Fourteen metres long and almost three metres high, the immense painting created by Gé-Karel van der Sterren for the Projects Gallery of the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag is certainly monumental in size. In it, Van der Sterren shows us a mysterious greenhouse filled with a vivid collection of plants and trees, but also with people in white suits, reinforcing the ubiquitous sense of doom. The viewer is drawn right into the artist’s world, not just by the size of the painting, but also by the multitude of mysterious tableaux which are incorporated within it and impossible to take in at first glance.
Gé-Karel van der Sterren (b. Stadskanaal 1969) produces paintings chiefly concerned with the consumerism and hedonism of today’s globalised society. Without expressing any opinion, he aims to show the other side of the coin and does so by means of an exuberant palette, a large dose of (often black) humour and unmistakably baroque influences. Although his earlier paintings were by no means small, a work of these dimensions is an entirely new experience for the artist himself, as well as for the museum: ‘I regard this project as a unique challenge, to use the resources of painting to explore the interface between the viewer, the painting and the outstanding historic architectural setting of the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag’.
To emphasise the paradoxical nature of his paintings, Van der Sterren makes weird combinations – ever seen a light-emitting wooden pallet? – and exploits the properties of paint to the full. Each object – and sometimes each constituent part of it – receives separate treatment. He frequently employs both oil and acrylics in the same painting, using the smooth acrylic paint to depict flowing water or seething lava and the thicker, glossier oil paint to suggest objects like heavy iron girders. Oil paint can be used to achieve three-dimensional, almost sculptural effects and Van de Sterren does this too, sometimes piling on the paint centimetres thick when he feels that this increases the visual impact of an object.
Van der Sterren draws on a range of contemporary sources, including comic strips, newspaper photos, images from the television news or other programmes, and his own photo-archive. His treatment of perspective is inspired by the more distant past, showing a clear relationship with fresco painters like Pierro Della Francesca (1420-1492). This is certainly true of the monumental painting he has created for the Projects Gallery.
In 1999 Gé-Karel van der Sterren was a prizewinner in the Royal Awards for Painting and received the Prix de Rome; in 2007 he was awarded the Jeanne Oosting Prize. The present exhibition is part-funded by the Netherlands Foundation for Fine Arts, Design and Architecture (Fonds BKVB).