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JASPER KRABBÉ

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CLOSER TO YOU JASPER KRABBÉ


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“You can never find someone’s identity in a single fixed image,” says Jasper Krabbé’. “Today, in this era of Facebook and instant information, there are hundreds and thousands of images out there, often showing exactly the same subject. Like on a Google search, I was interested in discovering whether from a huge number of images, one complete picture can finally emerge. From my many images of Floor, both exuberant and withdrawn, I hope what comes out is the reality of who she is. “ Whether highly realistic or merely a few minimal lines showing a profile, Jasper’s recent drawings continue the long tradition in which the portrait represents the purest relationship between the interpretation of an image and its context. Employing various materials, in a mismatch of styles and framing, two hundred of his portraits of Floor, most of them reproduced in this book, are also installed in broken order in the Kunsthal in Rotterdam. He decided to limit his series to a precise period – twelve months in the life of the woman with whom he has been together for 15 years. He set out to encompass all the emotional subtleties and exaggerations, honesty and secrecy, to overlap the territory between intimacy and public behaviour. The result provides a panorama of visual obsession, close surveillance and undeniable affection. She is shown with make-up, and without make-up, wearing fashionable clothes and nude. Sometimes she poses with confidence, sometimes she appears uncertain. “I’m fascinated by all the different appearances she has. Floor has so many distinct looks, from melancholic and silent, to being brutally shameless in-your-face. This is also reflected in the way each portrait is made. Some are confined, literally boxed-in with paint. Some are isolated in solitude, others are open, less cropped, more relaxed. The difference in her mood is translated through the technique, although sometimes it’s the other way around.” This creates an ever-changing point-of-view, a celebration of diversity, free from repetition. Each sequence of portraits is created using different techniques and shifting moods. Images and references are combined, the perspective is altered. The atmosphere partly depends on the way each scene is set-up. The narrative lies in the intimacy itself, focusing on the small moments in a larger life-story. “It’s a declaration of love, and a method of research, but it’s in no way scientific. I’m trying to get closer to the woman with whom I live. It’s about getting through layers to find the true identity.” In Jasper’s imagery, Floor’s attitude ranges in scope from the brazenly sexual to the bored, as she undertakes the casual activities of domestic life. The artist himself refers back to Bonnard’s wife portrayed in the bath, or stepping out of the bath, and the women in the paintings of Balthus, combing their hair. Jasper notes that he has been partly inspired by artists long gone, by the shadows and silhouettes of Modigliani, Schiele and Munch, and the erotic drawings of Ingres, but also by his younger contemporaries. However, he is equally inspired by  the visual language of film-posters, street art, old trading cards and packaging. In many of his early paintings, Jasper depicted objects and architectural details including Thai statues, Moroccan arabesques and Italian columns to fix them to precise geographical locations. In his recent portraits of his wife, this is less obvious. She has been depicted at home in Amsterdam, in London, in Spain, in the south of France, in hotel rooms, and in such hopelessly romantic places as Bali, Biarritz and Curaçao. The location, however, is less important than her reaction to her surroundings, seen in the angle of her face, the tilt of her head, the direction of her gaze. We often see her located in transit, in unscripted moments such as when she is looking for duty-free lipstick at Schiphol airport. Jasper’s representations themselves cross many stylistic boundaries, the academic versus the refined versus the rough. Many take a graphic approach. These are far from romantic, resembling instead instructional illustrations or meticulous sketches for a brochure.

