At first sight, Frank Ammerlaan’s work draws our eye to its impeccable attention to detail and finishing and to the precision in producing forms of a practically industrial aspect. Most of his series combine geometric rigor in constructing patterns which organize a pictorial space built from both orthogonal and flat elements, they are combined to surfaces marked by stains, textures and irregular chromatic zones. In a similar way, the sculptures made from galvanized metal acquire a hybrid morphology resulting from procedures that involve as much planning as chance. This constant combat between order and chaos is something that crosses Ammerlaan’s whole production, however it is not constrained to a purely formal discussion. Beyond contrasting elements commonly associated to divergent historical artistic movements (Constructivism, Abstract expressionism, Minimalism, Art Informel and others), what guides him is the materials’ expressive and symbolic potential.
The works presented in Iron Mountain, his second solo exhibition at SIM Galeria, are all made with uncommon materials and their practical application is the result from an intensive research process developed by the artist, usually involving different industrial professionals. Most of the materials are found elements, in their rough form they would rarely be used as pigments. That is the reason why when describing his work methodology, Ammerlaan frequently compares it to alchemy, because its production is usually based on the process of transmuting matter. Tough alchemy has had a relevant contribution in developing modern Science, its spiritual-philosophical dimension is also relevant in Ammerlaan’s work.
In the last few years, the artist has been producing a series of paintings on fabric; these paintings are made from different processes and materials that seem to encapsulate, somehow, the double character ? scientific/philosophical-spiritual ? of alchemical practice. At first, raw screen or linen cuts are placed outdoors and there left to suffer the effects of the weather for a certain period. Over time, the webs of these fabrics become impregnated by the action of rain and sunlight, as well as the particles of dust and pollution that flow invisibly around us. Organic stains are extensively spread on the surface, working symbolically as records of the passage of time over the material: this time is long enough for the marks to become visible; days, weeks or months.
However, the paintings in which these fabrics are used also incorporate pieces of cloth that refer to a temporality that goes beyond our comprehension. The labels of these works show us, surprisingly, that one of the pigments used by the artist consists of nothing less than particles of pulverized meteorite, primordial material from beginnings of our solar system. It is important to mention the efforts made by Ammerlaan to obtain meteorite rocks, always acquired from suppliers capable of ensuring their origin through reports issued by scientific institutions. In addition, the viability of the process of transformation of the material in particles is a main part of the artist's research. Applied to the fabric as a pigment, meteorite dust becomes a kind of materialization of an abstract idea insofar as it presents itself as evidence of an inconceivable greatness of time within human existence. Hence its philosophical-spiritual character which, on one hand, puts into perspective the giant distance that separates cosmic and earthly times and, on the other hand, assumes a belief in complex concepts that surpasses our power of imagination. Isn’t mysticism, after all, an attempt to account for what concerns the unknown?
Parallel to this restless experimentation with different types of matter, geometry plays an essential role in the production of his work. The pieces made of fabric, for example, are fastidiously constructed as patchworks from orthogonally cut covers and stitched together to form patterns that find a kind of visual balance, arranging matter on the surface of the canvas. This characteristic is also pronounced in the series of paintings in which he uses particles of raw metals that are employed like pigment, in a similar way to its work with the meteorite. These metallic pigments are developed along professionals in the field of chemistry, and they are applied to the surface of the canvas, creating an abstract field formed by microparticles of vibrant and iridescent coloration produced by the accumulation of matter in its raw state. In many cases, these areas - curiously evocative of cosmic landscapes - are crossed by a precise grid that shows segments filled with blocks of color gradients, some of which are assembled by the absence of pigmentation, exposing the background fabric. In these paintings, the geometrization of space seems to evoke the aesthetics of the graphs that aid in the visualization of numerical data, although here its function is restricted to the organization of the pictorial space itself.
Metal has also been through a process of transformation in the set of wall objects shown in this exhibition. In this series, which Ammerlaan has been developing for some years, the artist uses a very widespread industrial process, but this process was adapted to meet the requirements of his project. Used in the manufacture of screws and other metal components, electroplating is a chemical process of applying a layer of zinc on steel surfaces in order to avoid corrosion. When they are zinc plated, the surfaces of the objects acquire a range of colors that is randomly fixed, and for this reason the technique is frequently used in objects that are not apparent in the construction. The artist, in turn, decided to apply this process in the coating of metal sheets: on much larger surfaces than those used in industrial production. His first experiments were made using sheets of steel and, more recently, he started to use sheets of copper due to its greater malleability. In these works, the lack of control of the resultant coloring on the surface of the sculpture is balanced by the calculated manipulation of the soft material: the creases on its surface create grids similar to those found in the paintings, while at the same time acquiring distinct colorations due to the change in the angles of refraction of light on its surface. Ironically, when constructing these works, uncertainty happens on the stage that concerns the industrial production, while control only happens at the time of handcrafting, when it is time to manipulate and fold the plates.
On the coexistence of these paradoxical dimensions Ammerlaan's work finds its power. By engaging in a speculative research that starts from the intrinsic properties of the materials, the artist allows concepts and dimensions to coexist: rigor and lack of control, science and mysticism and, above all, the physical and metaphysical worlds.
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Image: Frank Ammerlaan, Untitled, Lead, 111 x 85 cm, 2019Publication date: 23 Mar '19