T E X T S > E N G L I S H
(scroll down further to read these texts)
About my Work - René Korten
Mirrors of reality - Nico Out, newspaper PZC, November 3, 2018
Eine Sicht auf vermeintlich dystopische Acrylmalereien (in German) - Carlo Magno on site Feral Eye Art Gallery, August 18 2018
Decisiveness and Hesitation - Hendrik Driessen, director Museum De Pont, Tilburg NL, in book 'Diver's Eye', June 2012
DUB, On the Work of René Korten - Hanneke de Man in book 'Diver's Eye', June 2012
The Need for the Unknowable - Alex de Vries in book 'Diver's Eye', June 2012
Interview René Korten - Valerie Brennan, blog Studio Critical, a behind the scenes approach to contemporary painting, May 1, 2012
Saddle as the Skull of Thoughts - Alex de Vries in publication 'Vrij van de Druk (A Free Enterprise), Guest Studios 2007', September 2008
A Painting as a Model of Life - Ernst Jan Rozendaal, PZC, November 20, 2001
Growing and building; flowing and crashing - Angelique Spaninks, Eindhovens Dagblad, September 7, 2000
Authentic Painter René Korten counters a Doomsday Scenario with a highly vital Gesture - Cees Strauss, Trouw, September 26, 1997
About my Work
Man has a great influence on his environment, the world is an amalgam of chaos and horror and at the same time of beauty and ingenuity as a result of human nature. Cultural and natural processes are virtually indistinguishable from each other.
This is what engages me, that's what my work is about, and the processes mentioned are reflected in the working process of artmaking. I alternate highly precise decisions with intuitive operations and only partially controllable actions. Every painting, every object, every project is a result of interacting forces.
I strive to create pronounced works, but essencially they are about making connections. I have the conviction that, also in the present time, it is useful and necessary to make images in which differences are not smoothened, but in which meaningful and productive meetings of the seemingly contradictory are central. Images that are complex and at the same time look clear. Pictures with a logic that can not be named. Exciting and relevant paintings because of the way in which the constituent elements connect to each other and thereby make a statement about the world. Images that are a parallel universe rubbing against reality, but that can not be reduced directly to a figurative interpretable representation or social comment. Growing and building, flowing and crashing combined in a syncretic way.
Paint flows , fluid becomes image. Just as cells divide , this is how the blotches take shape. I try things out and observe what happens. There is no detailed plan, but an intention does exist. Experimentation and variation sooner or later lead to a combination of elements that proves fruitful, one that's new and yet holds up. A new form of 'suitability'. Darwinism in paint. Paint shows itself and shows this process. A blotch is both itself and an organism functioning within a whole. The painting is its own domain as well as a portrayel of the (complexity of the) world in which it exists. There is no distinction between the abstract and the figurative.
Mirrors of reality
Nico Out, newspaper PZC, November 3, 2018
Nothing recognizable can be seen in the work of René Korten. Yet it is about people. How do we see ourselves and the world? What is happening under the surface? What do we have in common? Together with Mark Kramer, Korten exhibits in Goes.
The essence of how we see the world is perhaps the contrast between nature and culture, coincidence and control, ratio and emotion. From there comes that incredibly rich, multiform reality that surrounds us, that we partly are ourselves ánd that we create ourselves. Korten (1957) reflects on this by bringing improvisation and careful decision making into an ever different balance.
He builds up his compositions from layers of which the application and the thickness of the paint form the basis. Sometimes, as in the featured painting Feeler, he places a pronounced form at one point, such as a circle. But you can see that he painted a purplish surface before, with a sharp separation on the upper side. It changes into brown and is bordered at the bottom by a gray plane. On the brown is a bright white shape, partly created by a scraping movement, partly by letting the paint flow. But before Korten placed that spot, he had already created a deep blue, cloud-like shape that covers a piece of the circle.
A subtle T-shape in gray is the final chord of this series of actions. Of which I have only mentioned a part. In each of his works Korten succeeds in making the contrast of rational and organic forms an exciting adventure. His paintings are thus both mirror of reality and independent part of it. Pure art of great class.
Eine Sicht auf vermeintlich dystopische Acrylmalereien
Carlo Magno on website Feral Eye Art Gallery, August 18, 2018
In seinem grossen, über sechzig Arbeiten umfassenden Gemäldezyklus, welcher 2010 bis 2014 entstand, näherte sich der niederländische Maler René Korten dem Thema einer modernen Landschaft intuitiv von zwei diametral gegenüberliegenden Warten aus. Ob er in Folge - je nach Ausarbeitung - den Fokus primär auf die unbescholtene und sich selbst überlassenen Seite der Natur legte oder auf jene, die mit den abrasiven Interessen der Industrie (und somit mit den gewaltigen, unterordnenden Schöpfungskraft des Menschen) im Konflikt steht, ist einerlei: Er betrat mit dieser Werkgruppe, trotz der zuweilen sehr abstrakten Ansätze, eine irritierend realistische und hochaktuelle Grauzone.