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Other works are not strictly classical portraits at all, maybe only showing the back of Floor’s head, a highlighted limb, or several superimposed images. Reveling in their own brand of originality, some of these works are like those out-of-focus snapshots you immediately discard, but which in fact might be more honest representations of a person than the flattering, staged photos shown to friends. However, even with only the use of a few lines of dull colour, the close bond between the artist and his subject is immediately evident. “Some of the pictures are almost deathly portraits, in which the light alludes to life. I wanted to freeze the silent atmosphere. Floor is asleep. In my mind, this also incorporates the emotion of being able to think that she might not be here. You try to put this emotion of loss into the image. So I think that several of my drawings reveal a morbid feeling, perhaps with a mask-like face. I have also made a few pictures in which I think she is hiding, moments in which she doesn’t want to be seen. At these times, she seems very distant. In a way, she can be very shy. But it’s still all part of me being continually on her case, non-stop.” Jasper pauses, then he shrugs with a smile. “You don’t want to make your own wife into an object, but ….” I’ve known Jasper, and followed his work, since he was still a teenager. I’ve been Floor’s friend for as long as she has been together with Jasper. And from the very beginning, I’ve also known her through Jasper’s eyes, mirrored, reflected and transformed in his watercolours, drawings, rushed ink sketches and rough paintings, as well as in a couple of his large-scale portraits on canvas. Over this time, in different cities, I’ve also curated several shows of Jasper’s paintings and drawings. Today, Floor is cooking in the kitchen. She is using several pots and pans on the stove at the same time, plus lots of chopped garlic. I’ve flown in from Rome and I am visiting Jasper and Floor in their Amsterdam house. We’ve just shared a bottle of red wine together. But now, Jasper is driving one of his daughters to a dance-class on his motorbike. So here I am, alone with Floor and a couple of ginger-coloured cats. Sometimes, the joy of being an observer, like the thrill of being an artist, is that you don’t necessarily need to be impartial. The fact that Floor is a beautiful woman is an objective truth. The fact that in her professional life, she is a doctor specialized in aesthetic medicine, makes this anatomical focus additionally fascinating. She is a beautiful woman, in no need of cosmetic help, working in the field of making other women more beautiful, and feel more attractive. She is a natural beauty, assisting in the rejuvenation and synthetic beauty of other women. And she is the ongoing subject of an artist, her husband, who sees this beauty in all its many facets and moods, on a daily basis. Jasper even paints Floor while she is dreaming. So I mention to Floor that in the 1960s and 1970s, David Hockney regularly drew his young Californian partner Peter Schlesinger while he was asleep, or laying in the sun, or reading, or whenever else Schlesinger wasn’t aware he was being scrutinized. Hockney turned Schlesinger into his complicit model, and one of the few authentic male muses of the 20th century. But eventually, this constant attention made Schlesinger feel that the artist’s voyeurism was invasive and intrusive, even an imposition. Floor responds. “I don’t feel that I am being watched, not at all. But if I was, I would like it. If I’m reading a book, and Jasper is making a portrait, that’s fine. Sometimes I don’t even realize that he is drawing me. I trust him. I trust that he won’t make me scary or ugly. We’ve been together so long, I find it unusual that he still spends time looking so closely at me. Even after all these years.” “Of course, I like some of his images more than others, but even so, I still have a distance from them. They aren’t me. They are pictures of me.”

