Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Master of Ekphrasis - An Interview with Joost de Jonge

Last week, as I obsessively pored over my Pinterest notices, my eyes came back to the same e-mail over and over.  "Joost de Jonge has repinned two of your pins."  Such a familiar name.  Sort of.  And why those two pins, out of the 29,000+ available?

Ah, of course, he chose the two pins of Joost de Jonge's work on my overloaded art board.  Now I know 1) he's a living artist, and 2) he has a Pinterest account.

One click and I discover he lives in the Netherlands, two clicks and I find myself on Joost's Web site, a magical world of color and movement.  This art looks like music.  As if Charles Ives' Concord Sonata hopped onto a canvas and Thelonious Monk decided to follow.

Color, color, color.  Evocative movement.  These images sing to me.  There must be a word for this.

Ekphrasis.  And I have just stumbled upon its Master.

Let's chat.
The Talisman
by Joost de Jonge

Q1. What is your first memory of art?

A1. I remember very clearly the first time I saw a Karel Appel, an early landscape, rather traditional with cows, it looked very real, but when I walked up to the painting there was nothing there but blotches of paint, colored blotchiness. I guess I was no older than ten years, in primary school. When we cycled back to the camp, the feeling and visual image of this severed coat of paint, cows torn apart in black and white, remained with me and has had a profound influence on how I see things, they may not be what they seem at first glance. And, of course, it had far reaching implications where the function of applying paint is concerned, to deceive and to appear different from itself, concealing its nature, but then again, ballsy and self-revelatory at close inspection.

Bruckner's 5th, 2nd Movement
by Joost de Jonge

Q2. What is the first work of art you created?

A2. I don't know if you can call it art, I must have been around eight or nine years old and consciously decided to alter aspects of my grandparents’ house in the depiction of it in my painting… I really felt creative! So I was rather young when I started weighing esthetic experience, formalizing it.

Unconscious Infinity 6
by Joost de Jonge

Q3. Was there a point in your life when you decided to try art, or were you always an artist?

A3. I was at the Kröller-Müller Museum with my dear mother and grandmother, holding my grandmother’s hand, looking up at the Cyclops by Odilon Redon. I hid a bit behind her, clinging to her dress, remembering the soft satin, green, beneath that paisley embroidered pastel colored dress she wore; she was to me the softest sounding color, allover, outside and inside. My grandmother liked Redon a lot, so we stood there for a while and I finally dared to take it in. How my eyes and thoughts could wander through that great landscape of love, the voyeuristic Cyclops, the envious eager Cyclops, taking me in with his possessive glance, luring me into the darker and deeper world of his silent ecstasy. It felt as if a great dark sea opened up within me an endless void that I could not have imagined, it was completely still, nothing there, just the gaze, just the experience of experience so to speak and there in the deepest of all silences I realized that this was what I wanted, to touch people in that way, to feel myself in that way, deep and silent, though joyfully playing with color and form. I was to be an artist, a painter.

Interlocking Motive/caught in the same gel A
by Joost de Jonge

Q4. Are there specific triggers that cause you to race to a blank canvas/paper or do you impose a certain discipline on yourself?

A4. I am a rather chaotic person, though disciplined to the extent of getting myself to the studio every day. Sometimes I feel I should take a day off, but somehow always find myself back in the studio…sometimes dreaming on an old chaisse lounge that belonged to the mother of my so beloved grandmother from my mother's side and I feel embraced by history, by the gentle touch of the feminine. We artists must be partly like women, to carry the forms within, to feel with great care for the upcoming creation, the works all around in the studio in different phases of becoming.

Indeed, at times I feel highly inspired. This could be by something simple as how pudding resides within a form, the waves of plastic, but also how the border is there between the forms and how the line is made up of two pieces, the meeting point defines a line that seems to border on a kind of nowhere, like the horizon where sky meets the sea, though in essence more like a void. Also the materiality of the pudding, it’s coloristic structure so to speak, can grab me, the experience of it can develop towards a whole other pattern form and rhythm.  Sometimes it’s sparked by a conversation with a good friend, a poet or painter, often by reading art historical treatises by Alois Riegl or Moshe Barasch (do so much love his: "The Language of Art: Studies in Interpretation"), among others.  And surely the esthetics of Clement Greenberg are compelling.

I have art books all around in the studio and paper to sketch at quite some tables downstairs and upstairs where I also have several rooms. Also, I have many chairs positioned through the studio, so I can sit and look at works at hand and speculate, reflect, each time from literally a different point of view. This inspires me to start working again and to see my work anew. But to become inspired you need to keep on working and yes in that sense, I am very disciplined.

