Gerrit Willems essay on Frank Ammerlaan translation Mister Motley Magazine

Gerrit Willems essay on Frank Ammerlaan translation Mister Motley Magazine

Gerrit Willems essay on Frank Ammerlaan translation Mister Motley Magazine

Recently, Gerrit Willems wrote an essay on Frank Ammerlaan's work presented durning the exhibition Guardians. Click here to read the full article in Dutch. Read below for the translated version. 

materie en meer translation 
*origional text (NL) by Gerrit willems

At Upstream Gallery in Amsterdam, Frank Ammerlaan shows his latest work in the exhibition Guardians. The title does not refer to superheroes from a Marvel story, but to the polar stars on which you can navigate and set your course. These stars are hardly visible anymore due to light pollution, which Ammerlaan sees as a loss. City people’s connection to the cosmos and the otherworldly is disappearing, and it is precisely this connection that is an important resource for him. You may therefore see his work as a veiled criticism of our polluting society, but that is not the first thing on his mind as an artist. Instead, it is the timeless vitality of the universe that matters to him, not its temporary damage.

The selection shown by Ammerlaan gives a good idea of his versatility; it's not just a fleet show of his abilities. You really should speak of ability in his case. Before attending the Rietveld Academy and later the Royal College in London, he was schooled to be a furniture maker. During that education, he learned to work precisely and in detail, with a feeling for materials. That craftsmanship now forms the basis of his practice. He strives for perfect execution, preferably no imperfections or sloppiness included; a working drawing is meticulously followed. For Ammerlaan, no serviceable slips once he starts creating.

Personally he also classifies his work according to the material it is made of. In Mirror of Matter, the title of a large exhibition last year at Simões de Assis gallery in Brazil, he presented the various artworks in groups together. Works made of lead and galvanised metal, canvases on which oil stains have been fixed, paintings of canvas discoloured by weather, and canvases whose paint has been enriched with oxidised iron and crushed meteorite, among other things.

For Ammerlaan, matter is not just a passive part of an artwork, but an active constituent of form, colour and meaning. He uses the properties of a material to depict his wonderment of the world and the cosmos. Subordinately, he uses the capabilities of that material to create attractive images. What fascinates him from the beginning of his artistry is the constant change of everything. Nothing in the expanding universe is stable. Everything is in motion, decays, arises, grows, changes. Life decays into dust and from dust life arises. Ideas for new work come to him not from art, but from scientific knowledge of the fabric of the world, and from his interest in what transcends that knowledge: physics and metaphysics, chemistry and alchemy, science and religion. A painting is successful when he feels he has been able to bring together his knowledge of specific material with the philosophy of the immaterial.

‘I organise a process by which I give a place to the emotional, the intangible and unnameable,’ he says. So a painting does not come about spontaneously and it does not depend on a raid or a sudden insight. No improvisation or expression. And even though he often works on something for a long time, he is not an artist who keeps changing something until he gets the desired result.

He also said ‘I explore the possibilities of abstraction for my paintings’. But unlike abstract art, where form, colour and material are there only for themselves, which resists text, symbolism and fantasy, Ammerlaan does not regard a reading of the content of his paintings as infringing on their perception. On the contrary, he sets out to create paintings that depict something of the riddle of the cosmos and, through their material, actually represent it.

Take the ‘patchwork’ paintings, which are composed of pieces of cotton or jute, which he first laid outside for a while in the garden near his studio. Those fabrics fade from the exposure to rays of sunlight and discolour under the influence of the weather; they absorb the outside world. He then used a computer to design a pattern of triangles that fit together in terms of shape and colour to create an attractive image. In these paintings, he wanted the surfaces of fabric to form a geometric pattern that visually suggests spatiality.

You might say, that's where the painter in him comes out after all, and it is. Just as craftsmanship forms a foundation, so does the art of painting. He thinks like a painter. ‘Painting is a medium I am familiar with. From there I developed further as an artist’. Yet his compositions do not refer directly to painting, but to how in exact science facts and insights are illustrated or visualised. Those diagrams, spirals and isometric figures are loosely interpreted and adopted by Ammerlaan for his compositions. The patterns and lines on the canvases consisting of particles of meteorite, for instance, are based on arcs, waves and semi-circles, reminiscent of the orbits of planets. And the works with lead show holes and bulges that could represent curved cosmic spaces.

The oil spill paintings come about differently. Here, there is no composition or pattern that he can control, but rather a set process for making them. Ammerlaan wanted to capture the fleeting perception of an oil spill as you sometimes see on the road or on water in a painting. Such a stain appears and disappears with the position of the observer and the angle at which the light falls on it. Just like a rainbow. By collaborating with a chemist, he managed to attach such an oil stain to a canvas. The oil stain is created in a tub of water with a mixture of chemicals. In that tub lies a cloth and by draining the water, the stain is fixed to the cloth. Thus, a fragile and changeable natural phenomenon is called to the artist's order.

By no means all meaning is directly readable from a work, but that’s also not necessary. You don't need to know that lead originated from uranium and now protects us from radioactive radiation, and thus protects us from ‘its former self’. Look at the curves of stacked pieces of lead and the colour variations that can be very different with the passage of time. You don't need to know that meteorite and iron particles were used. Look at the tingling patterns made with it, see how the heavy lead looks light and dances like wrapping paper. Spectacularly iridescent oil spills and complex constellations of triangles that don't easily bore the eye. When you look at it like this, something of what lies locked in the material automatically occurs.



Guardians | Frank Ammerlaan
11 May - 15 June, 2024

Publication date: 6 Jun '24