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"The F Line and other demons" by Erik Adriaan van der Grijn
The Anita Shapolsky Gallery, New York, 1996
Frederick Ted Castel
Anita Shapolsky has become a legendary figure in SoHo because she keeps alive the spirit of Abstract Expressionism. For fourteen years she has championed really a wide variety of artists with, however, a base line to which she constantly returns, an insistence on the values and virtues exemplified not by minor Klines and de Koonings, but by major works by a group of artists, most of whom are still alive, and many of whom are quite young, whose ethics and aesthetics are related more or less directly to those of the great pioneers of American art of the 40s and 50s.
Strangely enough, the work of Erik Adriaan van der Grijn fits right into this schema and it is the centrepiece of the best show that Shapolsky has mounted in her new, much smaller space at the same old address on Spring Street, but on the second floor. I say strangely enough because van der Grijn, first of all is not American, having lived in Ireland for over 20 years and having brought up his family there with his Irish wife, then having gone to live in Belgium, near Brussels, for several years, and now, less than a year ago, moving to New York without his family.
This is his second show at Shapolsky, and in it he shows a masterpiece finished this year in his studio in Brooklyn with the grand title “Painting 96: The F Line and other demons”, 1996, which is almost 12’ high and 14’ wide. For many years the work of van der Grijn has been driven (rather than inspired) by the sight of yellow and black traffic control and hazard signs in Ireland and on the continent and, again, here in New York. As most subway riders will have noticed while awaiting the arrival of trains on the platform, there are certain areas of certain stations which are marked against the wall with series of short black and yellow stripes. I believe that these marks indicate danger areas for maintenance workers in these areas there is not enough space between the wall and the train to shelter in as the train goes by. As these areas are quite infrequent, the signage amounts to a secret code that has not much to do with the safety of the travellers. Nevertheless it is alarming. Of course everything about the subway is more or less alarming, particularly to non-New Yorkers and people accustomed to living in small villages in Europe. The painting, perfectly situated in the adequate space, is disturbed and disturbing. Along the top is a range of signs like the yellow-black warning stripes but these appear as a motif, which is varied in many ways in the subsequent ranges of the picture, which is based on a highly overpainted grid, and in which other colors appear, particularly white, but in which van der Grijn’s longtime characteristic yellow and black reappear in carefully controlled places that seem at first glance to be erratic.
Abstract Expressionism substituted something erroneously referred to as rhythm, after jazz music, for the classical painting values of balance and symmetry. Of course they wanted a new jargon to use on their new type of work, and the jargon of jazz was appropriate because they desired above all to capture their work the aspect of time. Music, of course, is a time-art, as is writing, but painting has always been in stasis. Erik van der Grijn incorporates movement in his work, in classical Abstract Expressionist form – ig size and extreme variety in type and size of marks of the oil paint on the canvas. There are also panels of collaged canvas, which appear to be all painted over, and there are almost, but to my mind not quite, surface indications of figures on a confabulated ground. The painting captures time through, not only bigness, but also articulation and, after all, balance and symmetry. This is no “X Generation” Abstract Expressionist painting. It is a painting of this moment by a mature and masterful artist whose experience of New York, like that of Mondrian, is disturbed and disturbing.