Unconscious Infinity II
by Joost de Jonge

Q5. Would you talk about the role music plays in your art?

A5. Alongside the feeling and strong drive I had for painting, to paint and draw, I was writing poems early on, excited merely by sound and rhythm, all about the sounds things we used in the household made. I must have been a boy of just six years, barely able to write, but so much taken with the conjuring up of sounds through the unusual combination of letters, vowels. Here I feel started the desire to be utterly rhythmical. But I also remember that the sound of pulling and letting go of elastic to me was colored in gold and blue.

Later on I played the flute and piano, took singing lessons and danced a lot. I was in a band as a singer and rapper and had a home studio for music around my twenties and made some pretty spectacular experimental electronic stuff; but I felt I lacked the classical education, which I did have in painting, I felt I had to choose and painting won. But that feeling to compose music, to structure (time-) bars is essential within my approach to the building up of the composition; searching for that playfulness that may give you the feeling of watching a composition by Schoenberg or Stravinsky, a simple nocturne by John Field or the complex symmetry, repetition & mirroring of the themes of Bach's fugues. Also, the fascination for improvisation is linked to my endless evenings of searching for sound patterns amongst all those black and white piano keys.
by Joost de Jonge

Q6. When you are working on a piece, is there a point at which you realize you have a masterpiece taking shape on the canvas/paper?

A6. It is all about the invisible masterpiece. The piece you long for and think you can create every time you start painting, but then again you rarely do. It's seldom to find that everything is there in a work of art you just finished. I do feel that some pieces synthesize a period of research and as such are a masterpiece within a specific series of works; but above all I look for the interplay between the individual works and how they built on each other; to gather an understanding, a feel for their intrinsic universe of creativity and emotion.

Every time I start creating I have to let go of all else but the work at hand, giving all my attention to its minor and major problems, quirks and specifics, the esthetic questions the forms raise, what feeling is conveyed, what is articulated through a direction of a line, a changing of its direction and which form is to be my lead character… So really I never know if it's going to be a masterpiece from my point of view, artistically, but I can tell if it's any good! And I do usually have a pretty good feeling if I'm getting there… but it's always about details, about the slightest differences, and balancing these is a true crusade.

Rhythmical Allusion 2 (The Poet's Garden)
by Joost de Jonge

Q7. Are there any artists you find particularly inspiring?

A7. Yes, amongst many others I want to mention Hans Hoffman, Georges Braque, Pablo Picasso, Janus de Winter, Jacob Bendien, Willem De Kooning, Piet Mondrian (above all), Odilon Redon, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Paul Cézanne and Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin.

Chardin because of the materiality of his paint, the toughness and dryness of his strokes, like the Fiori by Morandi, hit you with exactly the opposite materiality, luscious and sensual.

Hoffmann because of his great sense for composition; this man has balanced form to border the extreme of harmony and he understood how the materiality of paint could play an active role within the coming about of that sense of harmony, truly a great protagonist and influencer of modern day abstraction.

Braque for his mysteriously balanced browns and blacks.

Picasso for his joyous play with art for art's sake.

Janus de Winter as a neglected Dutch master of the perilous brushstroke.

Bendien as the real early twentieth century Dutch master of religious feeling in formalized abstraction.

De Kooning for making sense of all that coloristic chaos, teaching me so much (as we have a beautiful collection here at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, I can study it often) about rhythm and the secrets of materiality also the secrets of Cézanne's truth about painting, his difficulty to find the balance, though everything is changed easily, so much, too much by adding the slightest touch of (another) color.

Mondrian, the master of Spiritual articulation through art, I mean, articulating the esthetic through a specific feel of the spiritual, conjuring up this feeling within his elaborated system of lines. Think of the early trees, how they seem to grow upwards upon the picture plane and how they expand into that same plane, making the two-dimensional opening up towards a finer feeling of space, a finer feeling of what natural growth may be for mankind and more specific, for art's esthetic position within the concept of humanity, defining the spiritual in art as such through feeling and esthetic realization of space as indefinable, though crystal clear presence.

It is not so much the illusion of three dimension, but as I tried to suggest, more an abstract articulation of a very slight receding of space, which could just be the distance between the two lines, though suggestive of another kind of space which is not coherent with the implicit two dimensionality of the picture plane. Abstraction in black and white, grey tones that cite the old idea of a superior grey, a kind of silver light, a condition of the greatest balance that the old masters could reach, a condition of light for which The Netherlands is known, with all its Grey skies and endless seascapes. The Hague School Painters were famous for it and, of course, Mondrian emanated from this school.

