In her short life, Ilse D’Hollander (1968 – 1997) created an intelligent, sensual and highly resonant body of work. Born in Sint-Niklaas, Belgium, in 1968, graduating from the Hoger Instituut voor Beeldende Kunsten, St Lucas, Gent, in 1991, D’Hollander was steadfastly committed to painting as an intellectual and emotional endeavour. Her often small-scale canvases and works on paper are charged with references to the everyday. Yet, enlivened by an expressive, though always economical, touch, her work resonates just as strongly as a sustained, self-reflexive enquiry into the act of painting: what it might take to bring an image into being on a bounded, flat plane.
D’Hollander drew upon her impressions and experience of place, particularly the Flemish countryside where she spent the last, highly productive years of her life. Occasionally her work recalls lowland vistas – vast horizons that belie an intimate scale. However, while alluding to objects and places in the world, as well as specifics of temperature and light, D’Hollander’s paintings are seldom immediately recognisable as straightforward landscapes. Instead, drawing the viewer in, her work reveals a masterful command of graphic and painterly touch that captures, holds and, often, diverts attention. Monochrome or near monochrome fields might be interrupted by blocks of colour; geometric volumes softened by streaks or strokes of paint – applied with a brush or sometimes the artist’s hands. The results can be read as a series of accumulated impressions, adjustments and layerings within her judiciously pared-back compositions – a visual record of the artist’s thought processes.
In 1991, in the only published text she wrote about her work, D’Hollander explained her process: ‘A painting comes into being when ideas and the act of painting coincide. When referring to ideas, it implies that as a painter, I am not facing my canvas as a neutral being but as an acting being who is investing into the act of painting. My being is present in my action on the canvas.’
Ilse D’Hollander committed suicide in 1997, at the age of 28. A single solo exhibition of her work was held during her lifetime. However, over the past decade her work has been the subject of a number of solo and group presentations in Europe and the United States, where it has found a receptive new audience. Writing about D’Hollander’s paintings in The New York Times in 2016, the critic Roberta Smith commented that ‘They share some common ground with Belgian painters like Raoul de Keyser and Luc Tuymans, but their softened geometries are more open, accommodating suggestions of landscape, seashore and weather as well as abstraction.’
An affinity with the work of Tuymans and de Keyser locates her among a group of artists who, in the late-1980s and early-1990s, engaged with the possibilities of painting, and felt liberated to do so, at a time when many were quick to signal the medium’s demise. One might also extend a thematic link to historical figures such as Nicolas de Staël and Piet Mondrian. Like them, D’Hollander created work that is at once abstract and figurative, straightforward yet cryptic. It is this sense of crossing and re-crossing the border between figuration and abstraction, between outer and inner worlds, the eye and the mind, that gives D’Hollander’s work its unique presence and invites prolonged consideration. It stands as a testament to the concentrated act of painting and the, equally concentrated, act of looking.
Born in Sint-Niklaas, Belgium, in 1968, Ilse D’Hollander graduated from the Hoger Instituut voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp, in 1988, and the Hoger Instituut voor Beeldende Kunsten, St Lucas, Gent, in 1991. During her lifetime, a solo exhibition was held at In Den Bouw, Kalken, in 1996. Posthumous solo exhibitions have been held at cc Binder, Puurs, Belgium (2020); The Arts Club, London (2019); Sean Kelly Gallery, New York (2019), Sofie Van de Velde Gallery, Antwerp (2019); Victoria Miro, London (2018); White House Gallery, Leuven (2017); ADAA The Art Show, presented by Sean Kelly Gallery, New York (2017); Sean Kelly Gallery, New York (2016); FRAC Auvergne, Clermont-Ferrand (2016); Konrad Fischer Galerie, Berlin (2014); Sofie Van de Velde Gallery, Antwerp (2014); M Museum, Leuven (2013); Geukens & De Vil, Antwerp (2010); Lucas De Bruycker Gallery, Ghent (2004). Her work has been included in the group exhibitions L'Heure bleue, Sofie Van de Velde Gallery, Antwerp (2020); Salon de Peinture, Museum of Contemporary Art, Antwerp (2019), Surface Work, Victoria Miro, London (2018); Edifice, Complex, Visionary, Structure, Sean Kelly, New York (2018); Artemisia, Galerie Albert Baronian, Brussels (2017); In the Picture, Galerie Sofie Van de Velde, Antwerp (2017); Geometric Abstractions, G262 Sofie Van De Velde Gallery, Antwerp (2015); Works on Paper, David Zwirner Gallery, New York (2014); Konrad Fischer Galerie, Düsseldorf (2013); Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens, Deurle, Belgium (2009); Stille Schilders, Caermersklooster, Gent (2003; cat); Aula Art, Ghent (1996); Urmel Gallery, Gent (1994). Works by Ilse D’Hollander are in collections including Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens, Deurle, Belgium.
Publications on the artist’s work include Early Works, published by the Estate of Ilse D’Hollander to coincide with the exhibition at White House Gallery, Leuven (2017); Ilse D’Hollander, a catalogue published by FRAC Auvergne to coincide with her solo exhibition in Clermont-Ferrand (2016). Works on Paper published by Hannibal Publishers and The Estate of Ilse D’Hollander (2014); Untitled, published by The Estate of Ilse D’Hollander to coincide with the solo exhibition of her work at the M Museum, Leuven (2013).