Wer wie ich viel mit dem Zug pendelt und fast täglich den gleichen Weg zur Arbeit nehmen muss, dem wird es trotz der Beiläufigkeit und der Routine, mit der man an den gewohnten Landschaften in hohem Tempo vorbeizieht, nicht entgangen sein, dass Natur und Mensch sich zwar gegenseitig permanent konditionieren und somit zwangsläufig in einem steten Dialog stehen, auf der anderen Seite aber in der Kombination auch oft eine latente Disharmonie entfalten können, welche bei genauerer Betrachtung alles andere als symbiotisch, ja gar ungesund erscheinen muss.
Zu verschieden sind Rhythmen und Anliegen: Wo der Mensch in Tagen, Monaten und Jahren rechnet und um seiner selbst willen so viele Zeichen seiner Präsenz wie möglich hinterlassen möchte, in denen er sich in Folge auch spiegeln und wiedererkennen kann, da manifestiert sich die Natur gleichmütig und vor allem wertefrei in Jahrtausenden, Jahrmillionen andauernden Schöpfungswellen.
Auf dieses situative Spannungsfeld reagiert Korten schon im ersten Arbeitsschritt, indem er ganz bewusst durch ein von formalen Zwängen losgelöstes, freies Auftragen von Acryl auf MDF-Platten den Zufall mit einbringt, welcher - anders als die diversen ordnenden Kräfte in der Malerei - nichts Wertendes kolportiert, sondern ganz natürlich permutierend einem Lauf folgen kann. In einer zweiten Phase greift der Maler jedoch korrigierend ein und übernimmt bei der weiteren Gestaltung die Kontrolle, indem er mit Rakel sowie Spatel begradigend und ordnend auf den Malflächen interveniert. Die Eingriffe scheinen so kühl und berechnend angebracht worden zu sein, dass der Betrachtende einstweilen dazu neigen könnte, sich von dieser vermeintlich unnatürlichen "Reorganisation" emotional distanzieren zu müssen, denn sie verweist schon fast auf vertraute Weise auf jene typischen Spuren, die der Mensch bei der Besiedlung und der folgenden Ressourcenschöpfung zu hinterlassen pflegt.
Korten schenkt in seinen Acrylgemälden aber ohne Zweifel auch ganz bewusst der pragmatischen Ästhetik von vermeintlich domestizierten und von Menschenhand umorganisierten Landschaften so viel Aufmerksamkeit, dass sich mir bei wiederholtem Betrachten der Hope Roads schon bald die Frage stellte, ob die dargestellte Konkurrenzsituation zweier scheinbar so gegensätzlich emanierender Schöpfungskräfte nicht vielleicht doch einem facettenreicheren Zweck dienen könnte als jenem offensichtlichen, in allem lediglich Unvereinbares, Unheilvolles erkennen zu wollen.
Obwohl der Maler dem Betrachter mit diesem Ansätzen schon genug Raum für eine eingehendere Auseinandersetzung bietet, scheint er mit den Hope Roads darüber hinaus auch der masslosen Geschwindigkeit ein spezifisches Gewicht zu geben, einer Kraft, die aktuell wohl wie keine zweite auf unsere Wahrnehmung Einfluss nimmt. Korten bewerkstelligt dies, indem er dem Auge des Betrachters im grössten Teil seiner Arbeiten keine fixen Ruhepole setzt und die Landschaften so sehr in die Horizontale verzerrt, dass sie am Betrachter im wahrsten Sinne des Wortes vorbeiziehen und mit ihnen auch alle statischen Versatzstücke, welche dem Auge beim Betrachten Sicherheit verleihen könnten. Da Korten in dieser Bildgruppe auch auf die explizite physische Präsenz des Menschen verzichtet und der technische Verwischungseffekt zuweilen so sehr gesteigert ist, dass über fast allen Arbeiten ein Schleier der Anonymität und Orientierungslosigkeit zu liegen scheint, hängt den Bildern zugleich etwas Anregendes, Faszinierendes, aber auch Unbehagliches nach. In all diesen Widersprüchen steckt - nebst dem gekonnt lasierenden und schwer lesbaren Auftrag Kortens - die Magie der "Hope Road"-Gemälde, die gleichermassen aktuell, wie unnahbar scheinen und von einer vermeintlichen Dystopie erzählen, die es vermag, frische Reizpunkte zu setzen und vor allem dazu anhält, sein eigenes ästhetisches Empfinden nochmals gründlich zu überdenken.
