My work is determined by a colourful light-footed use of abstraction, which is based on a play in colour and material opposition.

The line in my work is to be seen as an adjoining element, which emphasises the area’s it crosses and is to me most interesting when it reveals an ambiguity in either being a line or a plane. The line can also be standing out on it’s own and in this way refer to it’s characteristics, in being a trace or a display of continuity.

The play with the texture and volume of the coat of paint is also one of the ways in which I relate to the metaphysical aspects of my painting. I vary a transparent picture plane with a more saturated, or a more saturated with a bulky with sand and chalk added picture plane. In the transparent planes I find the shimmering of an endless void, in the more saturated a silence and in the bulky the concrete material presence accentuated.

For the work as a whole the conclusiveness of the composition is determining, the use of the different textures and colours and is directed to evoke a sense of an unconscious infinity.

As for the future development of my work, I ‘m compelled to have Mark Rothko’s statement on the progression of a painters work apply to mine:

”The progression of a painter’s work, as it travels in time from point to point, will be toward clarity: toward the elimination of all obstacles between the painter and the idea, and between the idea and the observer.”

de jonge on art

the initial spark

I always start working with small sketches, sometimes on small pieces of paper that were left over from a previous work. Usually I just start looking for formal relations, intuitively, almost as with ‘écrire automatique’, which the surrealists applied (Masson/Tanguy and others); just reaching within myself as I move my pencil. Do I find something substantial? If I do, I'll work with these forms and repeat the pattern; adjusting it over and over until I find the drawing/composition that fits and matches the initial spark. It really is about this spark; the spark that remains a mystery; without this spark there's no art. The inspiration determines the start of the work and the meaning of the lines/composition. The inspiration is all-determining. The execution of the work strives to maintain this original initial spark; to enlarge it and to make it understandable to the viewer.

on colour

I like to see a colour as an abstract quantity. You cannot imagine the end of a colour when you say red, for instance. Think of this impossibility to define the quantity of a colour, as you experience it in your mind; then combine this with a specific tone of colour and you've got my idea of the quality of colour. For me it is so that I sometimes close my eyes and experience an overwhelming flux of colours; for example when listening to music I can experience the vision of numerous different colours flowing freely. Each of these colours has a very specific value of recognition in my memory and actual experience. These colours do not refer to any concrete reality or experience that is outside the colour itself. The colour contains its own base; is its own axiom. I like to grant the colour a true life of its own. Imagine the light of a star coming to you. You can still see this light, even though it has travelled over a million light years. But the star sending it to you has already vanished; there's only the light. So I see colours in my mind that shine like the colours of that star.

thoughts on the progression of my work

My work is developing into increasingly complex and layered expression of meanings. I am gaining more and more insight in composition; in the interplay of form and its effect on the spectator as well as in the psychology of perceiving images.

Also the depth of my spirit and understanding of, for example, what heaven could be and what my experience of God is, religion & the Self, is expanding; these acquisitions of knowledge are mixed with experience and artistic growth. It's my aim now to always express, above all, essentials like: truthfulness/redemption/love/infinity; but this never without great enjoyment of my skill and stretching the material to the limits of its possibilities.

I really don’t want to fear being too elaborated, or to be including too many subjects. I have a lot of interests and am fascinated by almost every aspect of painting and am happy to research all I can in the medium of my choice. Of course I've set clear boundaries, [I’m an abstract painter] for I want to attain a result that has a consistency and the possibility of meaning something on the modern art scene; the art of this era. I feel that one of my greatest powers to mean something in modern art is emphasising the individuality of colour of a shade of colour as individual and stressing the abstract value of this colour; the endlessness of its existence in the frame of spiritual awareness; of the human imaginative faculty.

artists I admire

I truly admire Cezanne, van Gogh, Gaugain, Seurat, Odilon Redon, Mondrian, De Kooning, Pollock, David Shapiro, David Reed, David Hockney, Chardin, Macke, Kandinsky, Klee, Delaunay, Picasso, Tapies, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Botero, Morandi, Enzo Cucchi, Mark Rothko, Giacometti, Soll Lewit and many others, for very specific and differing reasons.

