‘Roundness is the suitable shape for objects that belong nowhere and everywhere’
The power of the center by Rudolf Arnheim, 1982
For years I have made designs and illustrations using the computer screen and I gradually became irritated by the limitation of that frame. Painting on big canvases was satisfying but then why this rectangular format? It is of course practical and has become habitual under the influence of the photo lens, which generates essentially a circular image. We are used to the fact that only a rectangular part of the lens is capturing the image. The representation of the visual reality has, almost without exception, a rectangular frame and also in painting the rectangular shape is dominant. I wanted to go back to the source – our eyes – and the rounded image they yield. When we look closely at the effect of a curved frame; no corners, no direct relation with the straight lines formed by the space around it, then this frame seems to point at itself and more specifically to its centre. When my first paintings were on display I was surprised by that phenomenon.
‘we tend to read any shape from outside in’, The Sense of Order by Ernst Gombrich, 1979
Making such a specific choice for a frame without corners has its consequences. No corners, no hotspots, no golden ratio, a different experience with gravity, the ‘above’ and ‘below’ and no portrait or landscape mode.The circular form is so demanding, asking for a ‘raison d’être’. Craftsmanship, concept and subject matter, all have to be reevaluated. There is no way that I could continue painting in the lyric, abstract-expressionist tradition, whereby in the process of painting I sought for meaning and form (‘content is a glimpse’, Willem de Kooning). I took the square plane into the new circular environment and experimented with simple geometrical shapes. Gradually my fascination for the formal approach of the visual perception grew.. In the process I came across the manifesto of Theo van Doesburg in which he proclaims the ‘Concrete Kunst’ (Art Concret, 1930). I could instantly relate to his concept of art as a designed product, a construction consisting of simple, controllable planes and colours which only refer to themselves. So many decennia later this manifesto is, among others, a valuable guide for my research into a world inside and beyond the frame.
Then I started working with big geometric shapes, shapes that may or may not touch the edges of the framework, shapes that deny the presence of the edge as if one is looking through a window where shapes continue beyond the edge. The other thing I noticed was the tendency of circular images to start ‘rolling’, especially when symmetry or a centre-orientated composition is in play. In case of a rectangular shape and because of its present corners, the compositional possibilities to stabilise the image are well known. This isn’t the case with the circular frame. It is therefore my job to ‘silence’ a circular frame by using visual ‘gravity’ and asymmetry in the composition.
By drawing attention to the boundaries of the plane, I gradually developed an interest in the picture-frame with which traditional paintings are bordered. The actual picture-frame is the buffer between the world inside and outside the painting. But why do these usually decorative elements and patterns exist to form that buffer? They require, especially because of their repetitive character and the symmetry used, only our brief attention and give space to what they enclose. I want to research the potential of patterns and their effect within a round framework and that is why the buffer is in fact the subject of the painting.
’the richer the elements of the frame the more the centre will gain in dignity’, (Raphaël’s Madonna della Sedia) The Sense of Order by Ernst Gombrich 1979
Ideas arising from this research are first drawn. Due to the geometric character of the work, the translation from sketch to computer screen is simple. For example, color research and compositional variations can be investigated at a rapid pace. So now we are back again looking at the computer screen…The final interpretation into a concrete image is yet to begin.
The artisan stage, the making of the curved frame and the stretching with linen works as an introductory dance before painting can begin. It is important to decide on the final composition first without hesitation from the screen to the canvas. The act of painting itself has the constant lure of improvisation, which can take you off track. My past as a designer helps me to be strict and consistent in the execution of the design.
It is also soothing to follow the design strictly when painting becomes increasingly complex. Because of the large size, I am ‘in’ the painting, seeing how it develops, unlike the picture on the screen. The painting start to lead a life of its own. Executing the design gradually changes into interpretation and decision making that does justice to the starting point.
Seeing the image dissolve from a distance – partly in detail – and then seeing the painting open up from a closer perspective, gives me great pleasure.
Recently, the dependence on the computer screen is disappearing. Instead a sketch is often directly developed into paint on a big canvas, or into small work on paper in order to give more space for impulses and associations.
The adventure that painting is, is back, including the temptations that can lead me off track and obscure the starting point but a constant throughout, however, is the formal compositional visual research, the limitation of the space, the effects of colour and the function of patterns within a bent framework.
During this process the form, which is based on the underlying construction has to transform into an self-evident image that delivers a perception of beauty. Only then the painting is set free.
Hans Roos, update spring 2020