receding of colors, and fields energized by unexpected tints.
Others have commented on Joost’s use of synesthesia, the experience of one sense through another, hearing the visual, tasting the flavor of a solid form. Goethe described a cathedral as ‘frozen music’. Baudelaire believed in the correspondences of all the senses answering each other in the temple of nature. Rimbaud gave a color to each of the vowels. Psychologists tell us that synesthesia thrills us and enhances all the arts because it reminds us of our first experiences of sensation, when as infants the senses were not differentiated for us, and each experience was pristine, unmediated by name or definition. The pleasure of a note, a beam of light, the scent of rain, was intense, uncluttered by expectation or custom. Our consciousness, our capacity for pleasure, was planted and grew from this original connection to the world around us.
The beauty of Joost’s paintings is that he is able to peel away the accumulated expectations and assumptions, so many of the received gestures of art, and somehow recapture that initial sense of color, shape, the balancing of form and volume, line and space. He refers to the spark that remains a mystery, that is the beginning of a work. I suspect that he himself doesn’t know exactly how he does it, and probably doesn’t want to know, any more than the composer wants to know how he or she has perfect pitch, or the mathematician how he or she can visualize the hidden relationships of numbers. Joost knows the things that inspire him and help him reach that state of imagination where he can discover as he sketches what it is he wants to make, in a spirit of play, sometimes teasing, experimenting with the mating and separating, juxtaposing, blocks and slices of a personal rainbow.
As a poet has to find the place deep in himself, under the conventions and cliches of language, at the bedrock where the voice originates and is most alive, where the words are fresh and inevitable, as if known for the first time, Joost has found a way, or several ways, to reach into himself and find there visual essences which are at once completely his own yet belong to all who view them.
While this art may resemble at times what is often called ‘primitive’ by some, it is also the opposite of primitive, enabled by a long commitment and practice of painting, and influenced by the other arts, especially music. The best art conceals art, and may seem a thing of a moment, however long the preparation and execution. In fact Joost’s recent paintings seem to create a world we have never seen before, but recognize at once, an enchanted landscape of heightened perception and cathexis, in frame after frame, combination after combination, as we follow the artist on his astonishing journey.
Finally I want to mention what I can only call the honesty of the paintings, the firmness and directness, their integrity. Viewing each one you feel the character, the confidence, the warmth, reaching out to connect with the world we see around us, and with humanity in need of a renewed and authentic vision.