Decisiveness and Hesitation
Hendrik Driessen, director Museum De Pont, Tilburg NL, in book 'Diver's Eye', June 2012
The paintings of René Korten can be read from quite a distance. On closer examination, they do reveal more but undergo no fundamental change in terms of character or meaning. When seen from afar, Korten's work immediately conveys the clarity of its composition; from a closer perspective, we're lured in by the paint which, despite its transparency, has an almost sensual materiality. But even from that close perspective, the details observed remain subservient to the experience of the whole. How does Korten achieve that?
How does he manage to maintain such control over that seductive sensuality of the material and to interweave it with our perception of the entire painting? I would assume that this has to do with the cohesive effect of his 'handwriting'. Drawing is, along with writing, undoubtedly the medium in which thought and execution, thinking and doing, can converge most beautifully; and the paintings of René Korten are on the verge of being drawing. He paints like a draughtsman, draws like a painter. Every work exudes the decisiveness, or the very hesitancy perhaps, with which he conveys a mental picture on the image surface.
In his work a line is not only the definition of a form, but also a significant visual factor in which the pencil or brush yields at least as much expression as that put across by the work as a whole. To the average viewer, none of that matters as long as he finds the painting 'beautiful'. Yet I'm certain that our ability to enjoy the work of Korten has precisely to do with his quest for a convergence of every constituent part in that surprising entity which we call a successful work of art. And it is in the very absence of complete clarity or justification that such a 'beautiful' discovery becomes manifest.
translation: Beth O'Brien
DUB, On the Work of René Korten
Hanneke de Man, in book 'Diver's Eye', June 2012
In his studio René Korten is surrounded by paintings in progress. These hang on the wall, lie on the floor and—when being worked on—are held, by clamps, at a slight angle against the wall. The works are in various states of completion. Among a number of them, makeshift strips and bits of paper have been attached to the painted surface in order to determine the exact position and length of the painted lines and areas, which will need to offer resistance to the movement and transparency of paint layers already present. With Korten, painting is a process involving an alternation of action and reaction, immediacy and reflection. While allowing, in one phase, the fluid paint to find its own way or aiming, in his manner of painting, for a seemingly messy nonchalance, in the subsequent phase he regains control and experiments extensively with the placement of a line or the undulations of a contour, as small shifts can make all the difference. Testing the visual potential of opposing elements, Korten approaches painting as a bridled free-rein activity.
In a recent three-part series this search and response to what emerges seems to be summed up in the title. On each of the MDF boards that serve as panels, a single letter has been constructed in thin pencil lines. The rigid outlines remain visible through the color wash and support the garland-like bands that are a striking element in this series. Together they make up the word DUB, which is also the main title of the works. Its terseness gives this title a laconic tone; at the same time the word evokes associations with the Dutch verb dubben—to be of two minds.
Once before, in 1990, Korten gave this title to a work. At that point the free-rein approach to painting had not really come about yet. In this work the precision of an intricate mesh, the solid areas of color, as well as blank spaces in the shape of a circle and an oval leave their mark on the image. Although the two versions of Dub differ very much in visual terms, the way in which they have been conceived is surprisingly similar. In both cases the image is based on a juxtaposition of antithetical visual elements, which have been placed not only opposite each other but also over each other, in layers. The title Dub also implies that principle of stacking elements. In various forms of music the term refers to the practice of ’stacking' existing fragments of music in order to fuse them into a new whole.
The first version of Dub dates from Korten's early days as an artist, following his graduation from the Academie voor Beeldende Vorming in Tilburg. It was a time when painting had lost its carefree nature. Fundamental Painting had, many believed, drawn the ultimate consequences, to which Maurice Denis had already alluded in 1890 with his famous statement: "Remember that a painting—before it is a battle horse, a nude model or some anecdote—is essentially a flat surface covered with colors assembled in a certain order."
The widely pronounced death of painting failed to prevent Korten from latching onto this medium. Figuration presented no challenge to him. Like many other non-figurative artists of that time, Korten decided to take a formal approach in which the autonomy of the image was his main concern.
The construction of the image and the physical properties and behavior of the material received full focus. "I feel [...] more closely related to sculptors like Klingelhöller and Cragg than to other painters. I more or less carry out an installation on the flat surface; the greatest possible contrasts are brought together with strongly interrelated, overlapping parts [...] Mostly it involves building on the surface," he noted on 10 March 1993.
Looking back on that period he now says, "I wanted to get it more and more pure; I didn't want it to relate to the world, but wanted the artwork itself to be a world; no references and no symbolism. In retrospect I think it's a lot more complicated than that."
What sort of image do you strive for, and how does that relate to the world? Over the past twenty years this has remained a key issue in Korten's body of work. It quickly became clear to him just what a painting needs to achieve in order to yield an interesting and exciting image. In all of his works Korten seeks the confrontation between diverse, often antithetical visual elements that challenge, question and approach each other, but never become reconciled with each other. As for the question of how such images obtain validity and become rooted in the world from which they arise, the answer is more ambiguous.
