“Non-completion is the first characteristic of Daniëls’ pictures,” remarks the art historian Alain Cueff. “[C]hanges, corrections, overspillings and impressions are the hallmark of his painting – but only theoretically, otherwise...
“Non-completion is the first characteristic of Daniëls’ pictures,” remarks the art historian Alain Cueff. “[C]hanges, corrections, overspillings and impressions are the hallmark of his painting – but only theoretically, otherwise that would be the subject and object of the work.” The half-scrubbed bow gracing the upper right quadrant of Untitled holds the image permanently in a state of irresolution – of apparition and disappearance – becoming indexical not only of the artist’s desire to leave things unsaid, but also of the unfixed state of painting itself. With this simple form, Daniëls deftly encapsulates the irrepressible dynamism of the medium and gestures to the architecture of the painted image as a concatenation of layers and veils. The metaphor or contradiction of transparency returns the focus once more to the ontology and veracity of the picture. As the critic Dominic van den Boogerd once stated in reference to Daniëls’ work, “This is the paradoxical nature of painting: being both window and surface, it opens the view to a space which it withdraws from view at the same time.”
Levitating holographically between visibility and vanishing, the bow ties and top hat of Daniëls’ painting make a pattern of these various tensions. Their off-white background bleeding into the white wall of the exhibition space, they recast the artist as a conjurer of images and objects floating in and out of consciousness. If the magician’s top hat contains the painter’s tricks and deceits, it also begins to explain the shapeshifting of the bow ties in their many different iterations. As their spectral forms flicker and warp, they resist the flattening of Daniëls’ brushwork and the threat of being overpainted fully. “One of my preoccupations involves the membrane (vlies). Objects and ideas always appear twice, once as reality and later as the idea for a work,” the artist once stated. In the membraneous image of Untitled, the dis/apparition of the objects is the precursor, then, to the unveiling of an idea. It so happens that this idea is never specified, instead remaining ambiguous, elusive, and free-floating like the motifs themselves.
Elaborating on Daniëls’ ‘membrane’, which is variously translated as a ‘fleece’ or ‘film’, writer Robert Simon suggests in a 1999 Artforum review that it is “interposed between the viewer, the audience, and the ‘real’ of the work, at once blocking and offering (partial) access, in the form of a radically simplified schema, a map of the beautiful René Daniëls exhibitions”. The interstitial membrane connotes a transitional state of painting both spatial and temporal, and as such, gestures beyond itself. Indeed, Daniëls’ interest in the membrane is moreover an interest in the space beyond, whether transcending the fourth wall of the painting or looking behind the work. In this way, Untitled takes on a forensic quality which collapses the depicted walls of his ‘beautiful exhibitions’ and the wall on which the painting hangs, as if the canvas is now X-rayed, or rendered transparent. The veiling of the painted image with delicate layers of translucent oils becomes, counterintuitively, the unveiling of the realm behind it.
The effect metaphorises and metabolises the act of seeing, the canvas transformed into the membraneous tissue of the human retina. Vision is analogised as a process of excavation: of peering around corners and beneath surfaces. If Daniëls’ paintings demand an attentiveness of their viewers, they also engineer a reciprocal, critically self-aware gaze that shifts the focus to an embodied state of looking. To return to the unresolved aesthetic of Daniëls’ canvases, it is perhaps the beholder who must therefore fill the blanks to ‘complete’ the image. In Untitled and its pendant, aptly titled Fleece (1987, Private Collection), the plasmic, negative spaces of the compositions coupled with the shifting perspectives of the bow ties put this idea into striking – if remarkably subtle – effect.