tekening

Skipping Away by Maria Barnas

I

There is the room that cannot stay still
The walls skip away at the lightest, slightest touch
and the chairs sag so. The table wavers as always.

and the windows, the windows linger in the rippling
sunlight. What vessel is moored here? Who calls this
home. Close the curtains gently please.

II

There is a world that occasionally intrudes. With bells
and bellows and clockes and clamour. Witl loading and labour
and laughter and leaving. And somewhere amongst this

we should find time. Please tell me whet time is
to the second so that we can be sure
we exist or at least can see things go by.

III

There is the soul that waits for me, for it knows
that this head is tired of thinking, swaying
soothing. I call this a heart that speaks.

I hold onto the tremors in the light, the slightest
rumbling of a child’s laugh skipping
in a garden. Hands up! The garden skips within this child.

-
Indefinable Places Hendrik Driessen, catalogue ‘‘It is not all right” Museum De Pont Tilburg 2014/2015

In her paintings Marenne Welten examines the way in which emotions, associations and memories can influence our perception, These are small icons of ordinary, nameless places, imbued with mysterious light that seems to penetrate from the back of the canvas. She paints her motifs-a traditionally arranged living room, old-fashioned furniture, perhaps a human figure-as though this needs to be done in semi-darkness, a she senses her way toward the right form. Her painting is a way of describing what she depicts, usually one color for each part and apparently creating the image in one go. Although she does go back and rework certain places with the brush, in order to give the color a bit more weight or to add another one, this occurs only rarely. For the most part, things immediately hit home, and all of it seems to come about in a rapid sucession of descriptive painterly gestures. Her maneuvers with the brush are easy to follow, yet it remains unclear as to where these begin and end. We might think that her approach, the whole of which seems to be the sum of small fields of color that have been applied in transparent strokes, should lead to a complex mosaic, but this is not at all the case. Even though every part of the painting has been painted in a nearly identical manner, with brushstrokes that seem to comply (or ‘sympathize’) with the depicted form, there nonetheless arises a surprising spatiality that yeals a readable image.What we can see or experience in this remains uncertain, and that makes the act of observation all the more interesting. For the viewer, the interior spaces of Marenne Welten’s paintings are nice places to be, but whether the same holds true for those who inhabit this world is another matter.

Intuition + interpretation + projection Rutger Wolfson,
catalogue Marenne Welten Kabinetten van de Vleeshal Middelburg 2000 :

We’re lunching in a cafe in Brussels. We’re having the day’s special: roast beef with spinach and potatoes. The meal reminds me of holidays in England, althought my beer has that typical Belgian flavour. We talk about our plans for the future, the Police are playing- I have that record too, great drummer- I watch a girl walking in. I begin to realise that my dreary mood stems from an unpleasant conservation the day before.

Whilst all this is happening, I begin to notice my companion’s teeth. Pieces of spinach lodged between aged teeth, neglected through lack of money, work their way to the forefront of my consciousness and begin to dance in front of my eyes. A moment of alienation.

Marenne Welten has the ability to capture such experiences with great precision. Her paintings either spring from the memory of moments like these, or she experiences them during the process of painting. The various layers forming the foundation of her paintings can be compared to the fragments of memories and impressions during lunch. The dancing bits of spinach-the things that cause her to wonder-are, for example, body parts that to her have suddenly lost their normal meaning. In her perception her own nose, when blocked, grows to enormous proportions. Or perhaps someone else’s nose, when its shape suddenly strikes her.

Sometimes, you can easily identify yourself with Welten’s work. A portrait of someone whose head is encased in a large cloud, for example, can perhaps remind you of the haze that can paralyse you first thing in the morning. Similary, the painting of the back of a full head of hair will forever be the image I connect with the feeling of my own hair in my neck, when I was still young. This easy recognition allows her paintings to be symbolic of certain memories, feelings and thoughts.

Welten’s symbolism, however, comes about almost intuitively. Therefore- to herself as well- it is at times just as unreliable as dreams are. You know dreams are full of symbolism, but you will never know exactly what the symbols represent. Aftrer all, you are always the one interpreting them and so, inevitably, making your own projections.

This applies more to Welten’s oil paintings than it does to her gouaches. The latter are made at greater speed and with more directness, and so appear to be less ambiguous. Oil paint allows (and at the same time forces) Welten to take more time over her paintings. These have more layers, in both a literal and a figurative sense, and give her space to further develop an important theme in her work: power versus powerlessness. Connecting the gouaches and the oils are Welten’s concentration, surprise, curiosity amd intuition, and the powerful symbols she offers viewers to identify themselves with.

