Rudi Fuchs – Surrounded by green (1996).

Rudi Fuchs in conversation with Marian Plug1
Translated from the Dutch by Maudi Quandt.

Surrounded by green sits Marian Plug, a painter or should we still say paintress today. I suggest we say painter.

Thank goodness!

Painter. And the paintings are always landscapes, very lovely, green landscapes, which you don’t often see in that manner because it’s a kind of painting that is not done any longer. Shouldn’t you paint abstract paintings or modern?

I think what I paint is very topical. I think that the line between abstract and figurative painting is not important, a division which I’m not interested in. The abstractness that I feel too, is interwoven, is completely incorporated in the painting and the contemporary nature of my work. So I don’t think that these paintings represent landscapes in the traditional sense.

Have you ever seen them yourself? Do you make photographs, for example?

Well, rarely. There are a hundred ways to paint, a hundred reasons to make a painting, and one of them could be that you have ever seen something somewhere – even twenty years ago – fitting in now. Another reason may be that you want to find out something. A painting is an entity in itself. I consider it very autonomous. I’m always thinking in terms of the painting.

But here for example, you see a painting of a path in a forest, a kind of tropical rainforest I think, at least. I see palmtrees. So, how does a painting like this begin? With a drawing? Do you make watercolors?

I’ve painted a lot of seas earlier, with turquoises and certain blue and green colors. A few years ago Joost said: “We should go on a faraway trip at least once!” We had the mortgage of our house raised then. Anyway, that’s not important, we went to Moorea, a very tiny little island near Tahiti. And there was only one road, a ring road. And that had been so special, the green light over there. Everything is from memory. I wanted to make

217 Ring road, 1995. Oil on canvas, 160 x 160 cm.

a shady road, one of which you wouldn’t know whether darkness falls or day dawns, a kind of twilight state.

You could say it’s almost an abstract triangle.

It is, indeed, and you look upon it and in and through it. You look upon it and here it’s rather ‘objectish’.

What do you mean ‘objectish’? The trees?

The trees.

Palmbranches hanging down and below, and there’s some kind of stain, basically it gets there, I mean.

Sometimes I don’t know what it is either.

It’s a bush or undergrowth or trees. Beneath it there’s a trunk, an odd spot. Basically, it’s a huge story about green.

Yes, and about space. It’s about how these colors blend and how they relate to each other, and how they work with light. In fact, it’s working with light. Reflections of light. I need to have the right colors too.

When you were there on that island, or elsewhere, in general, do you watch the trees, the landscape or the sky on a chair for a while?

I do make watercolors.

Watercolors.

Drawings.

And only then you are actually looking, while drawing or watercoloring.

Yes.

Watercolors.

Not many though, I’d make five perhaps.

And for what reason would you make them? Is it because something strikes you, a specific element or a feature in the landscape, a specific tree or outline?

I use my intuition. Suddenly, I can say this or this! One should be an expert to tell you have done this because of this and that and that’s why. But I always act on instinct, and totally unpredicted. That’s the way I am.

Intuitive.

Yes.

Does it take long to work on such a painting? Quite a time, I think.

Pieter Keune 2 says you can only work three days on one spot and then you must leave the painting a few weeks, after that you can go on. Sometimes the painting is made up of so many layers that I’ve to take myself off from that spot and continue elsewhere. And sometimes it’s such an idea before you. I’m not like an – who I hate by the way – which I might not say so…

You can say whatever you like.

I hate expressionists. And Cobra.

Cobra!

Yes, I mean, of course I can’t say that. I mean the eruption. I use my intuition but at the same time…

… that’s not self-expression.

No!

For God’s sake no!

You take the words out of my mouth! I only paint when I know you shouldn’t misuse this by idling around, that my personal affairs should be far away.

So, it isn’t inspiration, but waiting a long time and then painting it as if it has grown apart. So that you’re not in it, painting yourself out of it, so to speak.

I’ll be recognized anyway in a sense, like that has to be hers but personally I see my paintings disconnected from myself and I think that people – for you’re working for them too – have nothing to do with me. It’s about the painting itself. It’s of course very complicated, these things. You cannot say it’s either or.

