My Work 2002-2006.

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Marian Plug

Translated from the Dutch by Mark Speer.

In 2002, at a retrospective in the Singer Museum in Laren, I prepared a complete – at least it was at that point – catalogue of oil paintings: Marian Plug Paintings. The last entry is an incomplete work, namely cat.no. 243.

243 Water VI, 2002. Oil on canvas, 95 x 105 cm. Private collection.

A great deal of time went into research and documentation of past works, of which some could barely or not at all be traced. Sometimes, I only had a black-and-white photo and title. The publication has been financially supported by many trusts and private individuals. Opening and presentation by Din Pieters. Later that year, two large paintings bought by Rudi Fuchs were displayed at the “Among ourselves” exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art in Amsterdam in a room with Hans van Hoek’s works. The museum commented: “The landscapes of Marian Plug reach back to the tradition of romantic landscape paintings. These emphasize the overwhelming and mysterious forces of nature. In Plug’s characteristic landscapes (…) emphasis is placed especially on the atmosphere and the use of material and colour.” Personally, I find the latter (the abstract, the visuality, that which can be imagined) equally important, if not more important than the recognizable image, usually nature.

244 Goethe Track, 2002. Oil on canvas, 90 x 80 cm.

No matter how concrete, nature can be conceived in a general and abstract way. Works can therefore have a natural subject without being naturalistic. My paintings have nothing to do with naturalism.

This even extends so far that in recent times I have been looking for themes which are basically not done, such as a pine tree (a tree that becomes a Christmas tree) or other things that had a symbolic significance a hundred years ago but no longer do and therefore tend, as subjects, towards kitsch (a path leading to the distant horizon, a road, a bridge. Or otherwise a painting theme with a self-contained impossibility due to the loss of meaning (soubois, form and background, the iconological narrative in a Rembrandt landscape, etc.).

246 Evening, 2003. Oil on canvas, 70 x 80 cm.

Surface tension.
A landscape painting is something to be seen but they are self-conceived, construed landscapes, and function as doorways or recognizable entrances to other territories. Nevertheless, they appear to be natural. The recognizable is a transitional stage. It leads to the examination of space and content. A colour becomes disengaged from its motif. Seeing and thinking overlap each other. Until recently, the works had a sort of centre that was often determined by the abstract: an area that made something in the distance move, e.g. a bush. This abstract centre, however, was just as filled as the things surrounding it.

247 Water VIII, 2003. Oil on canvas, 100 x 100 cm. Private collection.

In fact, every element is painted in relation to the centre. Water turned out to be such a pre-eminently suitable element.
Water was a recurring element in the paintings: In the sea paintings, in an occasional waterfall, as a foreground for a forest or as a rain. Often, there is no horizon. For example, in 2000 when I moved into my new, high studio in the Mesdagstraat in Amsterdam, formerly the office of a housing corporation, I began examining a different concept of space within a framework. Simultaneously fixed and mobile. It started, for example, with the foundation, the base. A layer of water above it. With a certain depth. Surface tension makes reflection possible.

249 Park V, 2003. Oil on canvas, 120 x 130 cm. Private collection.

As a result of the reflection, the outside space is incorporated in the visible part. Indirect light. Leaves on the surface need not be real leaves. Scattered forms in one area appear to be decorative. They were individual forms that are sharply defined, have an interaction, are lying on top, determine the viewer’s distance to the physical space. Reducing layers of images and this experience to easily perceivable images that offer a potentially rich experience (cat.nos. 237-243). In itself a structuralist idea.
But almost too much structure. Regularly or irregularly, just as waves of water above a surface are all wave, the leaves on the entire surface of water all remained leaf, no matter how spread out they were. Often, differences become the subject.

252 Wood X, 2003. Oil on canvas, 120 x 130 cm. Private collection.

A symmetrical element in the centre that makes a difference from left to right possible (cat.nos. 244 and 253). Differentiating a surface of water viewed from below by what is happening underwater. A reflecting surface of water with shadow. A large blue sea with in the centre two high waves at a right angle to each other. A sudden flood of something flat cool green (cat.nos. 245, 247, 248, and 255). In the autumn of 2004, there will be an exhibition in the Clement Gallery in Amsterdam, opened by Doris Wintgens.