Odilon Redon has enchanted me and captured my attention for the arts; I was nine years old when I saw a picture of his (the cyclops) in The Kröller-Müller museum, the Netherlands, that touched me inside and made me aware of my soul. It was a moment where time and space were limitless. It made me decide that I wanted to be an artist. It gave me an idea what was to be the topic of the artist; the topic was the reference to his soul and to make others recognise their soul in themselves. In painting, part of the artist's topic for me is also to express the great pleasure and longing the reference to my soul and a more universal awareness of 'The Soul' brings me.


by Peter Frank

Over the past couple of years, the painting of Joost de Jonge has undergone a relatively steep evolution. Such moments of pronounced transition are not unusual for any artist, much less a still-young one; and to be sure, it has not resulted in the abandonment of the signature style – the vivid colors and sharply described, voluptuous forms – with which de Jonge has already established his international reputation. But he organizes his paintings and drawings differently than before, because he is thinking about them differently. The words of philosophers and poets preoccupy him no less than before, and the attachment he feels to the sweep of art history – especially to modernist concepts and languages – is, if anything, heightened. But other concerns, related to but distinct from these prior factors, now motivate de Jonge as well. The present moment thus marks a pivotal development in de Jonge’s oeuvre, one that does not simply focus his art – seemingly spontaneous in origin and expression – outside itself, but focuses it on a purpose outside itself, on an identity with specific modes of human endeavor. While long motivated by extra-visual sources, de Jonge’s current touchstone is the discipline of music.

Sound – or, as Edgard Varèse described music, “organized sound” – is at least as far removed technically and experientially from optically based art as is literature, and arguably further: while verbal expression can occur with visual sensation, on the page and in performative presentation, the common forms of musical expression resist visual accompaniment, or at least maintain an experiential distinction, if not distance. Music and visual art combine in manifestations as various as grand opera and rock concerts, of course, but it is rare for the visual and the sonic to conflate outside the realm of what can be described overall as multimedia spectacle. Sono-visual intermedia, for all the attempts to realize such a seamless fusion especially over the last century and a half, remains essentially in the realm of experiment. We do not, perhaps even cannot, presume sono-visual intermedia as we do, say, sono-verbal or choreo-visual intermedia. This may soon change: with all the electronic means we now have at our disposal for formalizing and fixing intermedial realms, the aesthetic and social impulses that drove the inventiveness and commitment of such heroic sono-visualists as Alexander Scriabin, Wassily Kandinsky, Oskar Fischinger, and Iannis Xenakis can likely be put in the hands of those who will come to take it for granted. But it hasn’t happened yet; and during this period of extended transition from the analog to the digital world, multiple alternate possibilities, and alternate realms of possibility, present themselves.

Joost de Jonge’s recent work presents one such possibility – a relatively simple one, conceptually, but, perhaps for that very simplicity, a persuasive one available to the comprehension as well as delight of a broad audience. He paints in reaction to music – in reaction both to the condition of music and to specific musical compositions. With regard to the general “condition of music,” de Jonge takes into account Walter Pater’s observation that “all the arts aspire to the condition of music,” that is, a condition of direct affect unmodulated by meaning or re-presentation. Music, as Pater knew, does not need to inform us to move us; like smell, sound reaches our sensibilities without depending on an appeal to our understanding. Following the model of those who invented abstract visual art (themselves seeking to manifest the aspiration Pater described), de Jonge “embodies” music in non-referential (if unavoidably suggestive) forms, colors, and compositions. With regard to specific musical compositions, de Jonge gives shape and tone to visual equivalencies, embodiments of particular musical works – particular organizations of sound, as Varèse would have it – in the form of optical structures.