Initially Korten sought that justification in a purely formal approach and contrasted the straight with the curved, the constructed with the freely drawn line. He combined the transparency of the mesh with the density of a color field, and the concreteness of the material with the illusory character of painted lines and surfaces.
From 1996 onward the nature and the behavior of the material also become increasingly part of this principle of dualities; and the capriciousness of spontaneously formed blotches of color contrasts with evenly painted areas and graphic elements. Along with this, the actual qualities of the material are utilized as he actively employs the pattern of the grain in plywood, accumulations of pigment, the transparency of highly diluted acrylic or the shine of graphite paint to bring greater richness to the image. And finally in 1997 photographic elements begin to appear; as a 'found object', reality infiltrates the nonrepresentational world of the painting. All of those various elements provide Korten's body of work with great visual diversity. Furthermore, a rectilinear development cannot be discerned in this; it is sooner a circular movement in which new possibilities are constantly being picked up, tried out and given expressive power, then suddenly vanishing and appearing again at a later stage.
Evolving parallel to this was Korten's outlook on the character and the meaning of forms. The two aspects that he wishes to bring together in his paintings—the formal and the organic, the constructed and the spontaneous, form and color, the concrete and the associative—can be reduced to the polarity culture/nature. We often treat these as opposites, but can a sharp dividing line actually be drawn between the two? Isn't the point at which they meet and overlap more interesting? Korten is fascinated with that diffuse area. For him, the photographic depiction of a plastic garden basin, which surfaces in a number of works during the late 1990s, is an embodiment of this paradox. Designed at the drawing board, it is an object whose fluid outline has been derived from archetypal forms in nature—an object which, by way of its very artificiality, is aimed at making water flow in a natural manner.
The problematics of nature versus culture not only play a prominent role in his paintings, but also constitute an important theme in the collaboration which Korten undertook with the artist Jan van den Langenberg (1948) in 2001. That year gave rise to an initial joint installation revolving around the chemistry between culture, art and nature. Their collaboration proved to be so challenging and intensive that, from 2003 to 2007, Korten gave up painting in his studio in order to devote himself entirely to joint projects at such diverse locations as the polder landscape around Nagele, a seventeenth-century barn in the Belgian village Melkwezer and a former military complex in Potsdam. Until 2010—the year in which the two artists went their separate ways again—they realized nearly twenty-five presentations which gave shape, in all sorts of ways, to their shared fascination with natural processes of change and the potential effects of these on man's identity and living environment.
Compared with his own approach to painting, the projects with Jan van den Langenberg meant a different way of working. Not the material, but the idea determined the direction. These ideas took shape in a wide range of media and techniques, each geared specifically to the project, the space and character of the location.
Contemplating this period, Korten says: "What I found very exciting is the way in which you look at the world: how you can be nurtured and moved by something that crosses your path, how you deal with that and turn it into art." The experience has continued to have its effects, even when painting became his main activity again and, rather than the idea, his way of dealing with the material became the point of departure.
Although the main emphasis has been on autonomous painting in recent years, Korten has also produced a few installations on location. Fountainhead - A Furnished Landscape has particular significance. For the installation, which he carried out at the Tilburg artists' initiative Argument, he adopted the day-to-day situation in the studio as his starting point. The work was built with the same MDF boards that Korten uses as panels for his paintings. Just as in the studio, these were held with clamps and leaning against the wall. Whereas, in the studio, that position served a purely practical purpose, he now employed the unsteady balance of boards placed against the wall as a visual image with sculptural potential. The large boards stood close together in two rows, one on top of the other, so that the walls were almost completely hidden from view. In order to reinforce the connection with the space, the boards in the lower row were partially covered with gesso, to exactly half the height of the space.
The boards were 'activated' not only by this white frieze, but also by the promise of images.
On a number of panels a large, carefully constructed letter had been drawn in thin pencil lines; on another was a horizontal band of small stickers, also drawn on. The letters joined to become the titles of both existing and as yet unrealized paintings. It was as if the visitor had been shown the reverse side of a body of work in progress. Past, present and future were contained in a single image.
Fountainhead - A Furnished Landscape marks a pivotal point in Korten's career, a link between a more conceptual period and the moment at which he took up painting again with new verve. A year later the installation acquired added meaning when Korten decided to use the MDF boards in it as the support for a new series of paintings. Until then, he had been preparing the boards with an even layer of gesso as an adhesive for the paint. For the six-part series Sea Bait he utilized the condition in which the boards appeared in the installation: only partially covered with gesso and drawn on with the letters in pencil that fill nearly the entire image surface.
