Between waking and dreaming
by Mariska van de Berg
for: Club Solo, 2014
Antonietta Peeters will open the Club Solo programme, a new artists' initiative in Breda, with a solo exhibition accompanied by a presentation of the work of Belgian artist Guy Mees. Coincidentally, it was this very place where she had her first solo exhibition in 1996, when it was still called Lokaal 01. The time that has gone by over the past eighteen years invites us not only to view her current work, but also to reflect on the spectacular work that marked the beginning of her career as a visual artist. This comparison shows a world of differences. The appearance of her work has changed dramatically, yet the underlying fascinations and motives remain markedly coherent.
In 1996, she had the downstairs area at her disposal; a low room, compared to its extent, which is also punctuated by dark pillars. Before her solo show, she had made "murals" of life-size cypresses, cut from fabric in various shades of black, which were applied directly to the walls, evoking a strong sense of perspective. In Lokaal 01, she used similar shapes in an installation that swept the walls, ceiling and floor into an all-encompassing metamorphosis of the entire room 1 . Large, rectangular strips of fabric laid a convincing claim to the walls and windows. In places, large, protruding shapes escaped their grasp, like the traces of an eruption of uncontrollable energy. Between the rampantly growing thicket of fabric, ambiguous references to palm trees and lakes that trailed off into the depths, the landscape played a dominant role. But the illusion was never given free play; again and again, the suggestion of spatiality coincided abruptly with the planarity of the two-dimensional walls. The equivocal illusions of images and the way they were consistently denied illustrate Peeters' preoccupation with the problem of visualisation that permeates her work. Nearly all her works feature a motive, such as a tree, a helmet or a leaf. But once they have been touched by her, not all things are recognised as readily. She refers to them, while at the same time trying to break free of their grip, in an attempt to reduce things to a stage that precedes putting them into words, or rather even understanding them. Motive, material and shape constantly invite further reflection.
By treating the walls as if they were a giant, continuous frieze, and convincingly involving the floor and ceiling in this, she created an inner space, a human-sized diorama with an empty centre. Depending on the viewer's perspective, the entirety seemed to metamorphosise: alternating suggestions of withdrawing and protruding resulted in wildly shifting perspectives. The viewers were the ones who formed the centre of this work that affected the senses in particular: seeing, feeling, and the sense of transience.
In 2014's current exhibition, high up in the hall, there are two crocheted works from that time - a three-headed, gauze helmet covered in crochet, and two crocheted hands that stretch out over the wall. In these works, she also displayed an acute ability to express her fascinations, with her comical pendant for cliché and exuberance providing a sense of relief. lt makes the more recent work seem quite conservative. Over the past ten years, Antonietta Peeters has made a conscious move to the framework of drawing and painting, limiting herself to canvas stretchers, the dimensions of paintings and drawings and accompanying materials. The purpose of this limitation was for her to avoid random elements and to increase the level of precision. This concentration, summarised in separate works, fits a museum-styled presentation as a self-evident framework that will gamer little debate. lt is a continuous process of magnification that does not come as a surprise, as even the 1996 installation focussed on essentially painterly issues: translating spatial things to a flat plane, the tension between space and negative space, and the suggestion or denial of perspective. Back then, she also made use of the materialisation of light, reflection and absorption, and gradations in lighting and shades. Whereas the work of 1 996 encroached upon and played with the entire exhibition space - and constantly managed to escape the viewers that moved through it - the individual works do not explicitly ask for conciliation and focus. In an ingenious process, she has been able to attain this ambiguous level of spatiality in the works themselves.
In the downstairs room of Club Solo, there is a large, white painting that shows a leaf pattern branching off from a vertical axis. Protruding seams stitched to the canvas provide texture and contours. The thin stitches on the flat plane are under apparent tension, creating small, dark openings in the surface. The canvas is prepared and painted white, with the outer edge left open, showing the brown-grey of the painter's linen. There, the protruding seams make sculpture-like folds around the edges of the stretcher bars, in a wavy rhythm that reinforces the drawing. The entire creation process - the preparation of the canvas, the stitching, the stretching and the painting - is visibly constituted in the work. From a distance, an almost schematic motive is seen, up close, all operations are clearly visible, as well as a range of shades of white, dissolving the pattern. It is a painting of silenced beauty, in which the image and the medium correspond in an intriguing fashion and the picture coincides with the material. The "sculpted" painting moves in the area that separates plastic arts from paintings, on which Peeters commented “... it seems that this is what I’m interested in, that place between real spatiality and the surface. I always wonder what the flat plane actually is, how it can be broken and where the painting eventually ends”.
Upstairs, there is a large painting in tenuous shades of blue, which carne about sometime prior An undulating line formed by a thin, stitched seam is repeated, creating a rhythmically repetitive pattern. The slant is derived from the boundary between land and water in another work in the exhibition (not catalogued), in which four perspectival landscapes are brought together on a single canvas. In the recent painting, the angular grid has been relinquished, and the sloping line is made independent. As a result, the as yet unclear source of the landscape is removed from the picture, though our strong tendency to interpret the painting cannot be restrained that easily. At a small distance, the sparse colours provide a hint of depth and, consequently, the image of a hilly patchwork of bulging fields. Up close, the concrete material reveals its details and subtle differences that disperse the symmetry. After all, if the pattern were too strong, it could serve as armour, impervious to the intended flexibility and freedom of viewing. This might be the reason that Antonietta Peeters has given the notions of movement and dynamism, which were also characteristic of her early "murals", free reign again in the works she recently made while at Club Solo.
For her Club Solo exhibition, Peeters has made three new works, each of a considerable size and on unstretched linen. An elongated light-grey canvas shows a picture emerging from a vertical mid-axis. Exuberantly fanning lines, made of stitching, seem to roll out to the edges of the book. It is a dynamic whole, with subtle nuances of colour ranging from blue-grey to sea-green and shades of brown. At its edges, the drawing is not constricted by a frame; the lines seem to move freely into the room, the edges of the loose canvas following the drawing. This flowing form recalls Don't try this at Home (1994) (not catalogued), a psychedelic crochet of brightly-coloured flower motives that spreads out over the wall in freely flaring shapes. Likewise, the recent grey canvas escapes the frame, the pattern, the symmetry and the motive. All that remains is a suggestion of space, movement and boundlessness, in an unframed picture that silently conforms to the two-dimensional plane.
Antonietta Peeters' recent work is the consistent result of an intensive process of craftsmanship. While reality as we perceive it has remained at the basis of her ideas, recognizable motives are increasingly absent from her recent work. As eye-catching as the forma/ possibilities of the painterly vocabulary and material may be, her fascination has stayed focused on our perception and the imperfection of its renderings. Whereas her presentation used to be almost aggressive - "in your face", but with the perfect degree of levity - her current work no longer leaps into view; it recedes with care. Only through patient study is it brought to life. This is fitting for the research behind the work, which, more so than in the past, concerns the question to what extent an image in the mind's eye can be materialised.
Mariska van den Berg 2014