253 Salzkammergut X, 2003. Oil on canvas, 140 x 130 cm.

Landscape.
After the closing of the Dutch branch of the HSBC Investment Bank in 2002, the Lakenhal in Leyden acquired its fourth large painting (cat.no. 160). A year later, two of them were displayed at the exhibition “Light, air and drama – Landscapes from the museum’s own collection”. And yet another year later, the museum requested a contemporary vision of Rembrandt’s landscapes on the occasion of his anniversary. This request was in response to my painting The Stone Bridge (cat.no. 208) that I made in 1993 for the Lakenhal exhibition “Five centuries of landscape” but which wasn’t completed in time. However, five of my large paintings were displayed there period.
During the time preceding the exhibition, its theme made me more aware than previously of the historical aspect of the medium of oil painting, the perception of the landscape, the significance the famous masters have had on my present development. Once rediscovered, Rembrandt’s The Stone Bridge (Bredius 440) in the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum moved me deeply, and I considered at length whether I ought to approach such an amazingly unique painting in my own way.

Rembrandt, Landscape with a Stone Bridge, 1638. Bredius 440. Oil on panel, 29,5 x 42,5 cm. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

To see it anew in the present in the form of an ode. That’s the origin of my The Stone Bridge, which after initial hesitation, I worked out in large format (150 x 190 cm) and smallest detail; every element is equally important.

208 The stone bridge, 1993. Oil on canvas, 150 x 190 cm. Private collection.

It remained an ideal landscape, but the iconography changed – no inn or shepherd. The light changed, the ascribed significance too.
Following conversations with Ernst van de Wetering and Boudewijn Bakker, who had just finished his dissertation Landscape and World View: The Medieval Background of Dutch Landscape Painting, I wanted to understand prior to 2006 a few Rembrandt landscapes as a kind of memory. I didn’t want a copy (as Ernst van de Wetering jokingly called it) but I also didn’t want something that was “based on”. It should be an exploration of possibilities, of what is possible now in relation to… A transformation of pictorial viewing and observing. Translated viewing. The composition is now important in another way. The iconography has nearly evaporated. But I hope the effect is the same. As with many landscapes, it’s not about the landscape itself but about memory. In this case, the memory of those magnificent landscapes. A comparable format or even working method is unnecessary. Rembrandt’s paintings are too different and too unique for that.

Rembrandt, The Rest on the Flight into Egypt. Bredius 576. Oil on panel, 38 x 48 cm. National Gallery, Dublin.

Static.
I decided to go see them. First to Dublin in 2004, where Ernst lectured on 21 October in the National Gallery, specifically about the Landscape with the Rest on the Flight into Egypt (Bredius 576). Night painting. Ernst explains in his lecture that it had been referred to as “Gypsies” for a long time. Because of the flock of shepherds that barely emerge in a long horizontal line from the darkened paint, I believe it could also be called “Adoration of the shepherds”, even though there’s no donkey in sight. You could make up almost any title for it. Or at any rate, the three light sources – moonlight, castle windows and cave with fire – only illuminate themselves and are not related in any way. Despite being asymmetrically placed, individually speaking they are static. As far as that is concerned, the title “rest on the flight” does seem appropriate. The fact that Rembrandt does not provide the reflection in the water with the same visual angle but mirrors it literally, as Ernst points out, actually emphasizes both this static quality and the build-up in horizontal layers of images completely detached from each other. Of course, Rembrandt was aware that a mirror under an angle would provide a different view. But apparently here he does not want a perspectivist view at all, no observer. A contemporary translation seems almost impossible.

Rembrandt, Landscape with a Coach, 1637. Bredius 451. Oil on panel, 45,7 x 63,8 cm. Wallace Collection, London.