But if it’s at a distance…

The autonomy of the painting, respect the painting, and think within its terms and open your mind to it. Then you have enough reasons to make that thing in a very focused and calm way – the way it goes. Of course you must concentrate. That’s a condition, being in a good shape and clear-headed. Sometimes I’m depressed and have to leave it alone. It’s not something you can do every day.

Painting.

I make graphics too, which is somewhat more technical.

Technical. You can do it in between. If you don’t want to paint.

Yes.

But how is it, such a painting, if it’s a distant plan. Is the plan made in a further stage? You can pour yourself as a painter, like a Cobra for example, or you can do it in a remote way. I mean, I’m still lingering over the theme of distance. It’s a sort of traditional, classical theme. The theme is almost in itself basically abstract. It’s the kind that everyone can paint. It’s almost no longer a clever idea. Painting outside is about the most common thing there is, isn’t it? But then, where do you start? Where has this begun? Can you remember where the first stroke – for the listeners: we’re watching a painting, a grey, pale grey, rosy path that from below gradually turns right, ending in a corner. It’s a kind of curved, slightly bent triangle. On the left woodland, dark, with a dash of purple and blue in it, and above it palmtrees and behind it paler green, a hill. At the right trees as well, but trees more ochre, yellow and a bit purple in it too. And the sky has the same color of the road more or less. That’s perhaps what you could say roughly. Well, how does this all start? If you say, I paint by design, I don’t pour myself, I don’t express myself, then you’ve to consider it carefully.

I do prepare it.

Yes, but how? Standing on your head, yoga? No.

I take care. I sit back for fifteen minutes or so.

In front of the empty canvas. Just thinking, where can I start?

Oh, for a painting, I need a few weeks at least.

That’s what I meant. That’s what I had in mind. Imagining it in your head.

You need to have a certain condition, completely calm, and there are tricks to achieve that.

And alert. You’ve to be alert.

That combination.

Like chessplayers. People always think that chessplayers don’t have to do anything, just to sit back but that’s not the chessplayers’ trail, is it? They need to exercise a lot, don’t they, to be physically fit. And that’s the same with painters. With this kind of painting.

With every kind. And with writers too. After all, it’s an intellectual achievement, only possible in certain conditions.

H’m, h’m.

But before that I’m brooding over it a week, thinking, sometimes I’m afraid of it, to tell the truth.

To get down to it.

Yes.

Why? Is it because you’re afraid to fail?

Once you’re painting, it’s okay. But before that it’s a menace, and sometimes I think – you may drop that – I wish I were dead!

We don’t drop anything. It’ll be a complete, integral portrait.

Uncensored. I make such demands on this thing because I want it to remain, that it has a lasting value, and that again and again new discoveries in it are made.

Let’s view another one, okay? I still haven’t found out where this has actually begun.

Oh really!

Yes. Where did you start?

In the middle.

In the middle, with the path.

Correct, I set down the road, preparing the canvas first of course, but not the marbling, and then I went…

Several layers?

Sometimes, this is painted fairly thin.You can see that there’s almost nothing on it. And this part at the right, let’s say a very European tree, was painted toward the end.

Well, that story belongs to it too, a kind of birchy thing.

Willowy.

Yes, and why is it in it? Was it because it was too empty and it should have a nice closing, a nice balance?

Silvery, the light fading in everywhere and…

…reflects on the road.

Yes, this kind of tree reinforces that.

Yes, but now, for example here. Let’s sit down. So this is water changing into a sort of sand as it shows.

225 Park III, 1996. Oil on canvas, 120 x 130 cm. Private collection.

It’s sandy water!

Yes, sandy water. Well, all these paintings seem slightly similar and yet each of them has oddly enough a very different kind of mood. What exactly is it, this difference. What could be the motive to paint this, that you’re painting this. Do you think it’s nice?

Yes.

Or is it because of another kind of light. This green here shades off into darker, doesn’t it, under those trees, looking into a kind of…

I just finished this one. I still must check up on it. It should settle a while. Basically, it’s a follow-up to another painting…

223 Park II, 1996. Oil on canvas, 140 x 150 cm. Private collection.

That’s a meadow.

No! It’s definitely not! Can I show this one?

Yes, we could just turn around the chairs.

That’s a painting in which it rains.

Ah! I say, don’t you see – what’s that in the foreground? Isn’t that grass?

No.

No? So, what’s the green?

Hahahaha!

I believe green is grass. Or not?