The reminder of an earlier phase in the life of these paintings not only determined their structure; this was also used to increase the visual wealth and stratification of the image. Where the color wash was applied across the unprepared areas of the board, the paint has been absorbed into the MDF; the hushed pastel hues of pink and yellow-green become more matte and darker than when applied over the ground layer of gesso, on which the brushstroke stands out more distinctly. Due to the use of highly diluted acrylic, the ground layer remains dimly visible through the veil of color, and an optical blending of the various layers occurs. Subdued painterliness is thereby linked with the graphic clarity of a playfully undulating line and the severe outlines of pencilled letters. Together the letters on these six different panels make up the word ZEEAAS. Korten once saw the word on the facade of a business in Zeeland and was struck by its nearly symmetrical appearance as a letter-image, as well as by the mysterious sound and poetry of it.
Translated into English, the word serves as the title of the series. Title and image interconnect and evoke associations with a vast, lively space. The meandering form that invades the painting seems to be a wholly foreign element in it. That form could be interpreted in various ways—as a winding ribbon or as the solid definition of a hollow shape, which might be seen as a protective shell or as a cage. The form suggests a human presence but does not reveal its meaning.
Whatever can be said about this detail applies to the painting itself as well. The eye allows itself to be swept along by the liveliness of the color, follows a defined form or slows to a halt at an interesting painterly detail. Although associations and reminders of motifs from reality do arise, the image as a whole continues to avoid any single interpretation. That puzzling and sometimes alienating ambiguity is what also fascinates and inspires Korten in reality, whether it be stuffing from a bike seat found on the street, the skeletal remains of a house reduced to ashes, lettering on a truck or the sound of a word.
"I find it most intriguing when a thought or an idea becomes linked with a visual fact, but there isn't just one key to it," Korten says about the interpretation of his works. That process of interpretation also takes place as he himself paints. Beforehand, the image of how the painting should eventually look is still vague. As for the two opposites, both of which require his attention for an image to have a wealth of meaning, he knows just as little about how they will converge. Throughout the developmental process Korten allows himself to be stimulated by what emerges in terms of resistance and opportunities, seizing these in order to venture further.
The undulating line—as a counterpart to the straight line—is one of those elements that has evolved considerably over the past two years. From the start the circular shape has been a motif that appears in Korten's paintings in all sorts of guises. While the circle in the 1990 version of Dub yielded an expressive contrast by its very perfection, in recent paintings this geometric figure itself has become the embodiment of contradictions. Instead of the circle, Korten now paints—with the aid of a template—mainly its outline. The wavy lines in his Sea Bait series and in the previously mentioned series Dub 1,2,3 came about as the connective outline of a string of circles. Because this wavy line was not carried out in a single movement but in stages, small overlapping areas catch the eye. Furthermore, the use of a template gave rise to uneven 'leak' lines, which contrast with the severe circles in pencil that served as an aid in the construction. Korten cherishes such little irregularities, which can turn a simple form into a complex whole.
Inconsistencies in the visual elements bring about, on a formal but also on an associative level, an ambiguity which cannot be reduced to simple oppositions. Are the undulating lines in Dub 2, Cellar Door movements? Or are they contours, and if so, what shape do they encompass? Descending from the circles in pencil, the meandering lines have been conceived as three bands. Due to the use of alternating light- and dark-grey paint, the light-grey inner lines can be experienced, however, as the contours of a form and the dark-grey outer lines as their echo. That form itself is also ambiguous and gives rise to associations with a torso and a bull's head. In the large painting Valid Invalid, such a twofold association with reality is even stronger. Turquoise areas of color and the mysterious little white lines resist, however, all-too-easy conclusions.
Over the past two years Korten has shown himself to be, to a greater extent than before, a 'true' painter, for whom the sensory experience and the associative power of forms and colors, of materials and paint application have prime importance. The formal treatment has gained the upper hand, but for Korten the painting isn't finished until the image transcends those formal aspects and evokes associations with the world and with human experience. Only then, when the painting rises above itself and relates, in its ambiguity and complexity, to an equally intangible reality, has it truly earned its right to exist. It is a metamorphosis toward which Korten works, yet that magic moment can never be predicted. It happens.
translation: Beth O'Brien
The Need for the Unknowable
Alex de Vries, in book 'Diver's Eye', June 2012
Paintings by René Korten evaporate before your very eyes. He uses paint in order to portray the immaterial. Just as in the perspective of a landscape or a seascape where, within an undefined expanse, earth or water dissolves into thin air, perceptible experiences become inexplicable phenomena in his paintings. His points of departure are concrete. These are simple assignments that he gives himself, or ways in which to articulate them, while the execution of that plan constitutes a nearly impossible task. Every artwork produced by him represents a way in which to overcome that impossibility. His intended assignment lies beyond himself but must be carried out within himself. By painting he brings something within his reach, something not there before. It hadn't existed, but in the painting it does exist.
By reaching beyond his capacity, René Korten gives rise to something that he doesn't trust. In order to do so he always needs to conquer a part of himself. Everything that is obvious for an artist to do is disregarded by him: too knowable. To him, the need to be an artist has to do with the unknowable.
