George Struikelblok (E)

His first Surinamese solo in four years

Fifty years ago the French artist Yves Klein came up with a remarkable performance. He applied blue paint to the bodies of several (naked) women. The by then already famous, patented ‘International Klein Blue’. Subsequently, these women, serving as ‘living brushes’, painted a large white canvas. In the meantime ‘music’ resounded, the so-called ‘Monotone Symphony’, a sound that was repeated twenty minutes on end. The result was a painting upon which the blue stains were indeed a dead give-away of their origins, but that could easily be called abstract as well.
George Struikelblok turns it around and substitutes the Minimal, Western tune for a Caribbean. He paints upon the bodies of six young dancers. He uses the colors that most often appear in his paintings. He then has them appear seemingly from out of his canvases and perform a slow dance to the rhythm of drumbeats. He brings the figures on his canvases to life.
With this performance he opens his exhibition ‘Lob’ mi tu tamara’.

It is four years since George Struikelblok had his last solo-exhibition in Suriname. He did in the meantime participate in ‘Paramaribo SPAN’ and had several successful solo-exhibitions outside of his homeland. With ‘Lob’ mi tu tamara’ the artist sends out a strong signal that he is still present. And more than that. He goes all out with a large exhibition in and in front of De Hal and with a number of sculptures on the Onafhankelijkheidsplein (Independence Square) and in the water opposite the Maretraite Mall.
Even if the country would want to, Suriname has no way of avoiding Struikelblok for a while to come.
De Hal displays primarily his paintings. A lot of paintings. As a Dutchman indoctrinated by Calvijn, the way in which Surinamese artists fill entire walls, takes, without failing, some getting used to. We tend to prefer clean and minimalistic. Struikelblok however does it in a restrained, balanced, but mostly intelligent manner. He creates ensembles on the wall. He combines a number of paintings with each other in a specific arrangement. Sometimes on a colored background. That arrangement is based upon color, form, imagery, but especially intuition. The result is, that the canvases enter into a mutual ‘communication’. They influence each other. And, more importantly even, is that they give me, the viewer, the opportunity to make of it, my own story. They allow me the space for my own interpretation.
The paintings of Struikelblok are always colorful, they always include moving figures referring to people, with balloon-like heads, and they always incorporate the alphabet and a series of numbers. The colors generally stand side by side and are mostly in contrast with each other, rather than going together. In between the figures and forms, splatters result in a loose, Pollockian coherence. Where the action takes place is impossible to find out. Neither time nor place comes into play. The only indication of place is a ladder-like shape that you might possibly interpret as some sort of Jacob’s Ladder. According to the book of Genesis, a ladder on the way to the heaven.That might sound somewhat exaggerated, but because love is the theme of his paintings, that reference is not as unlikely as it may seem.
Because Struikelblok uses recognizable imagery with fixed, always repeating elements, it looks as though he works with a template, a basic shape, and searches for variations from there on out. That is risky. Repetition leads not only to recognition, but also to boredom. Therefore I was pleasantly surprised by a number of darker canvases, of which three have been hung in connection with one another. On those the bright colors are replaced with primarily rust-brown, the forms and figures come together in a larger, almost abstract whole. The usual patterns become part of a suggestive, expressionistic imagery that triggers the fantasy of the viewer. In these works, George Struikelblok goes all out and increasingly gives in to the moment, to chance.
In De Hal stands a striking sculpture. Or is it an installation? Three human-like, vulnerable figures support each other back to back. They are surrounded by piggy banks. For those who have followed the work of Struikelblok in recent years, it is obvious that this piece refers to the fate of foster children, his second love. For these figures he has melted a certain kind of foam which he then poured into cloth moulds. Once inside it starts to solidify and occasionally literally searches for a way out, whereby rough, unpolished shapes are created, infused with drops and stains. The result is a natural cohesion between form and content.
The theme of foster children is repeated in an installation on the front porch of De Hal. A rough (human?) shape, a kind of trunk , lies on a part black and part red sub-surface. On the black part it is surrounded by letters from foster children in which they express their thoughts with regards to their personal situation. On the red part the ‘trunk’ is visually elongated by a large mirror, which is surrounded by small pink mirrors on which the same children have written a one word wish. Although this piece certainly exudes a certain kind of emotion, especially if you are prepared to actually read the texts and take on the confrontation with yourself in the mirror, it still looses itself in an excessive amount of separate information elements, so that the strength of the overall work is diminished.
The sculptures on the Onafhankelijkheidsplein however, do posses that strength. Again made in part from solidified foam they reach, also because of their striking colors, triumphantly up towards the sky and deliver in an original way, their positive message. They are inevitably static, since they are after all sculptures, but in their execution they are lively and expressive. They resemble dancers who have participated in a performance and who now, afterwards, present themselves to an applauding public.
In the event that there were Surinamers who had somehow forgotten about George Struikelblok, they can now, with ‘Lob’ mi tu tamara’ consider themselves completely updated and informed. He once again proves that he is an artist who is not hesitant to make general, much used themes his own, and while searching and experimenting still gives those themes a totally unique interpretation. No small achievement.

Rob Perrée
(Art historian, freelance writer and exhibition maker, editor of Kunstbeeld, alternately living and working in Amsterdam and Brooklyn)