Well, there’re green ponds, aren’t there?

Oh, is that a pond!

It’s a kind of park landscape.

I see a small path, on the right. A little bridge.

Yes, a non-existent little bridge.

It’s a bit like Rembrandt’s little bridge. The very lovely little bridge of Rembrandt. In the Rijksmuseum.

You know that I made a painting of it, a very large one. The Rembrandt bridge.

That little bridge very large?

Yes, it’s on the overleaf of the catalogue.

I haven’t seen that. I missed it, really. But I’ll have a look.

It’s the only painting I ever made after another painting, as a tribute to Rembrandt. The Stone Bridge.

It’s still faintly reminiscent of that little bridge, isn’t it. A nice, somewhat squat little bridge.

Sure, and it still has something idealistic. Well, this is a wet and slippery one.

A slippery one. Anyway, this is a small road, a small bank and that’s about water and the water is green!

You can see the rain if you come closer. You can feel it rather than see it. Below it is quite abstract.

Actually, you should see all these things at eye-level. Then you notice the splattering and what not.

The wonderful thing is that when it rains everything turns a little grey. All the colors tend towards grey.

Yes, and it is peculiar that rain creates coulisses in the landscape. Everything is sliding, the rising mist, the tree in the front and between these things…

Pinetrees aren’t they or firs?

Firs.

In between the rain veils.

I love holes and mysteries but also they all have something positive. It feels good when I see this painting. And I’m happy with this.

I see there’s a lot going on in such a painting. Basically, the landscape is more or less, what we all would say, common, isn’t it. A bridge, some trees.

Yes, at first sight it’s for the man in the street.

But there are so many movements of paint, small details, colors changing.

Touch of light. If you try to think this away, that’s just not possible. Just a tiny bit of light peeping through these trees. I thought, well, that could be the task you set yourself. I want to make a painting with rain. Doesn’t happen too often, does it?
Breitner, those umbrellas…

Yes, but you don’t see the rain then, only the effect. Pisarro has made a painting of rain, I think.

I saw a painting of snow once, in Vienna. That was marvellous! But whose was it? 3

In which it was snowing, with snowflakes? I think, wasn’t it Schiele? Something like that. I think I saw something like that there, I can remember.

That was really, really wonderful. I’d never seen it.

Here’s another painting, s small painting, with rain.

224 The rain, 1996. Oil on canvas, 125 x 70 cm.

It’s raining in there, too.

Actually, I think this one is prettier, don’t you think so?

In fact, this subject-matter is not done. It does not disturb me though.

Why is that? We see a small road between high pinetrees, a sort of Caspar David Friedrich theme, painted and scratched.

But no symbolism.

Scratched in it. Scratched the surface, a little. With a comb or whatever, a toothbrush.

A knife.

A knife, and the rain in between as some kind of loose grey.

It is precisely diagonal.

And why is that not possible? It’s almost cheap, you wanted to say. As a theme. Do you know the kitsch wooden shelves cut in two, with these kind of landscapes on it? To send greetings from the Eiffel. That’s what it looks like.

Hahaha. Exactly. However, I am doing it anyway and that causes the tension. That’s what I’m after, the idea of ‘I do it anyway’. I don’t give a damn what they say. Of course, half a century ago this would have been a subject pregnant with drama and suicide, and now I do the same, but what you see is simply what you get.

A lonely monk should have walked here.

No, surely not!

No, I meant in those days.

Back then, back then certainly, and also creepy people from under the trees.

Yes, and a small cross along the road.

And then the drizzle. These are all the elements but the tension can do without them. I think I could do it now.

Have you painted this from top to bottom or the other way around?

Does it matter?

It’s just a question. It seems so elegantly painted from top to bottom, as if you have painted it along with the rain. So it seems.

No, I begin on the left and always at eye-level, perhaps because the distance to my easel is quite short. It’s only two and a half metres. The studio has the north to the right. Basically, I started in the middle, roughly with the road. First the base, and then I prefer to do the left side first – I am left-handed – and then somewhat away from it. And so it grows.

What about the color red?

If I use that sometimes?