In April 2005, I’ll be going to London to see the Wallace Collection, where, judging from the caption, Landscape with a Coach (Bredius 451) is not entirely attributed to Rembrandt. That seems to make sense. Small and pale. The core is a fantasy island, to allow the trees to be lit up from behind; a fantasy village in the loop of a river with a small boat. To the left and the right of the town are wooden bridges. They are all emblems, unconnected to each other and almost equally spaced on an illuminated background. As a result, this gives it an untouched quality, and it’s not at all surprising that it ended up in London. I find that very exciting. (This also applies to the other ones). A little disappointed, I put the Rembrandt project on the back burner but never completely forget about it.

258 Eight trees, 2004. Oil on canvas, 120 x 130 cm. Private collection.

IJburg.
The single high window at my studio on the east side of the Mesdagstraat in Amsterdam provided magnificent light, but too little due to the narrowness of the block. It was very intimate there, inside, which is one of the reasons for having a new studio at IJburg in 2005. Moving takes time. The studio is not as high but just as large. It is situated on the corner in the water, and has large, ceiling-high windows on two sides. Now there is an excess of light, glaring and blinding, with additionally the reflection of the water, so that even with awnings, sliding panels and blinds, the light is difficult to dim. The artificiality is bothersome, but also gives the work a great deal of space. The paintings are gaining in colour.
In this space, the iconology project is suddenly brought to life again.

260 Laundry, 2005. Oil on canvas, 170 x 190 cm. Private collection.

260 Laundry in large format is actually symmetrical with on the left a frontal architectural sidepiece and on the right a receding, abstract sidepiece. In the middle, under the arch of the railway bridge (across which the high-speed trains from Paris to London pass) is a painting within the painting. Just as in Rembrandt’s The Stone Bridge, but even more so in his Landscape with a Castle in the Louvre, the arch functions as a magnifying glass that transforms distance into proximity. Underneath, the sheet hanging on the clothesline becomes a waterfall.

The surface division of 261 Chinese House is reminiscent of Landscape – sometimes also called Stormy Landscape – at Brunswick, Germany (Bredius 441), which, especially at the bottom, seems unfinished; red underground, again a fantasy landscape, constructed low and high around a stream.

Rembrandt, City on a hill at stormy weather, 1638. Bredius 441. Oil on panel, 52 × 72 cm. Earl Anton Ulrich Museum, Brunswick.

Actually, a rather cosy painting. It’s alluring that such a sombre and threatening subject can be so homey. Chinese House “translates” the plateau with stream that pours downward in the middle, and then the plain with small creeks. Silver-grey sky.

261 Chinese House, 2006. Oil on canvas, 140 x 160 cm. Private collection.

Beneath, a group of trees that become increasingly narrow. Then a house. Dark green-blue trees. The rock reddish-brown with a waterfall above it. The reddish-brown is repeated in the distance. A yellow foreground with grey-green bands. Omitted are Rembrandt’s stone bridge with tower and the church on the plateau. Now, it resembles more a Brazilian landscape and seems as if the water running past my studio determined the force of the stream.

The view from this studio is stylized in 262 IJburg. Everything is partitioned here. City under construction. Heaps of sand. Water. Strips. Construction work. The noise of pile drivers. A taut blue sky with some clouds, like geese flying over.

262 Yburg, 2006. Oil on canvas, 100 x 100 cm.

Housing block on the left and right. Bright green grass and reeds. The water reflects the sand hill, which is light ochre and almost transparent, resembling brains.

263 Untitled II (Rembrandt III) is an enlargement of the centre of Rembrandt’s Landscape with a Castle from the Louvre, Paris.

Rembrandt, Landscape with a Castle, around 1642. Bredius 450. Oil on panel, 44 x 60 cm. Louvre, Paris.
263 Untitled II (Rembrandt III), 2006. Oil on canvas, 110 x 120 cm. Private collection.

At the bottom a strip of dark water from left to right, with a kind of blue jungle set against the bridge. (In Rembrandt, this part is sketched). On top of it, the two layers of the loop of the reddish-brown bridge, in which the arch on the uppermost layer, like a loop, forms the translucent and luminous centre. This arch is repeated in the castle above. The dream castle in the evening glow is transparent, just like in Rembrandt, despite (or because of?) the back lighting.