In this latter practice – but also in that of manifesting in general a “music for the eyes” – de Jonge is exploring a realm of cross-artistic expression with which we are very familiar, but into the complexities of which we rarely delve. The evocation of musical experience is a common trope in modernist visual-art practice. Until now, however, insufficient distinction has been made among the kinds of approach artists have taken to such practice. In the wake of graphic scores and conceptual art, for instance, notation has become a fully integral realm of visual representation. Synesthesia, on the other hand – the activation of perception in one sense by stimulation of another – has motivated artists (and composers) since at least the late 19th century – as has the exploration of the Gesamtkunstwerk, the kind of pan-artistic spectacle first proposed popularly (if incompletely) in the later operas of Richard Wagner. Ekphrasis also dates back almost a century and a half, embodied in musical works such as Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition and Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Isle of the Dead. But synesthesia, Gesamtkunstwerk, and ekphrasis are distinct art-music interfunctions, none more significant than any other, but fundamentally different from one another. Indeed, synesthesia is, if anything, a psycho-physiological disorder, an atavistic and involuntary circumstance independent of any artistic discipline. The Gesamtkunstwerk, on the other hand, is an entirely cultural formulation, predicating as it does the coordinated layering of discrete artistic disciplines into a conceptually – but not experientially – unified spectacle. Ekphrasis is also a cultural formulation; but, in contrast to the Gesamtkunstwerk – or, for that matter, the notational artwork – seeks equivalencies: the reconfiguration of one artistic discipline, and often of one work in a particular discipline, into the conditions of another.

Joost de Jonge, then, has chosen consciously to explore the possibilities of ekphrasis in and with his work. De Jonge has gravitated to music since childhood. (He speaks of not being given the piano lessons he desired and turning – out of frustration, he infers – to painting and drawing.) It is as much a part of his cultural background as the writing, philosophical and poetical, that inspires him; but it seems to be even closer to his core, engaging him not just intellectually or aesthetically, but viscerally. Perhaps there is a musician at the heart of every abstract painter; but de Jonge’s whole aesthetic, dependent as it is on dramatic contrasts, exquisite balances, and – in the newer work especially – the orchestration of forms, masses, and shapely and coloristic incidents, would present itself emphatically as musical.

De Jonge did not take up abstraction, at least consciously, to “get closer” to music; he was arguably already close by default. The kind of visionary figuration he was practicing as an emerging artist in fact descends directly from the symbolism of Arnold Böcklin and other fin-de-siècle artists whose practices set the stage for the music-art interface in which de Jonge now works. Furthermore, as he has revealed, there is more than a trace of synesthetic response in his method. (“The color I see in the work,” de Jonge has written, “does not correspond with how I experience it. In my mind I can clearly feel a color that corresponds to the identity of the work; I then mix the color and this corresponds to what I fe[el] should instantly fuse with the colors and forms of the work at hand. In this way it is always a give and take [between] the visual and invisible, [between] the mat[erial] and the spiritual, a continuous dialogue between content and form, though here the direction is from content to form.”) But, having adopted a fluid geometric style, de Jonge has come to realize – to see and feel – that he is bringing forth, unadorned, his inner musicality. He is not simply attracting the “metaphor” of music, he is giving music concrete form.

De Jonge is careful not to attribute specific paintings, or even drawings, to specific musical works. His ekphrasis is not a point-to-point “translation” of organized sound to organized image; he is only too aware of the vagaries involved such translation, even when essayed by masters such as Vasily Kandinsky and Paul Klee. They, after all, were not attempting to “record” a sonic phenomenon as a picture, but interpret first and foremost the experience of music – of the organization as much as of the sound, and of the transcendent quality that the sound takes on when so organized. Klee may have attributed a particular watercolor to a Mozart aria; Kandinsky may have taken inspiration – induced as much by his own synesthesia as by anything else – from Schoenberg’s Second String Quartet; but in both cases the artists, deeply conversant in musical as well as visual art, were giving body to their emotional and physical responses to music. Taking his own inspiration from a vast repertoire of organized sounds (and favored, of course, with access to such a repertoire, never available to Kandinsky or Klee, through recordings and broadcasts), de Jonge fashions his own ekphrastic paintings and drawings as responses to musical language, musical sensations, musical vision. He does not paint a Bachian structure or a Debussyesque fantasy; but his structures and fantasies conjure Bach and Debussy at once – perhaps the one a little more here, the other more there, and then, in this third canvas, the darker colors and more muscular forms could suggest Beethoven or Mahler or Bartok.