A painter's panel is a field of possibilities, in which the painted elements cancel each other out in order to form an image. No matter how diverse the individual parts may be, they collectively make up the ingredients of a visual composition where they neutralize any inconsistencies with regard to each other. Seen individually, they bear no relationship to each other at all and can, at most, be considered counterparts or foreign bodies; but in Korten's paintings they become consistent with each other in a way that can only be brought about through painterly means.
His work frequently has its origins in words which, put together in a certain way, might evoke an indescribable image—one that can only be depicted. He comes across these words, picks them up, then pulls them apart and puts them back together again, shortens, widens, thickens, heightens and omits them. The painting of images that explore words and their connotations leads to work which cannot be called word pictures so much as palindromes in the form of images. When rotated, Korten's images remain the same but do seem different nonetheless. Approaching them from a different angle throws off one's perspective. Depth becomes flatness; or the surface acquires depth. Looking at them involves, in any case, descending into oneself in order to fathom their meaning.
The painted appearance of René Korten's work is fluid and transparent, but fragile at the same time, as though something has congealed for a moment. A gaze almost pulverizes the paintings into a kind of eggshell powder, held together briefly in the image experienced. You get sand in your eyes. You rub it out, then blink them. As they water, you can't believe what you're seeing, and your focus adapts to the shape of the painting. Only then, on seeing that, does the painting exist.
Looking at these paintings allows you to relate to life and the world in a way that is certainly as astonishing and puzzling as the works themselves. All sorts of recognizable and legible facets can be discerned; in the relationship which they take on with each other, they bring about an inexplicable yet obvious sensation. You can't explain what you see, only accept that it has assumed this outward appearance. In the work of René Korten, that outward appearance is the literal portrayal of the non-expressive. Something which does not exist appears before your eyes. Added to the world is something fundamental; and though imaginary, its very absence no longer seems possible. René Korten abolishes the lack that had yet to become apparent.
translation: Beth O'Brien
Interview René Korten
Valerie Brennan, blog Studio Critical, a behind the scenes approach to contemporary painting, May 1, 2012
What are you working on in your studio right now?
I’m working on new paintings for two upcoming solo exhibitions starting in June. They run almost simultanuously, both in the city of Tilburg. One show is in the beautiful Museum De Pont, the other one in Luycks Gallery. Combined with the exhibitions a book about my work will be presented, entitled ‘Diver’s Eye’. Creating that monograph also takes up a lot of my time at the moment, in fact even most of my time.
Can you describe your working routine?
I don’t have a fixed working routine. Different periods ask for a different focus and that’s allright. I can be very focused on painting and drawing for periods of time and at other times I’m working on other things like teaching art, doing work for two advisory committees I am a member of, but also other stuff like preparing panels to paint on, making frames, updating website and so on. So now making a book in collaboration with the publisher distracts me a bit from painting. It’s important to me that all of these activities are connected to art.
Can you describe your studio space and how, if at all, that affects your work?
My studio space is the first floor of a former small engine factory. It is divided into three parts because three artists used to work here. Now I’m on my own. There are windows on both sides: on one side I look on the roof of an old big industrial space, on the other side is a lot of greenery and some big trees, very near. A museum director once visited me in the studio to prepare an opening speech for an upcoming exhibition. In the speech he mentioned the contrast of the two views in my studio, and he suggested that this must have inspired me in the work dealing with the polarity culture/nature. I didn’t think that he was right about that at the time, but now I think there was more truth in it than I realized then. Although I have never been an artist who depicts directly what he sees.
Tell me about your process, where things begin, how they evolve etc.
I make my paintings on wood panels. They used to be plywood or masonite, now I prefer MDF boards. The hardness of the surface suits me well. By using tape I can create hard edges,and this is combined with applying highly diluted acrylic paint. Therefore the painting panel is always placed horizontally on the floor or on a table whenever I do the actual painting. Each painting has its own process of creation. Sometimes I make a painting or a series of paintings, based on a concept, for instance in a recent three-part series, where the first layer of each of the works is a big letter in pencil lines, and the combined letters make up the word DUB. In other paintings there is a more gestural approach. But always my aim is to somehow connect the more rational or intellectual part of creating an artwork to the pure joy of working with paint, to an intuitive and only partly controllable way of working.
I don’t prepare my paintings by making sketches. But I do sketch on the paintings themselves by adding and shifting bits of paper in different colors and shapes. I do this to find out what the next step has to be, working towards a composition that is complex and rich because of its contradictions, but that is also convincing and clear. This means that sometimes it takes a lot of time to develop and finish my paintings.
