Review by Claire Phillips
Drifting across the porous outlines of misted horizons, open fields and canals, Ilse D’Hollander’s paintings are like the remnants of dreams as they begin to dwindle in the morning sun. Spread through the galleries of Victoria Miro’s Mayfair outpost, though, these paintings are perilously intertwined with D’Hollander and her story of tragedy and woe.
Born in a small village in the Flemish lowlands between Antwerp and Ghent, D’Hollander came of age in the 1980s at a time when most critics and teachers were peddling the death of painting. D’Hollander continued with her education and made a body of work anchored in the natural world, imbued with a sensual visual language that is rooted in her experience of the rolling Flemish countryside. The results are a refreshing antidote to the moneymaking machines we’ve come to know as Zombie Formalists. In contrast, D’Hollander’s paintings capture an essence of the Belgian landscape, with smears of colour juxtaposed by references to the real world in the diagonals of tree trunks and muddy tracks.
D’Hollander held her first solo exhibition aged 28 in 1996 before tragically taking her own life just a year later. The promise of what might have been still hangs heavy in the air at Victoria Miro. The quiet, intimate works on display come largely from the final years of D’Hollander’s career, spent in the small village of Paulatem, where she settled in 1994. Painted from memories of winding paths and upright trees dotted across the landscape, D’Hollander’s pictures are filled with hazy volumes of colour that bleed and collide with the edges of the canvas or cardboard. A fragile moment takes shape, like a sharp intake of breath, as these forms meet: the tangible land of the living and a softer, internal landscape of the soul. D’Hollander’s ability to tread the tightrope between the Flemish scenery and her own world of emotion and spirit, establishes her place in the canon of abstract painters beside Piet Mondrian and Nicolas de Staël, and even Mark Rothko’s stained fields of colour.
Image: Ilse D'Hollander, Untitled, 1992–93