If anything, de Jonge is composing himself, painting musically rather than painting after music, capturing ekphrastically no one symphony or sonata or song, but Pater’s “condition of music.” Sometimes the painter choreographs abstract figures rampant on contrasting grounds – the figures themselves responsive to a music we “hear” only through their contortions. Sometimes he organizes his forms in several parallel bands across the picture, almost emulating the basic form of the musical score (although, if anything, parodying any notion of notation). Sometimes de Jonge infers the presence of time, the defining element even of non-teleological music; other times, he deposits our eyes in a sustained moment, as if opening up for our benefit a particular chord. But he is always thinking musically, as his writing and thinking indicate. (“The [work embodies a] longing for clarity as a conscious and unconscious desire of the mind and soul, to grasp the everlasting peacefulness and harmony that could be considered the birthplace of multitude. The rhythmic multiplicity that gravitates towards stand-still, but with the slightest change of angle, reveals its constant flux…”)

This approach, of course, is nothing if not neo-modernist. As mentioned, the entire endeavor to align music and art (as well as other artistic disciplines) to the point of fusion is a hallmark of the modernist era in the arts, intensely investigated, even invented, in early modernism, codified in high modernism, and theorized (as happenings, intermedia, conceptual art, etc.) in late modernism. Its re-emergence now in the work of a neo-modern synthesist like de Jonge, someone who finds his own vision best expressed in a revivified language and spirit, comes perhaps as no surprise, but comes definitely as a refreshing affirmation of constructive principles and ideals.

Indeed, what is most persuasive about de Jonge’s current body of work is not its relation to music, but how its musicality supports its broader spiritual thrust. These paintings and drawings further his commitment to a tone – not just the appearance, but the almost irresistible sensation – of what can only be described as an ordered exuberance, the rational ordering of charming elements into delightful compositions whose surprises and intricacies, despite their apparent simplicity, refuse to reveal themselves quickly. De Jonge’s formal language shares a great deal with cartoon animation in its wit, verve and vivacity, its brightness and crispness, its suppleness and quick transitions; his drawings, in particular, are filled with mischief. But clearly, the inferred temporal structure these works reside in is not the narrative arch of commercial animation, but the fixed present, the continuous state of becoming, that defines the abstract animation of modernism’s experimental filmmakers – and that, ultimately, is the province of music.

“It is for me also a given,” Joost de Jonge has written, “that I experience a band of color as space or as a river of movement… so above all the power of associations, to which Bachelard so incredibly awakens the mind’s sensitivity.” Here citing the influential French perceptualist Gaston Bachelard, whose “poetics of space” crystallized Pater’s condition of music into the visualized lyricism of an earlier avant garde, de Jonge not only declares his affinity with his abstract forebears and their extra-visual aspirations, but exposes the intensity of trans-optical experience that he seeks to capture in his art, as they did in theirs. More than music alone, de Jonge’s ekphrastic effort is a wide and hungry – but not at all indiscriminate – embrace of sensation itself.

- Los Angeles, November 2010

Correspondence between Joost de Jonge and Peter Frank, April 25, 2007

Hallo Peter,

Wat fijn om weer van je te horen.

What a great pleasure to hear from you again.

I am very much drawn to the interval between certain forms and like to see difference in size as difference in time (f.e. the orange dots in "Oblivion" & the grey ones in "Musical Allusion"); this also refers to me, to the time you need to take those forms in, as with listening to a chord.

Most important in this context, to me is Schoenberg's theory about the Non-resolving dissonant ; my idea is that you need to have a harmony first to be able to speak of, i.e. create a non-resolving dissonant. I wrote a little something about this in Dutch which I will do my best to translate here.

"The harmony of the separate"

The relation of a prominently present colour will always be sounding in a harmony with the other colors though the resolvement will take place within the spectator's innerself. So it is a harmony in which the spectator is seen as a true constructive part of the work of art. The reminiscence of the colour is transposed to the body of the spectator and should cause a resonance within the spectator of the spiritual value of the colour.

It is also so that in classical music the same melodies are often played by different instruments, either at the same time, with a small interval or one after the other. Alluding to this, I like to make small variations within form-sequences varying form, size and colour slightly, keeping in mind Ruskin's love for the small difference caused by the work of the craftsman.

