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In Retrospect - texts


notes on the exhibition "in retrospect" by Lucien den Arend

This exhibition shows my works and studies made over a period of thirty years. It is subdivided into the motives with which I have been concerned ever since I made my first sculptures. These do not pertain to everyday life or the topics of our time; my interest lies within the geometry of construction. The emotion is of secondary importance,  also for my inspiration. There is all the room for it after a work is finished. While there is a clear chronological development in my work, the prevailing impulses never cease to show me new directions, nor am I ever finished with them. They don't have any order, and different ones exist at the same time. Sometimes I take up earlier motifs. The exhibition focuses on my free sculptures. However, to give a comprehensive insight in my oeuvre, examples of my environmental work are represented in this publication.

My work has always provided me with the incentive to develop new ideas, frequently based on aspects which are not put into it intentionally. I discover them along the way.
In effect, almost every work is a mutation of its predecessor. At one moment it is a curved contour that inspires me to make a variant. Another time it could be the basic structure itself, which is the carrier that organizes and delimits a work. These frameworks are almost always orthogonal systems. Superficially my work seems to have two streams because of this, which also happens with my environmental projects. The materials and characteristics out of which they are made up are incomparable to the traditional sculptor's medium. But under the surface there is a course set out by my work itself.

introduction to my life and work
a concise autobiography

A few months before we emigrated to America, during the flood of 1953, my parents and I were living in a fourth story flat next to a dike in my birthplace Dordrecht, Holland. On the other side of the dike, well below us, the water level was near its top. Somewhere on the bottom of this temporary sea I always played and built huts using willow branches. Aside from being encouraged to draw like other children are, I was not aware of any talent in this direction. I do remember being annoyed by adults who compelled me to take a needle and prick holes in the contours I had just drawn in order to be able to tear the forms out of the paper. A reproduction of van Gogh's flowering apple tree and a few original paintings, two of which were by Cor Noltée, an artist who lived in Dordrecht during the greater part of his career, were my only contact with art. One was of river barges in a canal in Dordrecht; the other of the inside of a workshop. These paintings came along to southern California where we settled. In 1956 we returned to my birthplace for a vacation. The barges were still in the canal and I enjoyed the idea of time standing still. As this trip turned out to last six months we rented part of a house with the back side standing in the same canal that was depicted in Noltée's oil painting. Only it was the other end across from the Grotekerk, a gothic church. It was immense compared to the Lutheran church next to the house where I was born. This recollection must have inspired me to make my first sketch out of the window. Only, it was not of the church, but of some old houses standing to the right of it in the water. Another one was done in the back of my aunt and uncle's house, who also had a cigar store, like my parents did before we moved to the dike. These sketches were for me a tangible recollection of the atmosphere of the old country. When I was sixteen I made a copy in oil paint of the Noltée. When we returned to Holland with the intent to stay there, I sought contact with him and visited often after that. Before two years were over my father had to go back to California for work, so my mother and I came along. We bought a house in Long Beach near the ocean. I went to college and decided to major in art. I took courses in ceramics and enjoyed that more than drawing and painting. in a foundational course in art we had to make a plaster sculpture. I made a reclining figure which incorporated two extremes; I combined mechanical and organic forms, focusing on solving the transition between the two. It seemed to be such a success that my teacher came to claim it for the school when we were packing for our final return to Holland. This was right after I received my 1A classification for the armed service, and I preferred Europe above Vietnam.

At California State I had met Joop Beljon who participated in what was the first sculpture symposium in America. The concrete elements he was constructing there next to the parking lot were for me something new, but it was very exciting to say the least. Back in Holland I bought his book bouwmeesters van morgen which could be translated best as tomorrow's architects. It aroused my interest in a much broader field that what I knew as sculpture. I also read a book by Isamu Noguchi about his work. Which showed me the possibilities of environmental sculpture. At the same time I had made my first large bronze sculpture. This discoid form stood like a disk in the process of rolling. A year later I was given the opportunity to realize a garden and fountain. The city architect of Dordrecht had seen my first sculpture exhibition in the office of architect Jan Dicke, and asked me to make a sculpture on the edge of a pond in one of the inner gardens of the DSW plant in Dordrecht. At the same time he gave me the possibility to make a proposal for the pond itself, and added that, if I wanted, I could design the garden also. For me it was clear from this moment on, that it would be rather dualistic to make a garden and on top of that a sculpture. So, ever since that time I have been doing environmental and landscape projects. But I have never stopped making sculptures. Because for me there is no hard division between techniques how different they may seem.

