Notes on the Paintings (1988).


Marian Plug

Translated from the Dutch by Peter Mason.

The theme of my recent work is taken from nature. This had always played a part in my work, probably because it is an ‘open’ theme and does not necessarily have a narrative content. It can function as a ‘ground’ without anything taking place on it. In this respect it also provides the potential and effect of abstract painting. Furthermore, it is a painterly theme par excellence, not in the sense of landscape or seascape as traditional genres, but of those ‘natural’ elements which frame the representation in a Renaissance painting, for example: the view from a window, plants in the foreground, in fact everything which was not a part of the ‘representation’ itself, or at any rate need not be interpreted or ‘understood’ within the framework of that representati­on.

Perhaps that also accounts for the presence of the figures which sometimes appear attached to the border in my work: ‘borderline’ figures which are not intended to add any extra meaning to the painted ’scene’, but to open it up by transgressing the border of the frame and thus, by contrast, revea­ling how remarkably closed or condensed the actual image of the painting can be today.

Although my themes are derived from nature, this does not make them naturalist paintings. At times this may seem to be the case with respect to an isolated element or to the whole painting, but it is precisely there that a feeling and striving for abstraction dominates, or at least for an emblematic representation in the sense of pop art. The theme of nature itself appears pure and bare, without figures. If it includes figures, like the deer in the painting ‘Salzkammergut V’, they serve rather as aids to the perception of the painterly activities going on in the centre of the painting.

166 Salzkammergut V, 1987. Oil on canvas, 160 x 160 cm. Private collection.

In ‘Salzkammergut V’, the deer is painted in a different way from the environment in which it finds itself. It is almost ’sketched’, it is a painting within another painting, or at least, it gives self-sufficiency to those parts of the painting which surround it at the centre. It is a figure which penetrates to the centre of the painting from the edge (a dark hill in the background on the left) to function as an emblem in reinforcing the spatial density at that point.

In the painting entitled ‘Sheep presence’, the emblem – the sheep – occupies

177 Sheep presence, 1988. Oil on canvas, 140 x 140 cm.

the entire centre of the painting. It has even become the representation itself – which accounts for its ‘presence’. The emblem itself has become the closed, condensed centre of the painting. That is why the body of the sheep also functions as a ‘window’ opening onto ‘another’ painting, with a far tighter spatial condensation than the painting as a whole. (Perhaps that is why the theme is a sheep rather than some other animal, because a sheep’s body is angular, enabling it to function as a window or a painting within a painting, unlike the form of the deer in ‘Salzkammergut V’, which was more about slenderness and floating.)

The composition of ‘Sheep presence’ is much simpler than that of, say, ‘Salzkammergut V’. It contains less diagonals, less triangular areas. In general, I am not concerned with composition but with a relation of elements ‘in’ the painting and elements ‘outside’ the painting – elements which refer outside or come from outside. A composition is only the result of this process, never its starting point. The result can also be a ’simple’ accumulation, as in ‘Salzkammergut VII’; a one-dimensional abstract motif, like the diagonal in ‘Salzkammergut VIII’; or a coincidence, as in ‘Sheep presence’. In the last case, the composition is the least present, the image is most directly ‘paint’, and the question posed by the painting is the biggest. ‘Sheep presence’ is an emblematic painting, because borderline figure and centre or core coincide – of course, the sheep as a theme occupies a marginal role in painting, if only because, unlike many other kinds of animals, it is difficult to paint it as an ‘individual’. On the other hand, I did not want to paint it ‘generically’ either, in the same way that the painting itself was not conceived in the ‘genre’ of Potter or Hondecoeter.

I wanted to paint it as a ‘thinking’ animal. Presence is also a mental condition for the sheep, and not just a natural condition. In a certain sense this was also a reaction to the painting ‘Salzkammergut VII’, which I usually call ‘the island’ or ‘the green island’.

170 Salzkammergut VII (‘Island’), 1987. Oil on canvas, 140 x 140 cm. Ahold, Zaandam.

This island, a green form which wavers between oval and rectangle (between the somewhat central perspective of the painting’s spatial organisation and the form of the painting itself), occupies a unique position in my oeuvre. It is the only work with a mystic meaning. Perhaps this is because, although the island is an emblem and has an emblematic form, it still forms part of the whole landscape, and is not a ‘painting within another painting’. At most, it is painted more as an abstract area. It is something that appears in a setting and is ‘abstracted’ from that setting. This painting was also intended to be more comprehensive than a number of the earlier ‘Salzkammergut’ paintings, which presented only a detail from the ingredients of a landscape. This painting is a full ‘landscape’. The theme was ‘Europe’, a valley facing the sea, elongated lakes with narrow, sheer cliffs which enfold, mountains impregnated with the grimness of Norway. This landscape was the residue left by thinking about ‘Europe’. It forms a whole, because the emblems (the island, the mountain border, the elusive écriture in the sky) do not cause the painting to fragment.