The added sand in the paint can bring about a sensation of vibration, varied accordingly to the size of the individual sand particle and the amount of sand added; sometimes I even use pastels and grind them. This vibration could be compared to the extending of a chord at the piano, or the vibrato in general (voice violin etc.).

Most important as well is the idea of music in being a total abstract world; sounds usually are not related to/aimed to appear like ordinary sounds from daily life. With music, the emphasise lies with sound and the experience of sound: hearing, not so much with the instrument, the material; I like the emphasis in my painting to be with sight and light.

I also wish to refer to the Epilogue of "The Sense of Order" by E.H.
Gombrich: "Musical Analogies"

Paragraph 2 page 288:
"Even the perception of a regular row of dots depends on our ability to compare what we have just seen with what we are seeing at the moment and also with the continuation that we aspect. There is a genuine analogy here with the perception of rhythmical sounds, since the idea of rhythm depends on the memory of a time interval, and our ability to hold this memory in anticipation of the next sound. This capacity of the human mind to defeat the flux of time and to perceive events which, strictly speaking, no longer excist, provoked St. Augustine to some of his profoundest meditations on the nature of time. He realised that even in calling one syllable long and one syllable short, we are comparing sensations that have vanished. We are no doubt aided in this feat by what has been called the iconic or 'echo memory', the continued presence of a sensation in our consciousness before it fades and is filed in the long-term memory store. If this were not the case we could not have a mental image of movement, a signal or a word. In this respect Wornum and Semper were not quite wrong when they compared recurrent notes with recurrent shapes."

Paragraph 5 page 295:
"It is in music however, that the interplay between expectation, surprise and fulfilment has become the very stuff of art."

Paragraph 5 page 296:
"We might say that the demands of continuity and the surprises of discontinuity must be perfectly reconciled, which brings us back to the perceptual analysis of effects as they govern the different media.

Paragraph 6 page 296:
"Recurrent elements too small to distinguish singly result in the impression of texture, exemplified by such devices as vibrato, tremolo or the trill."

And of course proportion is of incomparably importance, when I listen very intensely to Bach's "Air" I find the layering of the different violin's beautifully constructed in terms of time/measure/bar: one note lasts only 2/4 a lower note beneath that lasts 4/4, the rhythm built on it is 1/8. In my painting I look for these variations visually apparent, some less, hidden in the structure of the image, which has been built up layer upon layer.

A visual orchestration of the colours in my mind and the images and feelings in my Soul.

Thanks Peter for your interest, I do hope you're pleased with my remarks and thoughts.

Yours sincerely, Joost.