I see another painting here. It’s a bit different, a high, standing painting, around two meters high, and eighty centimeters wide. Let’s sit down again. Actually, do me a favor, just another painting which is a bit different. It seems a bit more bold than the other one, where the rain was very carefully observed through painting, so that it made sense, not after nature but a painting in which the greens and the greys are in harmony. And then suddenly here is a painting boldly showing a huge trunk in the middle, and at the top of the painting the branches.

182 Palm I, 1989. Oil on canvas, 200 x 85 cm. Private collection.

It’s a kind of spruce or what’s-its-name, an Italian tree, what-d’you-call-them, a pine-tree. And then the trunk right across. Behind it a bit symbolic, a bit of a Munch landscape.

And a sort of, Joost said, a sort of little Dali hand below, hihihi.

A Dali hand! A dale, a dale…

A dale. The trunk in the middle makes it possible to create two spaces, resulting in a gigantic space behind, which includes you too. This is the first one of a small series of palm trees. I made another one which even has a higher trunk.

That is a palm tree.

It’s a palm tree. We call that a palm.

And this is a palm too.

It’s of course like a mullion of a window as well.

191 Palm III, 1990. Oil on canvas, 200 x 85 cm.

And you call this a palm?

Yes.

This isn’t a palm, is it?

No.

It’s a pine tree.

That was a real…

…trick question. Can I see the other palm?

The window, the light, those colors…

The pale green.

I’m fond of trees, of course. I also want to look into it, that I can see the flood, that you place yourself inside the tree so to speak and can look down and up. Not that it is visible for the viewer. It’s just that these are all motives for me to make a painting.

Are they? This one is really…

High, isn’t it?

The sky is yellow-orange. A yellow sky, bright yellow, orange no, yellow, buttercup yellow, and again such an odd hand, again the same little hand, Dali’s.

It is a bush.

What is it, sort of turquoise landscape with rose-pink, did you make this up or did you see it in reality as well, on a trip?

No, this is just all fantasy. All these things too. I did see once that sort of bush.

And what about this watercolor? A watercolor of a sunset at sea or is it a sunrise, it’s difficult to see. Full of spots, nice, blue. Pink, sky, black. A dark spot on the beach. Is that after nature? Or is it on its own as well?

Untitled, ca. 1964, and 1992. Watercolour on paper, 41 x 31 cm. Private collection.

Well, in a particular mood.

What kind of mood? A bit melancholy?

I was in trouble, in deep trouble. I was stuck. Can we put this away and view other ones?

No, I like to sit just a while. It occurs to me is that these two trees do have – what we call symbolism in Holland. They remind me of the Mondrian flowers, don’t they? A stylized kind of movement and parts of color and such things and so on. In the later ones with the water and the bridge and the rain, and the painting we just saw, the painting with the sandy water with a border which looks like mangrove. The darker areas, the dark, what’s-its-name? The undergrowth. In French it’s called the ‘sous-bois’. Under the trees. A very nice, very strange sort of light. It’s dark and yet not dark at all.

225 Park III, 1996. Oil on canvas, 120 x 130 cm. Private collection.

That’s ever so fascinating, such a spot. If you make a contrast with this, the contrast is immense.

The very classic contrast: light and dark.

Yes, of course, I just carry on a tradition. You know the history and it’s so interesting. You like to continue that.

Do you look at those other paintings? I mean, I can imagine that the painter, what’s-his-name, Post, the painter Post, painter of landscapes in the seventeenth century who made those Brazilian paintings. You know him, don’t you?

May be.

I’m sure you do, a bit yellowish light, a characteristic, dirty yellow light. Brazilian, tropical. In the Rijksmuseum, Mauritshuis. But which for example do you like the most of the tradition, what you just said? Corot?

Corot, yes!

Silvery light. Light through the mist. Morandi, no?

Yes, of course, but I don’t have any affinity with him. Not for my work, I mean. Morandi is a great painter. I love, well calling the big names, Picasso! I’d make quite a detour for that. I just heard the Pushkin will be here soon. I’m going to the Hague to see these paintings4. I’m looking forward to that.

Very beautiful Vlamincks I remember having seen. But right, what I wanted to say is that unlike these stylized paintings of the treetrunk you call a palm but I think it’s a pine tree – anyway, that doesn’t matter, after all as a painter you can do whatever you like – the later paintings are more, let’s say more refined, I’d say more detailed. The events are more microscopicly articulated, to put it eloquently.

Yes, but no too.

