– Autumn/Winter 2004

At the Crossroads of Painting

Adam Berg

René Daniëls, Lentebloesem (Spring Blossom) oil on canvas, 100cm x 120cm, 1987. Courtesy Galerie Paul Andriesse, Amsterdam

René Daniëls, Lentebloesem (Spring Blossom) oil on canvas, 100cm x 120cm, 1987. Courtesy Galerie Paul Andriesse, Amsterdam

Caught between life and death, painting, like Schrödinger's cat, can never be simultaneously measured by its 'momentum' and 'place'. Such a predicament is ever more present in the case of René Daniëls, a living artist whose artistic production concluded over a decade ago (Daniëls suffered a debilitating stroke in 1987), leaving us wondering about the momentum of his art, not knowing what his ultimate 'place' in art history could have been had his work continued to develop over the past and present decades.

Although it is tempting to locate this ?eetingly short yet combustive career in the 'momentum' of the 1980s, to do so would be to miss many of the possible directions and inner probings his work could have taken in the decades following. His paintings seem to project an atemporal sensibility that is nonetheless locatable in our vacillating present. ?e transience of their painted forms and the ephemeral association of images, such as, say, a skateboard or a microphone stand, disclose a world in which our experience of memory and language is eroded, creating the illusion of immediacy.

Memory and language play an equally pivotal role in Daniëls's work, yet in a way that is distinct from such prevailing preoccupations in painting over the past two decades. History as evoked in the paintings of artists such as Gerhard Richter and Luc Tuymans has positioned memory, both private and collective, in relation to the presence of historical sedimentation of past forms. In Daniëls's work tradition is actually mnemonically preserved in playful forms through a kind of apparent 'forgetfulness'. The idiosyncratic use of 'forgetfulness' here relates to the relation between presence and tradition articulated by the

  1. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Husserl at the Limits of Phenomenology, Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 2002, p.20

  2. Roger Shattuck and Simon Watson Taylor (eds.), Selected Works of Alfred Jarry, New York: Grove Press, 1965

  3. Philip Peters, 'René Daniëls: "Imprisoned in the Fleece"', in René Daniëls (exh. cat.), Eindhoven: Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum; Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg; Kunsthalle Basel, 1997

  4. Ibid., p.23

  5. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Brian Massumi (trans.), Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987. I borrow the term 'liminal spaces' from Victor Turner's anthropological work. See Victor Turner, The Anthropology of Performance, Maryland: John Hopkins University Press, 1987

  6. M. Merleau-Ponty, op. cit.

  7. Jaap Bremer, 'In Retrospect', in René Daniëls, op. cit., p.9

  8. In Merleau-Ponty's sense such chiasm amounts to the intertwining of the visible and the invisible. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and Invisible, Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 1968

  9. P. Peters, op. cit.

  10. 'A Sinsign (where the syllable sin is taken as meaning "being only once", as in single, simple, Latin semel, etc.) is an actual existent thing or event which is a sign. It can only be so through its qualities; so that it involves a qualisign, or rather, several qualisigns. But these qualisigns are of a peculiar kind and only form a sign through being actually embodied.' Charles Peirce, Philosophical Writings of Peirce, New York: Dover Publications, 1955, p.101

  11. Peters argues for the ambiguity in Daniëls's works in P. Peters, op. cit., pp.17-18

  12. Ibid., p.21

  13. Ibid.

  14. As in the Wittgensteinian sense. See Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1958, pp.193-95