The camouflage colour of the image Lisette Pelsers,
catalogue Marenne Welten Kabinetten van de Vleeshal 2000 :

White dominates in Marenne Welten’s paintings. Not so much a clear white showing itself as an autonomous colour, but more of an omnipresent, unemphatic glimmer of white, invoking a sense of the absence or fading of colour.
In the visual arts, white often represents a beginning. A white wall, a white canvas waits to be worked on, painted, coloured and at least in part covered.
The images that Marenne Welten extracts from the empty canvas appear unwilling to break loose from the first stage. Because of their material evanescence and sparsity they only just appear to be present. Sometimes, they create an impression of conscious incompletion. They are mostly human figures and heads, children or adults, very occasionally animals, a horse or a dog. Perhaps it is more fitting to speak of apparitions of people and animals, for they are transparent figures with fading contours or drawn with thin, delicate lines. They haunt an unidentifiable space, looming out of nowhere. They barely have mass, yet find themselves on firm ground.
In spite of the use of oil paints the works are little paintings, sooner reminiscent of the openess and absence of ‘filling’ that more generally characterizes drawings. In fact scarcely any paint is used, the structure of the linen remains visible. When the images become too concrete, too manifest, paint is removed or everything is covered with a thin, transparent layer of white that, in a sense, pushes bach the representation.
Because of this Marenne Welten’s images seem to come from a different, unreal world. Still, the figures are in themselves familiar, there is nothing artificial about them. A simple line, just a silhouette suffices to depict a figure. But the almost childlike simplicity and directness chatacterizing the works also contains typical elements such as the emphasizing of certain details, of distortion or enlargement. A ballerina bears an oversized, top-heavy head on her frail body, a figure lacks a leg, yet stands firmly upright, eyes are overly accentuated into dark, deep caves, a mouth with pronounced teeth turns a face into a grimace. Additionally, images sometimes shift over each other, or people’s and animals’body parts simultaneously adopt different positions.
Althought the images may well appear to belong to a fleeting, alienating dream, of which some fragments have remained, they rather stem from a specific experience of reality. Marenne Welten has a formidable ability to superimpose her own projections onto reality.‘There is no single image. Not even when I close my eyes. When I look at something, it’s almost never in an open-minded way, because I see, suppose or think several images at one time’. Her perception sometimes turns the world upside down, a man crossing the street is all at once seen on his head. However, she isn’t just involved in an unavoidable, at times burdening, dialoque with her surroundings, she also constantly sees herself as an outsider, or through the eyes of an alter ego. The images in the paintings are the necessary outcome of such experiences. The representations she paints are in the head from the outset. She has literally seen them. The coming into being of a painting is therefore direct and relatively brief. The representation is not ‘conceived’ while working, it is in fact already present.
Marenne Welten’s struggle with the perception of reality does not resolve itself in the depiction of different images and interpretations. Her work does not offer the viewer a range of possibilities for and variations on a single theme. On the contrary, the images are highly reticent, in effect no more than a thought, a barely uttered word. In this, the direct, simple rendition, at times almost gauche, the use of colour which tend towards monochrome, the unidentifiable space, all fulfill a function. A definite statement, a definitive image must be avoided. The obvious is not part of Marenne Welten’s experience. People, things, images are not in stasis, ‘’
tomorrow everything can be different’. Felt too deeply, this realisation is, in its ulimate ramifications, unbearable. Aftre all, it is in the changeability of erverything in life where the root of mortality un avoidably lies. Presumably, this plays a part in Marenne Welten’s restrain towards her subjects. In the reluctance to ‘capture’ things, people, loved ones in images. The actions of wiping away paint, repainting, applying double representations, all that not only prohibits the unequivocal point of vieuw, but also creates a necessary distance towards the images, that shroud themselves in the white camouflage colour of the cancas.

Expedition Guido de Werd,
catalogue Expedition Museum Kurhaus Kleve (D) 2006 :

