Jaap De Vries

After his first British show at 20 Hoxton Square in 2007, Dutch artist Jaap de Vries returns to the space to present a new body of work, ‘Cut’.

Jaap de Vries will be exhibiting work made in his highly individual medium, watercolour on aluminium. In a unique process, Vries takes the traditional technique of watercolour and combines it with an aluminium offset plate designed for printing. By its very nature, the aluminium plate actively rejects water allowing Vries’ work an unpredictable element of chance as the pigment meanders its way in unexpected turns across the picture surface.

The technique, which contrasts the tense solidity of machine-made sheet metal with the yielding, thin fluidity of watercolour, has been further developed by the artist. This exhibition marks a shift from his previously muted and sombre palette to a more vibrant and colourful expression. A new intensity of colour only serves to further underline the disparity between the silvery, inert surface of the metallic ground and the expressive vitality of his painted subject.

This sense of duality is sustained in the subject matter itself. Eerily soulful, Vries’ work continues to be an ethereal yet pointed comment on the human condition. In this exhibition this comment has been honed; it is at once strong and subtle. Jaap de Vries presents us with the very core of humanity, showing us a visceral world of ‘the shadows within us.’  Through the beauty of his glimmering surfaces, he holds up an uncomfortable mirror to our deep-set impulses: our sexuality, our vulnerability and our innate capacity for violence. For Vries, brought up as a Calvinist, the acts of making and viewing art allow us to see what we are not supposed to see and think what we are not supposed to think launching us into a cycle of guilt and atonement as we are confronted with our ‘bad conscience’.

In Vries’ work, process, form and content have become increasingly aligned. Whether it be his series of small voyeuristic images of erotica, expressionistic portraits, his diptych of an abandoned crime scene or the deathly wash of a tsunami, his pieces appear to be delicately rendered with a highly sensitive line and a gentle wash of liquid pigment. A closer inspection, however, reveals battered surfaces and pummelled metal, then flooded with silky watercolour left to make its own way through these inflicted crevices. The acts of hammering, incising, scratching and the pitted, worked patches that remain, reflect the clandestine violence of his subject matter and the jolting discomfort felt by the viewer as Vries opens a window ajar onto their deepest urges and fears.

Jaap de Vries’ work, more than ever, is the sparkling, beautiful bearer of dark truths. His paintings are a stunning testament to Francis Bacon’s mantra: ‘Images can shatter the old order leaving nothing the same as before.’