You mean, at the same time the space is wider.

Yes, some people are disappointed about that I don’t paint with these broad strokes any longer. I often think you can do a lot more in this space, you can refine it endlessly and make it more transparant. The gloss of what these seas had and some woods, too, with these large strokes, seemed very passionate. Now the movement is still in it but…

It’s a little more restrained.

It has several shades now. It’s very subtle. However, I need to keep it large.

It shouldn’t turn into a Punch and Judy show. No stagesetting, no décor.

No, professionals should do that. Sometimes a detail faintly refers to a décor though, a sort of coulisse.

It comes to me that in Holland – and in England too by the way, let’s say in this, what’s-its-name, the temperate zones near the North Sea, how different the light is. The light is grey, silvery, changing the green. The green shades into grey, while in Austria, far away from the sea, the green goes brown, because the light is dusty over there. And in these regions, once in a while I go to England, to the country. The countryside in Holland is less … there are more houses. England is still a bit more empty, thank God. Then you see that only few landscapes, also like here in the polder and the ‘Gooi’, are attractive if it is raining, and become even more attractive by the rain. Everything gets shrouded and is much more the same, lovely shining, from glistening raindrops.

Ok, but it’s a trick question as well, for watching a landscape and making a painting doesn’t relate to one another. A painter must observe, but a painting is made for other reasons too, and these reasons, except that you have seen wet grass, may be much stronger.

Yes, but what kind of reasons?

Idealistic reasons, creating new space in a flat surface.

Magic! A trick. It’s a trick!

Well, it is a strange profession. It’s a silly profession.

Doing magic, creating something that doesn’t exist.

Yes, and the funny thing is that is has to look natural too!

As if it has always been there.

Yes, it should have a natural order, and look normal, no matter how unusual it is, a blue tree and what not.

Let’s turn it around, I say you’re not looking at the rain here in the neighbourhood of the ‘Gooi’. How the rain is hanging as a kind of veils between these trees.

No, I never go outside.

You’ve never seen this. You must have seen this once.

Yes, a green pond…

…doesn’t exist, because it’s so filthy, the water, there’s no duckweed anymore, is there?

I saw it back then in Yugoslavia.

Ah, green water.

Yes, clean, green water, That’s why I thought, Jesus this is wonderful.

So you did see, you have seen sòmething!

Of course I have.

But let’s turn it around. I mean, somebody said once that the Dutch landscape, the typically Dutch landscape, you know, the horizon, green bushes, a churchtower rising above the trees, it wasn’t there before Van Goyen, Rembrandt and the like had painted it. It just didn’t exist. In other words you didn’t see it before that. In other words, the beauty of the rain in the forest on a Sundaymorning was brought on by the paintings you’ve made, Caspar David Friedrich made. The beauty of Amsterdam in the rain is made up by master Breitner, basically it’s ugly weather, but wè like it.

Yes. The painters have been important for adding something to life.

So the painter makes us view, literally makes us view reality.

A poet can do that too! As well as a writer!

Yes, but we’re dealing with paintings now.

I’m that arrogant to believe what I am doing is important. For people, for others. It’s also an eye-opener.

That you’re pointing out something to people, something like ‘look at this’. The indifference they feel for nature.

For nature? For their inner life. It’s about other things too.

Let’s say: too, yes, and have an open mind for the sensation of the eye.

1 Interview on July 12, 1996, in Marian Plug’s studio in Hilversum at that time, broadcasted by VPRO Radio-5 on July 19, 1996, 11 pm. Transcript of the taperecording and editing by Joost Meuwissen.
2 Pieter Keune is a chemist who is specialized in artists’ materials and their durability. He is the editor in chief of kM. Materiaaltechnische informatie over beeldende kunst (Amsterdam: Stichting Kunstenaarsmateriaal).
3 Marian refers to the one Segantini painting in the room at the very end of the Museum in der Stallburg in Vienna, which she visited in 1986, when the museum was still there. In the snowy landscape, women grow out of tree trunks.
Giovanni Segantini, The evil mothers, 1894. Oil on canvas, 105 x 200 cm. Belvedere, Vienna.
4 Marian refers to the From Monet to Matisse. French Masters from the Pushkin Museum at Moscow exhibition in the Gemeentemuseum, The Hague, July 13 till October 13, 1996.