7th November – 21st December
On the far left wall of the Gallery I hangs Ilse D’Hollander’s 1996 painting, Mist. Standing close I observed the bold shapes in thick oil paints, flooded with subdued tones. Faint and tentative lines grow from the off centre, dark rectangles that steal my focus. I understood it was representative of a tree, and yet it wasn’t until the piece caught my eye again, from the opposite side of the bustling gallery, that the impression of the landscape fully dawned on me. In that moment I recognised the undefined, misty landscape which D’Hollander sought to capture. The movement I experienced, from simply observing to beginning to understand her thinking, is one centripetal to the exhibition as well as her oeuvre, as all her work floats in the gap between abstraction and representation, and is in need of deciphering.
The Victoria Miro Mayfair has collated three galleries, and a window display, to make up Ilse D’Hollander’s first solo exhibition in the UK. Her work radiates tranquillity, and is mostly inspired the Flemish countryside in which she spent the final years of her life, a life cut short by her tragic death in 1997 at only 28. Her fascination with natural beauty, and the dynamic nature of landscapes is captivated by the collection on show, effortlessly transporting viewers to the isolated scenes of Northern Belgium.
The first two galleries hold her most critically acclaimed work, all created in the final and most productive two years of her life, 1995 and 1996. The pieces are mostly untitled, intimately sized and generously spaced on the walls, leaving the viewer isolated with only the painting as guidance. Despite the simplistic use layering of oil paint, the works are able to represent vast depths, spanning over fields, skies and the sea. The vast scale of her subject contrasts to the small size of the canvas, condensing sublime natural beauty to intimate portrayals. The difficulty of such a task can, in part, explain her abstract style, working not to give the perfect image of a scene, but to capture the emotions she feels experiencing it, transgressing the line between looking and feeling. In this way, D’Hollander has become known for “crossing and re-crossing the border between the outer and inner, actual and symbolic worlds”, as described by the Victoria Miro.
The paintings have countless layers, opposing brush, palette knife and finger stokes, with different thickness of oil applied. When up close, each stroke appears raw and often isolated, a style of painting which resembles a streaming-of-consciousness as D’Hollander applies her feelings to the canvas in real time. She writes, “a painting comes into being when ideas and the act of painting coincide”, and thus in the “series of accumulated impressions, adjustments and layerings” which the Victoria Miro recognises in her work, a viewer can see the intrinsic link between thought and brushstroke on canvas. The collection is therefore representative of experiencing landscapes in the most raw, human form. In Elizabeth, her lines even suggest a sensuality through the long, delicate strokes that dissect the background.
Walking into the Gallery III provides a stark contrast to those preceding it. The four works displayed, created in 1992-93, are large, rectangular pieces of cardboard, painted with mixed media rather than only oil, and feature aggressive shapes in much a much darker set of tones. Deep reds, greens and blacks reside, opposing the subdued blue and cream tones in much of her later work. Together, they show a very different perspective on landscapes, and unlike her smaller paintings, bombard the viewer with emotion, rather than entice them in. Her later work does, however, share some resemblances with these four: the use of cardboard showing her fascination with texture, and the comparable use of thick, layered paints to conjure landscape imagery. On exiting the exhibition, be sure not to miss the two works displayed in the window, on the left hand side of the gallery, depicting trees in landscapes defined by opposing seasons.
Together, the three sections of the exhibition merge beautifully and work to create an informative and accurate portrayal of D’Hollander’s work. Each piece is individually captivating and intriguing, as viewers must decipher the dialogue which floats somewhere between her abstract style and adoration of countryside landscapes. It is important to view her work in the flesh, as although they photograph beautifully, it is simply impossible to receive from a screen or print the visceral impact of her landscapes, understand her careful layering and brushstrokes, and be fully engulfed in the intimately sized pieces.
Photos courtesy of Victoria Miro