about my work

When I started painting from nature in the sixties, abstraction was a result of my technique and materials, the brush stroke being more important than what is depicted. Up to the present day This still applies. Geometric abstraction was at first a means in my work but by concentrating on the construction it became an end in itself. That what was once implicit became explicit, the results increasingly becoming witnesses to the means, evidence of a process. With this shift of interest I began to re-evaluate my method and theory of construction, whether it be an environment, a sculpture, architecture or a bridge.
Until about 1972 a solid plasticity enveloped most of my works but at the same time the linear and planar aspects came to the foreground. This different, more open, approach changed the technique and use of material; even the material itself changed. Before, I worked in bronze via constructions in steel and tensile materials which I filled in and coated with plaster. The constructive phase determined the appearance of the result. Now I work directly in the material showing the construction of a concrete idea, eliminating and avoiding the superfluous. My works are no longer solid. They have opened up, having no interior. My environmental work shows the same development taking into account the somewhat conceptual aspect of for instance the Pieter Janszoon Saenredam Project, or Merging Grids, an homage to Cor Noltée. Together with this post impressionist, who died more than twenty years ago, I used to paint in the marshlands called the Biesbos. In 1991 I organized and participated in a symposium in this area. In an existing osier bed I planted four meter long willow rods in a stringent system of squares. The title of this work refers to the incongruity between my contribution and the original arrangement of the randomly planted original willows. I accentuated my grid by peeling the bark off the tops of the newly planted branches leaving about half the length. Below the peeled part new branches grew. Eventually the geometrically perfect grid will merge with the random one, and the result will be almost invisible.

the motives

My work evolves within thematic constructive principles. One can discern two parallel, or rather interwoven, developments: the chronological line as well as the thematic one. The critical dates in or around which a certain thematic facet aroused my attention are listed chronologically. Per theme the works illustrated are in the order of production. In cases where more motifs are incorporated in one work, I have chosen the one that pertains most to that which moved me to make it.

organic versus mechanical form, 1965-

The transition between these two poles was the part that I was interested in solving. At that time my works were closed, solid forms. Some of my first sculptures were inspired by details of bones.

It was the shape and the surface that had my attention. The plasticity and the texture were the direct result of the linear movement of my hands and tools. I didn't want to make shapes that could only be made with tricks or gimmicks. Within a few years all texture disappeared and the surfaces became taut and polished.

orthogonal construction, 1967-

I did not at first consciously make use of mathematics and geometry in the process of realizing my ideas. The scientific approach was, certainly at that time, not a goal in itself. Instinctively, though, I consistently obeyed natural laws. In other words, every step in making a work had to be a logical one, certainly not resulting from feeling, contrary to what my teachers used to stress; for them even the measurements of, for instance, a base were supposed to be a matter of feeling; all matters pertaining to composition, scale, color and placement were to be solved intuitively, they insisted. I wanted rules, so, first of all, I rejected composition: still at school one of my teachers declared me crazy for calculating the volumes of boxes we were to make and assemble into a composition. I wanted these to be equal while their dimensions varied, attempting to exclude arbitrariness. The result was my first orthogonal construction.

compound forms, 1968-

In my avoidance of please yourself composition I have always been persistent. This is why my work never existed out of more than two parts combined in such a way that they formed a unity. 'Three is a composition', I reasoned. Now I think that the same motivation that had me combining two extremes in my earlier work, drove me to work with two shapes now, making them into a unity. The difference being that these two units were now identical. At first their sizes and exact shapes differed slightly, but during the years that followed pairs and the symmetry between them became more important.

towards more geometrical concepts, 1968-

My work in this period consisted of curved contours stretching an imaginary film between them. These saddle shaped surfaces intrigued me from the beginning. It was very exciting to imagine 'flying' over these with a motion picture camera and filming the subtle but calculated movements. The geometry of the contours still had an organic sense to them. The opening of a snail shell, for instance, I reasoned, wasn't a perfect circle either. But what I demanded of the interplay between the contours, did indeed need a more calculated approach. Otherwise it was more like a free for all; a little more, a little less, but why not just right?

My sculptures no longer have a bottom or construction keeping them upright. They can have any position, and are to be seen as free forms in space.

