In art, a romantic landscape traditionally evokes melancholy and stimulates the imagination, with dense forests and inhospitable mountains interspersed by serene meadows, all rendered with technical skill, often for maximum effect. Dutch artist Lucassen (b. 1939) put an entirely different twist on the concept in 1965 when he painted a flat image of a palm tree, mountains and a setting sun, and used a Mondrianesque fragment to introduce a strong note of irony. Romantic Landscape with Palm Tree is quintessential Lucassen: defiant, uncompromising and provocative. It was recently donated to Kunstmuseum Den Haag and will shortly feature in Lucassen – The Joy of Painting.
Lucassen’s body of work, built up over more than fifty years, includes paintings, drawings and collages made from items bought at the flea market. In his ‘modifications’ Lucassen not only gives discarded paintings, buttons, dolls and hair curlers a new life, he also gives them new meanings. Liberally drawing on the rich resources available in painting and literature, Lucassen creates associative combinations that alter the substance of the material he works with, melding different styles, and both figuration and abstraction. The exhibition at Kunstmuseum Den Haag will highlight the versatility and consistency in Lucassen’s work, from his earliest, coolly erotic paintings, to his most recent modifications.
From New Figuration to Modifications
In the 1960s Lucassen was a leading exponent of ‘New Figuration’, along with Roger Raveel and Alphons Freymuth. In contrast to the minimalism and conceptualism that dominated the art world at the time, he painted recognisable scenes, rejecting the traditional perspective and reducing objects to silhouettes. He was one of the first artists in the Netherlands to make ample use of elements of popular culture, such as comic book characters (Donald Duck, Tin Tin), films (James Bond), hotdogs and pin-ups. Later, he also explicitly quoted from art history, with references to leading artists like Van Gogh, Magritte and Mondrian.
In 1984 there was a turning point in Lucassen’s work that coincided with his discovery of ‘primitive’ art. His paintings became smaller, the colours more muted and any perspective disappeared. Figuration made way for a mysterious idiom in which words, figures and abstract shapes played an important role. This was a personal system that Lucassen deployed in an attempt to achieve harmony and order in the chaos of the world around him.
Shortly after the turn of the millennium Lucassen began to focus more and more on his modifications. ‘The modification hinges more than my other work on the sharpness of the cut’, he explained. ‘There seems to be a very fine balance between art and kitsch. Ultimately, however, an artwork – an absolute prerequisite – which in terms of its form and content expresses the vast kitsch quotient in western civilisation and its cultures.’
Despite Lucassen’s versatility, there is also a great deal of consistency, both in his development and in each individual painting. From the outset he explored the tension between art and reality, the relationship between the painted surface – the meeting of form, colour and style on the canvas – and the viewer’s experience, the ideas and concepts that an artwork evokes. He juggles with the illusion of the painting and stimulates his audience by never giving them any solid footing. This very indefinability is often in fact the substance of Lucassen’s work, giving him the freedom to combine multiple interpretations.
A book entitled Lucassen will be published by Samsara to coincide with the exhibition (Dutch edition: € 29.90, English edition: € 34.90). The extensive monograph aspires to encompass Lucassen’s entire body of work, comprising paintings, assemblages and modifications, including work not previously reproduced. The publication thus provides an insight into five decades of Lucassen’s art.