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Jasper Krabbé is best known for his vast oil paintings of sparse landscapes in bleached colours and his composite works, resembling schematic diaries, in which hundreds of pages from small notebooks are affixed in neat rows to broad canvases. The human figure often appears as a fragment in a larger setting. He also produces reams of smaller works, including jewel-like selfportraits. Five years ago, one hundred of these self-portraits were gathered together in a book, as a volume dedicated to the equal roles of artistic perception and self-perception, as a manual of gestural bravura. Jasper notes that a sense of confrontation exists in his paintings of Floor, revealing different layers of annoyance and aggravation to those which are present in his self-portraiture. “When the subject is outside of me, it clearly gives me distance. The subject is over there, not in your own skin, not pricking at your nerves. So my pictures of Floor are not as introverted as my selfportraits. They don’t seem so lonely. They are softer, more gentle, caught with a looser hand. With myself, I seem to be tougher, constantly angry.” In the series dedicated to his wife, the materials and frames are almost always used, second-hand, or found.  Her face emerges from the surface of torn cardboard, handmade watercolour paper, wooden panels, and note book pages. Her features are outlined and shaded in lead pencil, crayon, watercolour, gouache, charcoal and thin paint. The techniques are opaque. The finished works often appear damaged, oxidized, fragile yet resilient. “I am drawing on paper which is not meant to be drawn on. It’s too thin and it tears. Or it is a strip of hard cardboard that shows rubbed marks and dents. The ink catches on the paper. I achieve these effects for free, from these older materials I use. Chance helps the end result. The pencil line doesn’t stick properly to the raw cardboard. The paint forms a pool. It gives a disturbance which I really like, and it adds to the idea that the picture belongs to the moment in which it is created. It’s also connected to the idea that Floor is ageless, so a portrait of her might have been produced in the Renaissance, or in the 19th century, or ten minutes ago.” In some portraits, the paper provided the starting point, in others, the painting was inspired by a particular junk-shop frame. The more elaborate frames make a bold statement, others draw little attention. Some are made from plastic and cost 50 cents to buy, others are antique, gilded and expensive. In their diversity, they punctuate the wall like Morse Code. “I bought several Indian frames from a store in Paris. They were meant for devotional images, or holy texts, the focus of a daily offering, to be worshipped every day. They spoke to me about the spiritual aura of a physical object. Besides their age, their function was very much in line with my idea of my portraits of Floor as being part of a shrine. The Indian frames show the signs of change over time. The varnish has peeled off. Some of the glass was already broken, so I have left it that way. But I also like the humbleness of someone who has bought a cheap frame from a supermarket, not as an aesthetic choice, but as a practical one.” For Jasper, it is essential that all the works come together in the single idea that Floor could have been born at any time. She is an ageless beauty, simultaneously ancient and contemporary, depicted using the aesthetics and incidental beauty of chance. “I like the space, the shift, between all the different styles I use. For example, an abstract, primitive mood in one painting only becomes apparent when the work itself is finished. In retrospect, I see the influence of African sculptures. I suppose you can say that the true link filling all the spaces in between, is my hand. And how I see Floor, through my portraits of her. The more personal it is, the more universal it becomes.” Jonathan Turner

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Facebook ofwel Muze at Work Dante had zijn Beatrice, Petrarca zijn Laura, Rembrandt zijn Saskia, Rubens zijn Eleonore. De pre-Rafaelieten hadden hun dramatische, roodharige schoonheid Elizabeth Siddal. Camille Claudel was de muze van Rodin. Picasso had onder meer Fernande, Dora, Francoise en Jacqueline. De beroemdste muze in de 20e eeuw was misschien wel Gala die niet alleen Dali maar vele andere kunstenaars inspireerde. Modekoning Karl Lagerfeld had Claudia Schiffer die hij daarna inruilde voor een hele reeks van anders muzen. En Jasper Krabbé heeft Floor. De kunstgeschiedenis kent, een enkele uitzondering daargelaten, een duidelijk patroon: mannelijke kunstenaars en vrouwelijke muzen. De relatie tussen de kunstenaar en zijn muze was echter niet persé seksueel van aard. Het schijnt dat Emilie Flöge, de vrouw die Gustav Klimt mateloos bleef fascineren, stierf als maagd. Flöge was zijn maîtresse en titre die hij bij openbare gelegenheden kon showen aan de buitenwereld. Seks had hij met andere vrouwen. De klassieke relatie tussen de kunstenaar en zijn muze is, zoals John Berger het in zijn beroemde boek Anders zien heeft beschreven, die van de actief handelende man tegenover de vrouw als passief, decoratief object. De Muzen waren de Griekse godinnen van de kunsten en de wetenschap. Het waren negen zusters en hun vader was de oppergod Zeus. Ze werden opgeroepen ter inspiratie. De kracht van de muze is gelegen in dat vermogen door te dringen tot de geest van de kunstenaar en daar de kiem te leggen voor een nieuw artistiek visioen. Sinds de negentiende eeuw is, met het wegvallen van de grote verhalen, de taak van de kunst verschoven. Bevrijd uit het juk van de zintuiglijk waarneembare realiteit en de nabootsing daarvan richtte de kunstenaar zich op een innerlijk concept, voortaan beschouwd als de enige échte werkelijkheid. Werd in vroeger tijden gestreefd naar een samenhangend beeld, een harmonieuze eenheid die als de waarheid werd beschouwd, in de moderne tijd draait het om proces van individualisering waarbij het bijzondere en de enkeling wordt afgezonderd van het algemene. Met die verschuiving raakte het genre van het portret – misschien wel het meest belangrijke werkterrein van de muze – in de problemen. Hoe, anders dan via het uiterlijk van een individu door te dringen, tot het innerlijk? Het Nederlandse woord portret is, via het Franse portrait afkomstig van het Latijnse protractum, voltooid deelwoord van protrahere dat aan het licht brengen betekent. De etymologie van het woord suggereert iets meer dan imitatie. Wat aan het licht wordt gebracht was immers voordien in het duister. Portretten onthullen, trekken de intimiteit uit het duister naar buiten en maken daarmee bijzonder wat algemeen en homogeen was. Jasper Krabbé heeft zijn Floor: zij is zijn muze, zijn echtgenote en ook de moeder van zijn kinderen. Zij is het die hem dag in dag uit inspireert tot het maken van portretten. Een reeks die inmiddels uit 250 werken bestaat en die de kunstenaar beschouwt als een ongoing process. Het zijn werken, meest op papier en van bescheiden formaat, die in de verwijzingen naar het werk van beroemde kunstenaars als Modigliani, Schiele, Balthus, Hockney of Warhol, maar ook van tijdgenoten als Elisabeth Peyton, schatplichtig zijn aan de kunstgeschiedenis. De reeks als geheel is tegelijk te interpreteren als een teken van en misschien ook een ode aan deze tijd. De portretten van Krabbé brengen de vraag die de Franse filosoof Deleuze ooit stelde in herinnering: ‘bestaat onze enige identiteit niet uit het uitproberen van alle mogelijke combinaties?’