In this year I made a single work consisting of four identical forms. Each was assembled from two congruent ellipses which were rolled to such a shape that they could be united, the concave sides facing each other, after turning one of them ninety degrees; something like cupping your hands. It took me four years to pick this up again.

In the early seventies I was experimenting with curved lines on imaginary planes, assembling them in such a way that the movement of one line continued in the other while the planes in which they were at angles with each other. It is hard to pinpoint an exact date as the first trials were only preliminary studies for constructing plastic forms, and later, planar constructions. The geometry became more important every step of the way.

environment, 1969-

The first time I was asked to design the direct surroundings of a sculpture I was still to make, it was clear to me that this would be rather dualistic. It was of course very logical to 'sculpt' the totality.

Looking back I think that this must have satisfied my need for working with the less predictable, and the organic aspect shifted from my sculptures to my environmental works.

length and axis, 1971-

The location where I realized the Walburg project was a long stretch of land. In preliminary sketches I studied long shapes; I chose for a meandering dike, constructed between two diverging lines on which the centers were projected. The main items making up the totality were centered on the axis between the lines. In 1982, spiral pointed in this direction. Later I made Europa and wave. Contrary to the meandering dike where there is the underlying construction, their parts are the construction lines themselves.

In my environmental works these aspects are more easily made explicit and utilized.
When the construction is based on mathematical and geometric principles, an axis easily results.
I don't think that the element axis itself is of any influence in my work to this day. They are secondary elements for me. For instance: the perpendicular cylinders series have two axes in one work rotated perpendicular to each other.

the intermediary stages, 1972-

It often happens during the process of working that I am tempted to stop at a point and keep what I have. Sometimes that is possible but usually - sculpture being a slow process - it will necessary to finish what you are doing. A few times I actually stopped. It changed my work drastically when I interrupted of the production of double torus and saved perpendicular cylinders.

he linear aspect, 1973-

In my earlier work I concentrated on the contours wanting them to be sharp and distinct. Soon I was making polished sculptures. The reflections tend to make the form lighter and follow the plasticity up to the edges, making them stronger. I didn't realize that then, but the results pleased me.

In pursuance of these sharp contour lines I started to experiment using thin wires and casting them in acrylic blocks so they would hold their shape. They were to be as thin as possible, like a drawing. The forms they enclosed were eliminated. Another approach towards having lines be spatial was by engraving circles and ellipses on curved planes of glass.

At the same time I rediscovered that these linears could also be regarded as the intersections of rolled planes, and I started making sculptures from rolled steel sheets. The year before, perpendicular cylinders was conceived by chance. It helped show me the way.

opening up the planes, 1976-

Of course, in working with sculpture, making the moulds or assembling the different components of a work, one sees many possibilities. In most cases a hollow work is at one stage an open piece. But to conceive a work where the inside forms a visible unity with the whole was for me a big step and very exciting. I feel there is always some daring involved. The first works were the planes, junction series. This was a step towards making the construction the aim of a work.

discontinuance, 1976-

The  works in which the continuous  linear movement would be interrupted at a point where the curved lines intersect, were the discontinued continuity series. Later I made Brenda, Europa, wave and c.y.f.

gravity as determining factor, 1982-

By eliminating two of the four elements of perpendicular cylinders leaving the other two, gravity pulls the resulting object into a new position. I named it gravitation. My first discoid forms were placed slanting as if they were in motion and pulled by gravity. It could have been a little more or less. That wasn't the case any more in the time I made gravitation. But I must confess that even later, I placed 2.2.3D2 out of balance in order to suggest resisting gravity.

construction as goal, 1983-

I have evolved from making sculptures where the method of construction was only a necessary step to the final result. Sometimes very interesting phases were lost. Increasingly this displeased me and at one moment this accumulated to a point where I decided to focus my attention on the construction itself. I think it could be compared to music: the performance itself is the what it's all about, not the feeling one retains after it's finished.

In 1983 I was one of the sculptors asked by the National Road and Transport Department of my country to do a study on art and the highway. Instead of working out a plan for placing sculpture or paintings alongside of the road, be it that they would be lengthened, I found that comparing it to a score in music would be the only appropriate thing to do. The moving observer would witness the events when they happened. I submitted various suggestions as to how this could be done. But the committee chose for a more conventional solution.

re-evaluated objects, 1988-

During the course of working with sculpture there have been products that I did not make with the intention of presenting them as art; such as trials and models made for production purposes or even pieces which resulted in the process of making another work. aurora borealis and flight are two examples of this.

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