-The title of Marenne Welten’s exhibition at the Museum Kurhaus Kleve – “Expedition’‘ – directly evokes a topographical feature peculiar to the place where this museum was built. Through the forward-looking ideas of the great Dutch architect Jacob van Campen and the governor of Cleves, John Maurice of Nassau-Siegen, the ‘‘Springenberg’‘ in the Neuer Tiergarten was given a height of such a magnitude that it is not only a striking landmark in the lowland landscape between Kleve and Elten but also never fails to astonish visitors to Kleve and the surroundings region. The city of Kleve, which has undergone change upon change but always kept its unmistakable character, has for centuries fascinated residents and visitors alike. It is here that the stranger has always felt at home. Indeed, that’s the way the Creator wanted it: it was here, as early as the middle of the 17th century, that the aforementioned John Maurice brought together Roman sculptures and curiosities from the New World, and from Brazil in particular. Art and nature thrived here in an idyllic architectural environment. The original architecture has disappeared, as have the countless exotica has found mention in early travelogues. Old buildings disappeared and new ones took their place, like the spa complex built in the 19th century. Even “Bad Cleve” is now no more, just a memory. Joseph Beuys, a native of Kleve, used some of the spa essembly rooms for his studio during the 1950s. Towards the end of the 20th century, Walter Nikkels converted the dilapidated spa complex into a museum, allowing himself to be guided by the historical significance of the place and making a seminal contribution to the then ongoing discussion on museum architecture. The unmistakable character of the place and the respect of tradition were the starting points of a museum design distinguished by spaciousness and individuality.

The Dutch artist Marenne Welten mainly draws and paints – and with extreme cautiousness: gouaches and oil paintings with forms that are not dashed off casually but rather gingerly coaxed from the colour alone. She paints pictures that seem to come from another world, focused on the essential, without any artistic frills.
Even just shortly after its opening in 1997, Marenne Welten had already begun to relate emotionally to the Museum Kurhaus Kleve. To begin with, it was a relationship that developed through her fascination for the architectonic structure that never seems to comprise seperate adjoining segments but always remains a composite whole through the permanent dialogue of one room with the next. In the course of time, Marenne Welten came to understand the historical significance of the place: John Maurice and his Brazilian collection, a collection that is meanwhile scattered to all four corners of the globe but nevertheless lends this place its uniqueness. Added to this are Marenne Welten’s experiences with the ever-changing exhibitions, with the ever-changing interior of the museum and with the ever so different moods and worlds evoked by the exhibited works of art. Marenne Welten’s “Interiors” only vaguely reflect the clearly structured interior architecture of the building. Much rather they reflect what Marenne Welten has seen within it. As in a dream, time stands still, and the images she creates, freed from their contexts of time and space, appear mingled in chaotic confusion. Whilst this complexity of imagery may be seen as a biography of the place, it tells us just as much about the artist, for Marenne Welten cannot free herself from what she has seen, and the things have moved her forever come to the surface in her paintings in ever new constellations. This emotional response harks back as far as her own childhood, to happenings that took place in her own life. Thus it is that fragments of fairytales appear in her paintings just as much as imagery from her own world, her appartment, her studio.

Only occasionally do certain elements detach themselves from their contect: the insects painted by Aelbert Eckhout in Brazil between the years of 1636 and 1644 – kept at the State Library in Berlin until 1945 and since then at the Library of Cracow – monopolize in their enigmatic splendour, nightmarishly oversized, the gouaches of her “Interiors”. And then we see them again, detached from every context (just as Eckhout brought them with him to Europe in his sketchbooks), on tiny canvases, alienated in terms of both scale and function, on the walls of her studio and the exhibition rooms of the museum.

Marenne Welten creates in her paintings a simultaneity that is both determined by the place of the museum and bound up with her own person. The museum’s past exhibitions and the works of the museum’s permanent collection all shine through: Paloma Varga Weisz, Joseph Beuys, The Glass Collection, Aelbert Eckhout, the mediaeval sculptures of the Rijksmuseum. Appearing like blurred silhouettes or shadows, further alienated through their colouring, are the motifs and elements of the museum’s interior. Marenne Welten’s paintings show that a museum is about images and that it is the images that make for the uniqueness of the place. Marenne Welten’s “images of memory” often vie with one another for prominence. Their complexity must make the viewer question his own experiences of the place and try in some way to bring them congruence with those of the artist. If he himself their content from his own “imaginary museum”, his access will be easy, for he is initiated. All the same, he will find it difficult to memorize Marenne Welten’s images, not least on account of the fleetingness and compexity of the motifs, which are like fragments from many dreams pieced together in a new world, the world of Marenne Welten’s oil paintings and gouaches. Marenne Welten frees herself from traditional notions: simultaneity is abolished, as is the traditional order of things, that is to say, their habitual arrangement in their original contect. The new order of things is the world that Marenne Welten explores on her “Expedition”, the world she presents as an encyclopaedia of things seen. Like any expedition, a walk through Marenne Welten’s exhibition is a veritable adventure-

Interiors Roland Monig, catalogue “Expedition” Museum Kurhaus Kleve (D) 2006:

An everyday scene in a museum: our gaze is guided diagonally across an exhibition room, over the shoulder of a girl sitting on a bench in the foreground and looking, so it seems, at a work of art under a glass case on a pedestal opposite her. Another visitor peers around the corner, perhaps still uncertain whether the works in this room might interest him at all, or perhaps reassuring himself one last time of what he has just seen. For all its summariness, the depicted scene is of a recognizable place. It is a room on the first floor of the Museum Kurhaus Kleve. The exhibited works are mediaeval sculptures from the collection of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Marenne Welten’s painting is distinguished by its clarity and transparency. She works both with an extremely reduced palette of colours and with decisive contours that generously but precisely outline the room and the elements within it. The people in the room, like the sculptures on their pedestals, are darkly silhouetted. This formal simplification is the necessary prerequisite for complexity. For Welten shows us not just one interior but many. Merging, upside down, into the glazed end wall of the exhibition room, for example, is the long neo-Classical facade of the Kurhaus Kleve. Recognizable at the top edge of the canvas, likewise upside down, are three further figures-two women in swaying bell skirts and a girl with pigtails- painted in subdued shades of blue, like hovering, fading shadows. They look like apparitions from an age when the building that today serves as a museum was still frequented by spa guests.
Grouped inder the title “Expedition”, Welten’s most recent works are, with just a few exceptions, interiors – either watercolours, oil paintings or collages. They explore the Museum Kurhaus Kleve, designed by Walter Nikkels, in all parts and in all its departments, from the cellar all the way up to the second floor, from the reception hall and the bookshop through to the modern and generously proportioned exhibition halls of the ground floor and the historically restored rooms of the oldest part of the building, the so-called “Friedrich-Wilhelms-Bad”.
Welten devotes enormous attention to the many meticulously harmonized details of the interior: windows, tables, pedestals, frames, showcases. Even essential aspects of the museum’s collection and its exhibition programme of recent years are documented with the conscientiousness of a research scientist. Her works show not only the main works of the collection, such as Artus Quellin’s “Minerva” and Franz Gertsch’s portrait of a woman, “Silvia II”, but also the museum’s presentation of the masterpieces of mediaeval sculpture from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and its past exhibitions of works by such artists as Lothar Baumgarten, Joseph Beuys and Mark Twansey. In the light of Welten’s works, the term ‘‘interior” takes on a new, extended meaning, for Welten not only persisently upsets all spatial relationships together with the notions that are bound with them but also makes opposites – top and bottom, inside and outside – interact and interchange. What is more, Welten’s works depict not just architectural interiors but mental interiors as well, for they open up the inside of the museum and at the same time the inner thoughts and feelings of the artist as she fills the “white cube” with her personality. Complex in the true meaning of the word, Welten’s works merge the seen with the imagined, the wrong with the right, the real with the fictitious. here and there we are surprised by a nightmarish incursion into the real rooms of the museum: on some paintings we can make out severed limbs or heads dripping with red blood, on others the fairytale figure of Red Riding Hood being stalked by the wolf.

Marenne Welten mixes her own personal experiences with historical reflection. Again and again – in a stream of visual citations that at times almost reaches frenzy pitch – the viewer is confronted with flashbacks to that forward-looking 17th century governor of Cleves, John Maurice of Nassau-Siegen. Welten associatively relates John Maurice’s biological and ethnologial researches in South America and his passion for art and collecting to today’s museum, to its purpose and orientation, and also to her own work as an artist, to her “painting expedition”, so
to speak. Many motifs – elements taken, for example, from the depictions of Brazilian natives and animals painted by Albert Eckhout for John Maurice – are brought together in the widest diversity of constellations and contexts, and in a multitude of repetitions, variations and transformations, an essential role being played here not least by the medium or process (collage, oil painting or watercolour) in each individual case.

“All seen images”, says Welten “together become one new image”. In her view, the museum is an institution that gives a chaotic world of images a place and a structure. Her group of works entitled “Expedition” is a kind of soliloquy that explores the interiors of her own mind by exploring the interiors and history of a museum. Whilst it is a soliloquy in images that are indeed figurative, it transcends all that is narrative or anecdotal. It is a soliloquy in which the conscious and the unconscious, the clarity and transparecy of form and the complexity and enigma of content are mutually conditional.-

Human Comedies Heiner Schepers, catalogue “Zeugnis” Kunsthalle Lingen 2008

-When one considers how, in her most recent gouaches, Marenne Welten observes and records spaces, people and the objects they use, one might surmise that she sees her life’s work as an all-encompassing oeuvre, reminiscent of Balzac. In 1842, Honore de Balzac (1799-1850) chose The Human Comedy (Comedie Humaine) as the (framework) title for his extensive series of novels and stories: the title was inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy. Of course, Marenne Welten knows that all the major stories have long been told. That is why she tends to focus on the small insights which – if one looks closely – become visible beneath the many layers imposed by time. The small format of the new works being shown in the Kunsthalle provides the ideal framework for such an endeavour, and the lightness of gouache – which is closely related to the ephemeral watercolour – is the appropriate technique.