By Peter Frank

The paintings of Joost de Jonge – bright, rhythmic, voluptuous – seem at first glance high-spirited, easily devised, and readily comprehended. Their actual complexity hides behind their immediate appeal. Determined in fact through relatively elaborate reasoning, the paintings are driven by deeply felt philosophical perception, aesthetic consideration, and art-historical consciousness.
De Jonge’s palette, for one thing, may superficially look designed to elicit a childlike joy and excitement. But the color values, their combinations, and their disposition through each canvas render them, on repeated inspection, increasingly harsh and even menacing. Their chromas tend not simply to the sweet, but to the acidic, and the recurrence of colors seems at once random and relentless, as if de Jonge were setting up, then thwarting, a basic decorative pattern. As much as de Jonge’s extravagant curves and exaggerated figure-ground relationships initially delight the eye and perhaps even move the body, they ultimately insinuate a dissonant overtone into our visual consciousness.
This dissonance, abetted by de Jonge’s similarly rich, creamy, almost turgid painterliness, is as deliberate as is his superficial optical appeal: it is a constructive dissonance rather than a critical one, created for the sake not of provocation but of comprehension. De Jonge wishes to expand our visual vocabulary with such dissonance, to make us recognize its integrity, even its centrality, within the consonance of our quotidian apprehension. What bothers us about de Jonge’s painting is what benefits us; what attracts us to de Jonge’s painting is what brings us to what bothers us.
This subversive play of opposites comprises the kind of dialectical relationship that characterized modernist pictorial discourse – indeed, on which that discourse was in large part founded. De Jonge subscribes to the modernist impulse, to its construct of the world and the necessity of art within that world. The “modernist impulse,” supplanted by post-modernism at least a third of a century ago, hardly seems timely. In fact, the re-examination of that impulse in the wake of post-modernism’s apotheosis and subsequent exhaustion – and in the wake as well of the profound effect the computer universe has had on the entire fabric of our lives – has brought about a neo-modernist response, one which does not so much reassert the ideals of modernism as simply rekindle its idealism. De Jonge’s paintings in effect embody, perhaps symbolize, that idealism, bespeaking a sense that the forces of our world standing in polar opposition can in fact be reconciled.
The concurrence of optical delight and rational order in de Jonge’s painting manifests the resolution of a powerful dialectic, one with which modernism itself struggled valiantly. Evident as far back as ancient Greek discourse, the urge to synthesize the twinned human tendencies to impulse and reason has foundered constantly on the propensity of each tendency to demand primacy over the other. Modernism’s overriding agon, in fact, can be regarded as this argument – between cubism and expressionism, constructivism and surrealism, minimalism and pop art, and so forth, polarized tendencies that capture the extremes of a Zeitgeist. In fact, the “third stream” of modernism, from futurism and dada through fluxus and conceptualism, does propose (however awkwardly or incidentally) a synthesis of the Dionysian and Apollonian modalities – and it is this urge toward synthesis that impels neo-modernist investigation.
In de Jonge’s case, we can see – and feel – a conflation of sensuality and cerebrality, passion and logic sourced in modernist attitudes specific to (among other things) Dutch artistic practice. It may seem anachronistic in a trans-national age to identify de Jonge as “Dutch;” but if we can now define local styles as the result of taste and proximity rather than any sort of genetic predisposition – that is, as the result of environment rather than heredity – we can readily see how de Jonge’s sharp-edged but voluptuous forms and hotly hued but coolly chroma’d colors reflect equally the models of, for instance, de Stijl and CoBrA.
Significantly, de Jonge professes to have been influenced by the musical theory of Arnold Schoenberg (especially, but not solely, with regard to color relationships), and by the tendency of twentieth-century music in general to harness the passionate and the reasoned to one another. In his neo-modernist quest for dialectical resolution, the painter is by his own admission indebted to models of sonic and temporal expression as he is to static visual form. The notational procedure that informs de Jonge’s compositional method – rendering his preparatory drawings conceptually engaging in their own right – not only follows classic painterly procedure, but mirrors the task that befalls instrumentalists when they perform a composer’s score: they must adhere to described parameters and at the same time must inflect their performance with heartfelt interpretation.
Given de Jonge’s urge to synthesis, many artists, modern and earlier, have influenced his development to this point – especially considering that it was not that long ago he was practicing a visionary kind of figuration, one that relied on exacting technique to render unstable, dreamlike scenarios. Access to various philosophies and theologies (beginning with exposure to the Sufism his grandfather practiced) has also informed the painter’s attitudes and practice. And profound cultural and natural revelations, such as his exposure in depth to the work of Miro and Picasso and to the Iberian light and soil which shaped them, figure prominently in de Jonge’s evolution from the post-modernist dysphoria of his figural work to the neo-modernist play of his abstraction.
Many contemporary artists, it is true, can claim similarly broad access to exotic sources and disparate phenomena; our rapidly shrinking world now puts its manifold gifts in our hands almost without effort. But de Jonge does not take these gifts for granted. He uses them to spur his own investigations and production, almost as if impelled by a sense of responsibility to the peoples of the earth whom he now finds so close at hand. If our globe has diminished to the point where we find ourselves next door to everyone else, we need to resolve fundamental differences and enter into a spirit of “serious play” with our fellow humans (as, indeed, with our entire environment). The dialectic between the creative and destructive, the rational and the uncanny, the considered and the impulsive, must come not simply to equilibrium, but to union – and in as delightful a manner as possible. Joost de Jonge’s art models this union, in this manner.

-Los Angeles June 2009


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