Next to painting I make works on paper, lately in pretty small sizes. Their creation goes much faster. I call these SWOPs (Small Works On Paper). This is an ongoing series and I work on them in periods, as mentioned earlier. In these works I often involve prints based on photographs. I always carry my camera and I take a lot pictures wherever I am. Photos of things that catch my eye and surprise me, of interesting compositions and combinations of elements that look promising. But these photos are just material; I rework them on the computer to create images less recognizable and with a drawing-like suggestive quality. Then I print them and use them as a starting point to create new works by adding one or more elements or layers of paint.
What are you having the most trouble resolving?
The thing that gives me most trouble resolving is in fact the essence of the work: how to transform a number of visual ingredients into a meaningful image. And there is not a recipe for that. In the beginning it’s just trial and error, I’m moving things around and most of the time nothing happens, but I’m always looking for the moment that the lines, forms and stains come alive and in their combination start talking to me: ‘let me be’. It’s a matter of chemistry. This is what I strive for, it has to happen, but I cannot predict when it does and how long it takes.
Do you experiment with different materials a lot or do you prefer to work within certain parameters?
Experimentation with different materials is not an aim in itself. I have always found that limitations are stimulating to me. I love to work with techniques and means as simple as possible. That’s why I use acrylic paint. It enables me to act very quickly once I know what to do, and there are hardly any technical problems to solve. Not a focus on technique, but on trying to take the right actions, making the right choices and by that creating evocative images.
What does the future hold for this work?
I have no idea. But I do hope to keep developing the expressiveness of my work. Hopefully the recognition of it will continue to grow, enabling me to keep creating work and exhibiting it in many interesting places.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
The last few years the atmosphere in the Netherlands changed dramatically, also in regard to the arts. Although the political situation is shifting again very recently in a somewhat hopeful direction, the importance of the arts has decreased considerably in the public opinion and artist have been pushed to the margins of society. That’s why I want to express the hope that we as artists from everywhere stick together; we have to support each other and keep focusing on the power of art to inspire people in living together in a compassionate, openminded and loving way. Thanks Valerie for the opportunity to tell about my working practise and express this wish.
Saddle as the Skull of Thoughts
Alex de Vries, publication Vrij van de Druk (A Free Enterprise), Guest Studios 2007, Daglicht/Beeldenstorm, September 2008
René Korten sees a container lorry on the motorway. The container is blue and is imprinted with a name in white letters: SPIRIT. A container for the spirit. For a visual artist, things could not be made easier. It may be compared to the shock experienced by Hewald Jongenelis, a sculptor, when he was on his way to execute one of his installations. Wherever he looked, hit eyes lit on vans with the lettering: installation company. As an artist, Korten exists by thye grace of inner contradictions. He composes his work by combining what is planned and what is not planned. His planning consists in surrendering to brainwaves: the spirit container is a space for the static and the mobile, the material and the immaterial, body and mind, a whirlwind of images by daylight. The saddle he is sitting in is the skull of his thoughts.
He executes the combination of concept and concrete form in the shape of a pallet. It is the container of the invisible, giving rise to the image. René Korten is very careful in the way he goes about his work. He constantly deliberates with himselves about the things he sees. looking at his shoe, he sees a container for his foot. The formed and the formless support each other. He likes to work with materials bought at the DIY-shop which always carry some promise, like plasterboard for instance, which may serve as a base for graphic work.
Recently, he also started to use the computer in the work process. He shops photographs and regards the print-outs he makes from these as sketches. These sketches provide an insight into the process of a photograph becoming a drawing. In every work René Korten tries to get a grip on the elusive form. Always, there is this dichotomy: what keeps the object upright? Is it freestanding or is it held up by what it excretes? This is simply demonstrated by means of a small sculpture, executed in bronze and brown wax, of a small industrial, warehouse-like building with two little jagged heaps in front.
A Painting as a Model of Life
Ernst Jan Rozendaal, PZC, November 20, 2001
The work of painter René Korten is full of contradictions. In his panels he combines black and white with colour, figuration with abstraction, luxurious paintwork with an impersonal filling of planes. ‘I think it is important to exploit different contrasts.’ At this moments Korten exhibits at the Gallery Van den Berge in Goes. From recent pictures hanging there we can conclude how quick his work developes. In just one year it clearly became more colourful, expressive and complex. In contradiction to for instance Piet Mondrian you cannot find a tendency to reduction in Korten’s work. He rather walks the opposite direction.
‘After studying drawing and painting I had problems with the abundance of possibilities from which I had to choose’, Korten tells. ‘At first I decided to limit myself to drawing. I looked for means as impersonal and minimal as possible, and still tell something highly individual. It was obvious I had to learn to find the essence of what I wanted to visualize this way. After that my work became more and more complex. Like Mondrian I do strive for purity, but it is not coupled with simplification of the image.’