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In de eigentijdse kunst is het het menselijk gezicht een veel voorkomend thema waarin niet alleen het traditionele, kunsthistorische portret wordt onderzocht, maar waarin technische verworvenheden van fotografie, film, televisie en de computer evengoed een rol spelen. In de portretten van Krabbé wordt niet alleen het visioen dat de kunstenaar heeft van zijn vrouw weerspiegeld. Het spel dat hij speelt om haar, in wezen ongrijpbare, identiteit te doorgronden impliceert ook een reflectie op het genre zelf, op de structuur van het portret en wat het beeld als zodanig typeert. Om het idee van de muze naar deze tijd te vertalen heeft Krabbé de portretten van Floor in verschillende stijlen en technieken gemaakt en ze ook nadrukkelijk als één samenhangend werk geconcipieerd. Bovendien heeft hij ieder werk ingelijst met lijsten die hij her en der op rommelmarkten en bij uitdragerijen bij elkaar gescharreld heeft. Ieder individueel beeld van Floor huist zo in een contekst die geschiedenis heeft. Krabbé verheft zijn reeks portretten daarmee tot de orde van het iconische, van een goddelijke presentie. Niet de ogenschijnlijk nabije goddelijkheid van het role-model, maar de bijzondere, individuele, presentie van het alledaagse. De kunstenaar ziet de grote verworvenheid van deze tijd in de mogelijkheid om iedere gewenste stijl in te zetten, naast en door elkaar heen: de oude masterdrawing, naast het filmaffiche, naast een klassiek expressionistisch beeld, naast een advertentie. Het spel is om in de combinaties van de losse portretten die ieder een andere sfeer ademen de opvatting tot uitdrukking te brengen dat ons wereldbeeld, en dus ook het beeld van het individu, voor altijd versnipperd is. Het perspectief, de identiteit als concept, is meervoudig geworden en het portret is daarmee per definitie een zoekmachine waarin je eindeloos kunt doorklikken om tot een – innerlijk – beeld, een visioen van de geportretteerde te raken. Het portret is facebook geworden en de muze maakt dat je doorclickt. Pietje Tegenbosch

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