Henk van de Bosch (E)


The initial effect that Henk van den Bosch’s paintings have on me is strange.
On the one hand the lack of warmth in his starkly painted interiors, his austere, restrained, unadorned views alienate me. On the other hand their attraction is irresistible. They take me straight back to the fifties, to my own childhood. The years in which the Netherlands was trying to raise itself up after the drama of the war. The years in which the country laboriously got going again, in which austerity and frugality predominated, because there was no money for anything other than the essentials. The years that fostered, out of sheer necessity, the clichéd image of the Dutch: spick and span but always thrifty. That was the time when housing agencies advised their clients to furnish their houses on the cheap, functional shelving units on the wall and lino on the floor, the time when every month book clubs provided their members with inexpensive, uniform versions of “the classics”, in which the word fashion did not yet carry implications and soft drinks still meant diluted syrup. That little boy that pops up here and there in Van den Bosch’s work could be me, that female figure doing the housework here and there could, without any trouble at all, pass for my mother.
Is this what Van den Bosch wants, to portray an era?
I do not think so, certainly not only this.
He is far too much of an artist for that. His paintings are more than records of interiors. They are compositions that play with space, that experiment with perspective, that search for the right colours and shapes, that balance the degree to which interior worlds and exterior worlds relate to each other, that find their logical continuation in a subsequent work.
This formal quest cannot be viewed separately from the content. Why is this woman often only partially in view? Why only the little boy who looks like a boy scout? Why do human figures never form the foreground? Why do they sometimes seem to be nothing more than pictures on the wall? Photos reproduced from the Illustrated Catholic News? Why is it sometimes made difficult for the viewer to direct his gaze? As if he is being forced to choose from different perspectives? As if he needs to look around the corner? Why are two realities combined with each other or laid over each other on different canvases which results in alienation? Why does the surreal sometimes take the place of reality? Why are many works so open that they allow space for all sorts of stories, fantasies and thoughts?
Henk van den Bosch does not record. He experiments and manipulates. He creates curiosity, he invites and he throws off balance. As regards content, he gives clues but he does not reveal all. He makes the personal universal. He is economical and at the same time generous.
It is tempting to place Henk van den Bosch’s work in a broader context. Figurative painting is re-emerging in all sorts of places in the world. Not that it ever entirely disappeared, but the tempestuous advance of the photo and the video had temporarily pushed it into the background. A significant role in this renaissance was played by a group of young painters in Leipzig. In fact they did no more nor less than they were already doing in Leipzig before the fall of the wall, painting realistically, but lucky timing and clever marketing allowed them to characterize themselves (or be characterized) as reactive, as the ‘Neue Leipziger Schule’ or as ‘De Nieuwe Milden’. I can imagine Van den Bosch saying that he feels an affinity with artists such as Neo Rauch, David Schnell, Tilo Baumgaertel and Matthias Weischer. Their realism, their historicism, their playing with space, their experiments with colour, they all appear to come from one source, they all appear to result from one body of thought.
Nevertheless, Van den Bosch is different. He is tighter, he is more formal and angular, he is more reserved and therefore he demands more, his absurdism is more incidental, his irony is more serious, his stories are far less complete. In the end, Henk van den Bosch is more Piet Mondriaan.
Moreover his work has greater physical possibilities. His sophisticated games with space give him the potential to achieve spatial presentations. He is able to mould not only the space on his canvases, but also the space in which they are presented. He is able to immerse the viewer in his world.
For me, this might bring the fifties back to life even more vividly, for someone else, it might be other associations that predominate.

Brooklyn, February 2007.

Translation Jane Hall