Vital Gestures


Bruges/Belgium, November 2011

Whilst going to the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Arnhem in 1979, Wessel Huisman studied history at the Radboud University in Nijmegen. In 1981 he graduated with honours in social and economic history. Furthermore he specialised in philosophy, philology and empiric sociology. Although he has never worked as a scientist his artistic oeuvre reveals an intriguing and unique interest in the past. Thinking in terms of time episodes and historical development - a kind of ‘mind travelling in time’- he has decisively determined his orientation not only on the past but also with the present. His artistic activities brought him to the realisation that his scientific interest and the fascination for his own past spring from the same source.

Wessel Huisman paints light. As a starting point he often utilises old black and white photographs. He is not interested in the nostalgic images as such but is fascinated by the working of memories and how they affect the way one experiences the present. During the last twenty years he has noticed that the light captured in these photographs and in his paintings offer him an opportunity to travel through time. How it works? For example in a picture by Jacob Olie from 1896 he recognises the light circumstances and the atmosphere of his childhood in Breda, in the south of the Netherlands. Impressions he strongly rediscovered in the villages along the Red River, north of Hanoi in November 2008. Unexpectedly, the past is present in the now, just as a long forgotten smell can recall a particular event.  

So, light can give you back your history, not only as a thought or memory but as a vital and intense experience. Light not only enables you to see things, it also strongly influences the sentiment with which you experience your reality. It is in your private history that these personal references arise, which determine your relationship with the present almost like a fingerprint. Huisman has also noticed that - although the sources from which his paintings develop are closely linked to his intimate history – he is able to lead spectators back to their own hidden memories. From his childhood onwards Wessel Huisman has registered light circumstances, which have formed a kind of light archive. When you look at a painting, there is much more going on than registers within the image. Hardly aware of the mechanism, you almost automatically bring in your own history, fed by numerous visual impulses, far beyond your consciousness. It is that phenomenon that Huisman triggers. He calls attention to what images and memories people carry with them. He then releases them and lets them slip in the now.

Paint is the important connection between the figurative and the abstract. The language a painter uses is ‘simply‘ ‘putting paint on a surface’. This language has a very complex and delicate grammar, which directs both figurative and abstract painting. In terms of image, the only distinction between the two is that  an abstract painting refers to itself and other abstract paintings, whereas a figurative painting refers to another reality and gives you the suggestion that you see what it is. According to Huisman the power of this illusion is one of the great treasures of painting, and he loves to play with this aspect of recognition. Aware of the shared origin of painting, he introduces abstract elements and accents in his painted illusions. In between the layers that make the figurative image grow, he orders accents that give the presentation depth and stability; they provide movement and rhythm. But beyond this, they give his paintings a sense of balance and clarity, crucial for their expression.

He uses a reduced number of colours applied to the canvas layer after layer. A process that takes months, sometimes even years. Although photographic images provide a starting point, in the end it is only painted reality that counts. In this he gives an adequate reply to the infinite more or less digitally manipulated pictures that flood the world. Opposite to the indifferent glossy expression of a print, he confronts us with the richness of a paint surface. Or, reminiscent of the Italian architect Adolfo Natalini who wrote in one of his catalogues: ‘…whereas photography represents reality, Huisman’s method of painting enables him to penetrate the surface of images, to fathom the matter and to prolong the exposure time into a narration…’.

Wessel Huisman has no intention to shock - or provoke with his paintings, nor is he a moralist. A lot of what nowadays is presented as contemporary art needs an extensive explanation. Art critics and museum directors set themselves up as modern oracle interpreters. All too often the visual product is merely an illustration of a poor idea, rather than an independent work of art. Many artists don’t take their public seriously and resultantly put themselves in the position of somewhat arrogant school teachers. Rather than offend them, Huisman illustrates a respect for his spectators and it is his intention to contribute to their peace of mind. He wonders whether it is still possible – without literally going back to classical techniques and images - to create paintings with the tranquillity, the spatial quality and the inner consistency he experiences in the works of Hans Memling, - or, indeed, some landscapes by Sisley or Pissarro; - a mental condition he also discovered in prints from Japanese artists like Hiroshige. He is searching for constants in the way painting has developed through the ages. From this point of view Etruscan tomb paintings are of equal importance as would be fifteenth century Italian frescos or some of the works of Russian constructivists. Huisman is not working in a tradition for its own sake; - he in truth maintains values that are still of vital importance, and nourishes them with his own experiences.

Immediately after he graduated at the Academy in Arnhem in 1984, Wessel Huisman became Managing Director of the same institute. From then onwards he has had numerous exhibitions throughout Europe, especially in The Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Switzerland. His work has also been exhibited in Asia - Japan, Vietnam and South Korea. Since 2006 he has worked full-time as a visual artist and photographer.

Bruges/Belgium, November 2011

Dr. G.Teixeira de Mattos, reporter and analyst, specialised in light measurements.