Is it possible for an artist to be both methodical and intuitive? With Klaas Kloosterboer, that does seem to be the case – his works are the product of both thoughtful planning and intuitive acting. The artist carefully considers how he will approach the canvas. This can be as simple as a brush applying paint onto a stretched surface, but sometimes, the canvas itself becomes the protagonist, changing shape, being folded or cut through. Or it transforms into a suit, evoking the presence of a person. The diverse shapes of the works, with their allusions to human presence, enable the artist to create a theater of painting, dramatic and playful.
Kloosterboer’s method starts with deciding what road he will take towards the painting, and what tools to bring along. Before that, he needs to know why he wants to make the painting in the first place. This may sound superfluous, but in his case, it is important to be strict with the steps. Not every impulse to make a painting can be trusted. He does not want to work on autopilot, for the sake of painting – that would make no sense in a world already full of other paintings and images. The drive should come naturally but also be sharp and to the point, marking an experience that matters to him. Once it is all figured out, once the mindset is clear, the actual studio practice can start.
In 21163 (2021), patches of black, blue, and red linen were sewn together, which created a pattern of triangular pieces. Here the practice started with cutting canvas. The resulting work is whole, yet it also appears fragmented. The “drawing” in this painting comes from the cuts and stitches, not from a brushstroke. The work might come across as a hurt canvas, fragile with the stitches, yet other pieces from the same series, such as 21164 (2021), appear rather playful, resembling a funny face. Each painting has its own expression that depends on the color, the rhythm, and the placement of the painted pieces.
Kloosterboer’s approach is all about momentum, like in dance, in love or war, in anything that involves the risks of a misstep. The painting is often created in one go; the placement of different parts is decided quickly. Interruptions to consider the composition do not serve this process. The artist will not retouch the painting after completing it, neither changing a color nor moving a dot. It is not about composition here, but rather about the right action and spirit in which the work was made. There are gestures, and they present themselves as material, coloredevidence. The visual result, the potential to be an artwork, is something to consider afterwards; judgment comes with time. First the focus is on the doing – and intuition is important in that process, because it is the hand, the arm, the body that is performing the painting. It is not the head that paints, even though the work did start with considerable thought behind it.
Through the years, Kloosterboer has developed a range of gestures, and he keeps expanding his vocabulary, from marks on the canvas to the canvas being molded, becoming sculptural. Sometimes there is a figure or a flower, sometimes just a blob of paint or a word written on the canvas. The artist likes language. A single word can be powerful as an image, or to an image. It causes reaction and conflict, and it has dialectical potential, as in 14125 (REVERSE) (2014), where seven paintings, each showing one letter, find themselves in the process of being folded. The painted surface is wrapped around the frame, creating a rectangular box, and through holes we see raw linen. What is usually the back of the painting has now become the inside.
The gestures that lead to a work are mostly minimal and reduced in number, the paintings “naked” in the sense that the visual motif is in plain sight with empty space around it. There is no hiding behind density or shadow. There are just some marks in different colors on a white canvas, for instance, or there is a pattern of stitches creating a “drawing.”
Is Kloosterboer a consistent painter? Is consistency even desirable for an artist? We discuss these questions in the studio. He certainly does not follow one method of applying paint, nor does he have a typical way of mark making, like a signature style. To work in series means that the artist follows a certain procedure for a limited number of works, and once he is done with it, something different comes along. In a way, he starts the process from scratch each time, resetting his practice, a son of Sisyphus in painting.
Despite finding diversity in the visuals of the paintings, I still think of Kloosterboer as consistent in his view of what it takes to make a painting. It is about finding the right switch, the trigger that pulls off a work. He is not the kind of painter who goes into the studio each day because he just needs to paint. His aim is to make something that is fresh and alive, rooted in his experience of daily life. On the way, doubt should be recognized and cherished, the artist says. It is an important part of the practice.
What role does intuition play in all this? It starts with following an inner compass, recognizing an idea to follow. It continues with trusting in the moment while executing the work. Once he is painting, the artist might not be fully conscious of what he is doing. He is just doing it. He has prepared, he has studied his visual motif, maybe made multiple photos or sketches. And then he sets off, or rather it sets off. It can go along as he planned, but a diversion can happen just as well, painting something not planned.
The energy involved in making the work is hard to predict. Cutting through linen involves an aggressive impulse. Sewing it back together is a healing gesture. Making a wad of painted linen, like in 14110 (Knapzak) (2014), is a resolute gesture, disregarding the traditional integrity of the stretched canvas. Yet it is also about finding a new form that contains mystery. Destroying and recreating are both part of the match.
If a suit is made of colored canvas, should we assume it is a painter’s suit? Or is it just a painterly way to evoke someone’s presence? The suits that Kloosterboer produces are empty, hanging without the person wearing them. Just being surfaces, like a real painting. Over the years, he has made several of them. Some conjure knights of armor, but 15103 (Verstekeling) (2015), seems to belong to a good-humored fellow, a stowaway with considerable posture. It could also be an extra large protective suit that should be worn over normal clothes. Here the canvas does not need any painted illusion to evoke a human presence or figuration – it just needs modeling, arms and legs. In the photographic work 20167 (2020), there is another suit, this time thin and flat and floating in a Dutch polder landscape like a person escaping gravity, lifted by the wind.
A canvas can take many forms, if you are ready to think outside of the rectangular painting box. The sculptural extensions come with a theatrical understanding of how painting works. There are paintings on the wall, there are wads of linen on the floor, there is a spatial design, all together in an exhibition space. And we who come to visit – with expectations of meaning, pleasure, or insight – are part of the plan. We populate the theater of painting, finishing the scene while also being the most figurative element. We were anticipated by the artist; he prepared the spatial arrangement, set it up as a place to meet. But before that encounter happens, he himself disappears from the stage. The artist is there to facilitate, not to be visible himself. There is hardly any representation in this approach to painting, yet there is a lot of presence.
Jurriaan Benschop, 2021