As though engaged in a paper chase, she tracks down the individual acts of ths human comedy played out on the stage of life, attempting to fit the individual pieces of the puzzle into a whole – a whole which, nonetheless, remains unknown. She seeks insight and finds it in those spaces where people have left their traces – she finds it in the people she encounters there, and in the traces they have left on the items they have used over the years. She projects distinctive views of all these insights, compressing them into painting. In this regard, she is less interested in the logical, elucidating view than in the more absurd aspects. These absurd aspects are apparent in all het subjects, not least because of the inevitable transience associated with all things and all beings.

The titles of the works may help in reaching an understanding of the art involved. However, artists often refuse to title their works in order to leave the viewer free to explore all alternative perceptions. Marenne Welten is rather more cooperative in this regard. She has given all her works brief and pithy titles. Here is what is surely a random selection, 18 titles from a list of works: Pill, Balloon, Room, Plate, Hare, Spring, Cake, Dew, Night, Raffle, Ticket, Legs, Mountains I, House, Harvest, Mountanis II, Tree, Hut, Eye. An attempt to put these in order – and the desire for order is, after all, instinctive – could look something like this: Eye, Legs, Mountains I and II, Tree, Night, Dew, Spring, Hare, House, Hut, Room, Harvest, Plate, Pill, Raffle, Ticket and then finally, Balloon. Viewed thus, the list largely encompasses the whole cosmos of human existence – and therefore also the comedies hidden within that existence. First, we have man himself, in all his banality and individuality, as the centre of a world which would not excist without him (Eye, Legs). Then we have his concrete world, into which he is born involuntarily, with much of that which is to be found and seen in the world. (Mountains I and II, Tree, Night, Dew, Spring, Hare). This followed by what man builds, and what he does in nature (House, Hut, Room, Harvest), followed , in turn, by those things which enable life, sweeten life, help him when he is ill and entertain him when he is bored (Plate, Cake, Pill, Raffle, Ticket). But the artist does not neglect one’s most important characteristics: his insatiable curiosity and desire to open himself up to the world and explore it down to the last detail (Balloon).

The ballon allowed man, for the first time, to survey the world from above – a privilege previously reserved for the birds. Today, he looks out and into distances which no living creature will ever reach. Here, we only see a balloon. But is that not the very thing which triggers the imagination of children when they attach a message to a balloon hoping to receive an answer from far away? Does the game not also function as a competition? After all, even such a small example – balloon – encompasses a whole world of human existence. Of course, that existence differs from the age of Dante and the Renaissance, during which religion and the state were still battling for primacy. It also differs from the era of Balzac, when a growing, increasingly self-confident bourgeoisie started to shape the world in accordance whit his desires. Both works – the Divine Comedy and the Humane Comedy – painted entire pictures explaining the world, whether in poetry or in prose. Our own age no longer allows such pictures. It has started to open up the microcosm and is thus well on the way to discovering what is at the heart of the whole – and what, in the final analysis, holds the whole together. It will never again be possible to narrate the world.

The artist has therefore set forth in this way to paint what she finds striking in small things. She collects that which she has perceived and discovered, and records her discoveries in watercolours and gouaches – light and playfull, ephemeral yet precise. She uses gentle and floating colours which turn her pictures into verse – narrating the world in poetry rather than imaging reality. Human comedies, which – after all – manifest themselves in events, and have no real existence. Of course, she cannot ignore the absurd – the fundamental philosophical theme of the 20th century. And, as she herself has written, the absurd always creeps into her works. It allows her to maintain the distance which is vital to ensure that she does not lose herself in any system or order – systems and orders which can probably never again be all-encompassing. What may seem childishly simply in her small pictures is actually the perception of a painter who has set herself the task of once again rediscovering this world, in its declared inexplicability, for herself and for us, revealing its small secrets. She explains in thus: Het leven wikkelt zich af in het werk en laat zich daarin aflezen. Als een slangenhuid blijft het achter. (Life unwinds in the work, and can be read within the work. It remains behind like the skin of a snake)-

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