Surely the later paintings, especially the Victory Boogie Woogie we have here in de Gemeentemuseum in The Hague, inform my leaning towards the musical within painting. Listening to Jazz and painting at the same time was one of my first real conscious ekphrastic efforts, during my study at The Royal School of Arts The Hague. Of course when you name Jazz and painting in one sentence, you say Mondrian, you say syncopation…

Archeology of Personhood 5
by Joost de Jonge

Q8. Are there any non-artists you find particularly inspiring?

A8. Above all others: [Maurice] Merleau-Ponty. I do so much love to read. And have a rather insatiable appetite for philosophy in relation to experience, of all sorts. One essential book in this relation is "The Inner Touch" by Daniel Heller-Roazen. Also, Alain Badiou's "Ethics" is very relevant to the validity of the arts and especially the somewhat old-fashioned, though bracingly alive, practice of painting.

So here come to mind not just one non-artist, but so many wonderful and interesting professionals, though I for my work restrict myself to poets, art historians and art critics as well as philosophers, though I also spend a lot of time reading about musicians and music: [Arnold] Schoenberg and [Ludwig van] Beethoven, among others.

I think philosophy and poetry, alongside music and the other Beaux Arts, are the best sources of inspiration for a painter, besides of course the genuine divine inspiration! and the inspiration that springs from the work itself, from working. I'd also like to mention [Fyodor] Dostoyevsky, [Anton] Tsjechov and Robert Morgan (The Penguin Poet, whose Gap Creek is to me a modern day equivalent of Dostoyevsky’s best novels).

Robert Morgan wrote a lovely piece about my work, which so much strengthened me in my feeling as an artist. A poet that is also very important to me is [Fjodor] Tjoettsjev.

Archeology of Personhood 4
by Joost de Jonge

Q9. Please answer a question I didn’t ask.

Joost’s question.  What do you think about the value of color?

A9. The great Master of Aix, dear old Cézanne, revealed in his writings that he sometimes felt colors to be autonomous beings. I feel this, too, so real and so alive within me as another world. I can travel through Oceans of Color within my mind. Color seems to me to be able to tell truths about yourself, about the secrets you keep in your heart of how you feel, unlocking the strangest emotions, that do not seem real, or I should say otherworldly.

I wish to refer to Wilhelm Morgner; this year I visited the Wilhelm-Morgner Haus in Soest (Germany) with my dear friend and colleague, the art critic Peter Frank. Dr. Annette Werntze was so kind to give me a guided tour.

I felt some tears rolling down my face whilst standing in front of one of his biggest abstractions, Wilhelm Morgner understood color, he lived through it… so this is also how other artists inform your work, they sometimes reveal a truth about how you work, through experience (of their work, or a specific aspect of it), the experience helps you to further what was already there within yourself (the artist) and within your work (the art), now I even more consciously than before can give color its true life within the eye of the beholder, because I felt it’s working within me.

So here I’m talking not so much about considering tonal value, but autonomous value, not so much harmonizing but more of a placing of colors individually almost like a cloisonné, avoiding chaos. For me it is most important to see how I can give a color its individuality within a specific color scheme I chose, for I do need some order and reflection, I do need some parameters to work with, to challenge myself, for it is also much harder for a color, a specific hue of red, to stand out amongst the other hues of red within the painting and then again, it's about the uniqueness of that red… sometimes I dream about a color, I dream of red and browns everywhere, like big holes in space, blobs of being, taking me by surprise, color exciting within me a vibration with its own solitude within. In my work, colors are built up in layers, standing out on their own, remaining relative… never becoming absolute but within the depths of my feeling and from thereon I play, seriously.

From directing my attention to the value of my feeling instead of a specific color value, the color value arises naturally; it is here where the color within my work answers spiritual necessity.

Archeology of Personhood 2
by Joost de Jonge

Q10. Where can we see (and purchase) your work?

A10. My work is currently on show in Atlanta at the Bill Lowe Gallery, in Easthampton at the Mark Gallery, in San Diego with Alexander Salazar Fine Art and in Naples at E23/Galleria Studio Legale/Antonio Rossi.

A good impression of my activities is to be found at my Web site where the galleries I work with are listed and where a potential customer might choose the gallery located nearby.

I'd also like to refer you to my latest publication at ISSUU [Editor’s note:  for those unfamiliar with this scary looking acronym, it’s actually a great digital publishing platform], with lots of images of new works and texts by prominent art writers.

The Dream of Reason
by Joost de Jonge

Thanks for stopping by, Joost.  There’s always a beagle to pet and a cup of hot tea at the ready in Lakewood.  Don’t be a stranger.


  1. Annie O'Brien Gonzales is one of the fine artist.I do visit national gallery just to see her painting. I am glad to read her interview.

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