Korten rather chooses for balanced oppositions. In one painting for instance he can combine a twinkling of colours with leaving the ground of plywood or masonite unpainted (or having it reappear again by using sandpaper). He isn’t afraid either to combine a photographic image with an apparent strict arrangement of geometric figures. And when he depicts a number of circles, none of them appear to be identical and the structure of the paint is layed on thick within the circles’ boundaries.
‘To me a painting is a model of the world, of life itself, almost a mirror’, Korten declairs. ‘The world to me is very complex. I see an opposition between the world and me, but also in the world I perceive all sorts of conflicting things. This brings me to my basic theme. Which is in fact the relationship between culture and nature, or between rationalism and intuition. These are oppositions, but in my opinion man is missioned to balance these things.’
Korten’s working procedure is a combination of an intellectual and an intuitive approach, entirely in line with his ideas. His pictures are finished when he has the feeling he found the balance. ‘It’s like a spark that spreads. I’m looking for something and suddenly there is a click. I cannot exactly tell why. Why do two people hit off from the start?. In this sense the decision to have reached the balance between intuition and intellect is absolutely intuitive. I have to admit that.’
Growing and building; flowing and crashing
Angelique Spaninks, Eindhovens Dagblad, September 7, 2000
Animals and stains, but also people and spots. These are the themes of the recent works, selected by the artist René Korten, living in Tilburg, for his exhibition in the show-windows of the Gallery Peninsula Daily in Eindhoven. His works are partially painted or printed, but sometimes unmanufactured big panels of plywood or masonite. For a moment he was afraid his works would not show to full advantage on the gaudy blue backgrounds of the show-windows. But this turns out better than expected. Sometimes the carefully constructed compositions, in which abstraction and figuration melt together, confronted with the blue of the show-windows and the surrounding street noise, even come to life slightly more than in a gallery space which is generally white and sterile.
Take the jackdaw for instance who appears in a number of works, sometimes playing in a cage with a peg like a child with a comfort cloth, and then again free and proudly croaking with its beak half opened. Or take the fist, coming down hard between a metallic grey plane and a flow of running colours in Memory Device, made in 1997. When Korten made this work he had a saying in mind of Han Schuil. ‘He once said he wanted to combine the clarity of a traffic sign with the depth of a Flemish Primitive. A feel at home in this comparison and by presenting this picture on this corner as prominent as I did I feel it works like this indeed. Bang.’
Syncretism, or the melting together of different elements (nature and culture, abstraction and figuration, painting and photography, ground and image, man and animal) without abolishing their contrareities. This is what Korten wants to express in his work. ‘What I do I usually just call growing and building, flowing and crashing.’ This turns out to be a method he developed in the last fifteen years and he continues to carry it one step further.
He started with drawing. ‘Painting was too much of a fight for me. In drawing I got a grip on things’, the artist explains. Initially he made drawings on sheets of paper, but soon he changed to big wood panels. ‘Paper was too hasty and vulnerable to me, while panels are solid and heavy. You have something in your hands you can put down or lay down anywhere’. More-over his work grew more and more graphic, resulting in all kinds of patterns and grids. ‘This produced a particular universe of images, created by me, yet fitting in the modernist, abstract tradition.’
Just three years ago he introduced photography. ‘Not because abstraction didn’t satisfy me anymore. But the figurative aspect of photography seemed to be a splendid building stone to carry my work further and to enlarge its power of association.’ And this appears to be effective. The impressive panels en two subtle works on paper in the show-windows demonstrate it.
Authentic Painter René Korten counters a Doomsday Scenario with a highly vital Gesture
Cees Strauss, Trouw, September 26, 1997
Vital, contemporary and yet original, not the least of qualifications to characterize the work of René Korten. Korten (1957, educated at the Academy of Tilburg) settles accounts with the proposition of painting being as good as dead. This opinion, often proclaimed by curators of Documentas and Biennales, cannot hold any longer. Korten counters their doomsday scenario with a highly vital gesture. (....)
Korten’s solo exhibition at Lutz Gallery in Delft clarifies a lot of what his talents are. He searches in the past, sometimes intending to find a somewhat archaich imagery, for the very reason to create a new language. The way in which he tries to solve problems of design however is very contemporary. In an aesthetic precize collage technique he mounts transparent photographs on a ground which is then being varnished in a dull tone. On top of that layers of paint are applied, also transparent.
This way of working reminds of Sigmar Polke, whose pictures are often transparent too. Are we dealing with an important source of inspiration here? In Korten’s work each layer has its own significance. They are all provided with numerous metaphors, free to influence each other.
Many times the transparent paint runs into ink-like stains, as if we see a Rorschach test that got out of hand. Most forms have an organic character, they often refer to research results in obscure laboratories. Contrary to this spontaneity are the rational interventions. When images are recognizable, Korten uses a kind of surreal realism. These elements look much like ‘after-images’, impressions that stay on the retina, long after the actual image has disappeared.