Strolling Through Ilse D'Hollander's Becalmed Landscapes
By Skye Sherwin
Ilse D’Hollander spent the three years leading up to her suicide in 1997 at the age of 29, working feverishly in Paulatem in rural East Flanders, a village surrounded by flat fields, unassuming copses and narrow waterways. She would take long walks, return to her house and paint non-stop, using oil and gouache to channel journeys outdoors and inside her head into hundreds of small canvases and works on paper and cardboard. These largely low-key ruminations, like the work of her most obvious progenitor Nicolas de Staël, tease a slippage between landscape and abstraction, while exploring painting’s possibilities and limits. As her first London solo show affirms, they are controlled exercises in mystery, which, though created at speed and in retiring shades, demand our time and scrutiny.
With a handling of paint that veers from delicate wash to brief, purposeful bursts of thick pigment, many of these conjure the becalmed landscape she trekked through in the Low Countries. Brushy horizontal, vertical and diagonal sections progress up the canvas suggesting the demarcations of fields, rivers, shorelines, horizon and sky. Colours are those of a world that is stilled and soft, from the plums and pinks of autumn and dense summer vegetation’s sludgy green to the hazed Tupperware grey of winter clouds. Occasionally, a blaze of orange evokes corn in the sun, or mottled ink-blue the drama of an incipient storm. The eye is lead into the illusory distance implied by perspectival lines: hinting at a hedgerow, a ditch, a path through a white field towards grey trees that calls to mind the poet Robert Frost’s melancholy meditation, Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening (1922). And like Frost’s verse, they imply a forward and backward-looking journey into memory, time, nature and the self.
Image: Ilse D'Hollander, Elizabeth, 1996