There is a passage in W.G. Sebald’s book Rings of Saturn in which the narrator describes Somerleyton, a famous English country manor. Somerleyton’s magical quality is that everything flows so harmoniously that any obvious divisions between inside and outside are blurred: “it was famed for the scarcely perceptible transitions from interiors to exterior; those who visited were barely able to tell where the natural ended and the man-made began.” Reading this passage, Driessen was struck by how the concept of the porous boundary between inside and outside described the ideas his new series of paintings explores. In Driessen’s Somerleyton paintings, he uses the fragmented human body to examine this tension between in and out, shaking up the body to see what happens when inside and outside meet, the way paint meets the surface of a canvas.
The Somerleyton series is related to and builds upon a previous body of work Anbetungssituation (worship situation), from 2012–2015), which also features recognizable body parts, in particular orifices that are explicitly anuses, often next to a beautifully stylized pile of shit. And while we recognize what we’re looking at, it’s not about faeces, per se, just as the new series is not about the massive wave of pubic hair or the hairdos that brings to mind Marge Simpson’s exaggerated beehive. These are merely recognizable forms that allow us a point of entry to the paintings, shapes we can identify as belonging to bodies so that we can more readily go beyond the surface elements. They provide us with an access point to the process of painting – a way into Driessen’s mode of working and the work itself, which is really about how to apply paint, how to create contour in a painting, how to combine colors on a canvas, and what happens when those colors come into contact with each other. Each painting represents a new process, a new attempt to tackle the problem of how to get ideas onto canvas, how to build up the painting and connect all the parts. Bodies are vessels that contain and confine our insides while simultaneously releasing everything we leave behind, from our waste to our offspring. In these paintings, corporeal forms function as vessels for paint and brushstrokes.
At one point, a friend gave Driessen a postcard of a Bronzino painting of Saint Sebastian, in the late Renaissance mannerist style. In Bronzino’s painting, Sebastian’s body is pierced by an arrow and his bizarre, elongated arm and fingers bear only a passing resemblance to actual anatomy. These elements worked their way into the Somerleyton series. Limbs are everywhere in these paintings – exaggerated and dismembered arms, legs, hands, and feet are brought back together like puzzle pieces or wayward appendages seeking a way to reconnect. In a few of the paintings, limbs appear to be flailing and thrashing in blind, violent desperation, as Driessen plays with how to convey the fragmentation of a body drowning, depictions of bodies both above and below the water’s surface, in and out of the water. There are two paintings that more explicitly refer to the martyrdom of Sebastian, where a dark tree-like shape – like the one Sebastian was tied to – appears in the background and the familiar orifices are back, perhaps this time doubling as the points where arrows have penetrated his flesh, connecting exterior and interior, or saintly halos and mundane assholes.
Sebald’s poetic description of Somerleyton flows so effortlessly that reading it feels like meditating, like the feeling Driessen has when applying paint to a canvas. For Driessen, painting is a contemplative, perhaps even spiritual, act that allows him to build something new. Text: Diana Perry-Schnelle, 2020
In collaboration with Leikela, a platform for contemporary art specialised in editions and multiples, we are pleased to present a special edition in three parts by Lutz Driessen. This work will be available for purchase in the gallery and online at Leikela.
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