Companionship in a State of Suspension
Solo Exhibition: Denise van der Burgh
Curated by Chloe X Xu
2 September 2020 - 28 October 2020
Introduction to the exhibition
"Companionship in a State of Suspension" is a painting exhibition by Dutch contemporary artist, Denise van der Burgh. She has been working on oil painting since the 1980s, and her art often combines realistic objects with surrealistic imagination and builds up a delightful, lively composition. One of the most distinguishing characteristics in most of her oil paintings is that the main subject/object is not alone. They always have some companions around. The compositions dynamic is created by how the subjects relate to each other. Yet each painting burst with movement, yet would never move. Forever caught in a state of suspension. Much as the state we have found ourselves these last months.
The paintings were being analysed during a period of quarantine in The Netherlands. And as more paintings were examined, a theme emerged; Companionship.
What is Companionship?
By standard definition, companionship refers to several interpersonal relationships, such as friends or acquaintances. It's a state of connection and fellowship. The companions can also be animals or objects that are meaningful to the individual. With companions, you are not alone.
In Denise's artwork, almost all the objects appear in the group of the same kind. They have some similarities but also some different characteristics. They even look a bit anthropomorphic. In visual language, if there is only one person in the frame, then he is the absolute protagonist - all of the emotions in this piece communicated through him. And when there is a group showing in the frame, the frame shows more about the spatial relationship and the author's perspective.
The Companionship in Denise's paintings
The objects in her painting interplay with similar companions. Every subject of a painting interacts with a companion. Each companion is - colours a bit different, some are calmer, some are more active. There is also a connection between each object. The movement and the expressions are either similar or complementary. It's always essential to make the composition in harmony so that each element looks integrated into the frame, as one whole piece. Moreover, Dennis has a very exquisite perspective when she paints the still-life; she sets the small object as the main character. Denise's paintings deliver the joy of gathering.
There are seven paintings, from the oeuvre of Denise that explore companionship. Here you can read how each painting pertains to the theme of companionship. If a painting catches your eye, click on the image, and you will find an in-depth analysis of every painting.
In the painting Zeesterren (or Seastars) ,we see four sea stars in the picture, and each one has different movement and expression, celebrating a peaceful moment at the seashore together. We can immediately feel the liveliness and joyful atmosphere in the composition. By contrast, if there is only one sea star in the image, then we will have a different interpretation of this piece: the one might be isolated from the group, and the narrative will be around the solitude.
In another painting Puffins, the two puffins stand on the cliff along the sea. They have a slight smile on their face, and they seem to enjoy each other's companions. The two birds that live in tranquillity represent good companionship in life.
Puffins in a bedroom.
Flight of the Mushrooms (1998) and Onions (2003)
The two paintings above are familiar vegetables in the kitchen - the vegetable interplay with similar companions. In the painting Flight of Mushrooms, six mushrooms are flying or falling in the dark. From closeby to the distance, the mushrooms have different sizes and shapes. Each one formed the triangle structure in the frame, and the arrangement looks symmetric. In Uitjes, each companion has a bit different colour and figures, some are calmer, and some are more active. There is also a connection between each object. The movement and the expressions are either similar or complementary. It's always essential to make the composition in harmony so that each element looks integrated into the frame, as one whole piece.
Kiwi Country (2015) and Puzzle Pieces (1994)
The paintings Kiwi Country and Puzzlestukken have many similarities: both of the objects are flying in the landscape, there is no beginning and no end. But they are never alone - they have companions on the exploration paths, even on top of the desert. Both paintings objects are not at home in the landscape. Yet they are integral to understanding the landscape.
Waterlelie III as one of the few paintings that don't come along with companions to the main object - the waterlily, and it brings an expression of pride and solitary. Denise's paintings are quite positive; even the fish hidden under the leaf is also solo, their existence still looks lively and hopeful.
Waterlelie III in a bedroom.
Companionship and Loneliness
Increase of loneliness in the last years and especially the previous few months
Healthy companionship is essential in human life. Without companions has kept people safe from virus transmission. In March and April this year, the Dutch government issued "basic rules for everyone", requiring "don't shake hands with others", "stay 1.5 meters away from other people", and "work from home". The purpose of the rules is to prevent virus spread through human contact, but it also leads to extreme isolation. The importance of companionship has been made poignant for the whole population these last months.
This form of self-isolation has made it apparent how vital companionship and accessibility is.
Some people express their concern for not able to return to the old social norm. The conflict between the social distance rules and companionship as human rights has been debated. In an article by Italian psychologist Emma Westerling, argues that "humans are social creatures and need to go out and have social interaction... "
What can we learn about companionship in the paintings by Denise?
Lessons to learn from Denise's oil paintings
Although people are eager for connections and companionship, it is still unknown how long we need to go back to the old social norms where people freely have close companions. Art doesn't solve the problem but presents the problem that we are facing in society, and triggers discussion in both perspectives. The figures in the oil paintings are all caught in their eternal poses in oil. The mushrooms, puzzles and kiwi are forever suspended in the air. Their companionship found in oil is in permanent stasis. Each painting caught in a movement that will not happen. A freeze-frame of reality that might resume at any moment.
Denise's painting featured companionships in day-to-day life, and it presents a decisive joyful moment to the audience. It proposed the importance of friendship in a relaxed, modest way. It makes us introspect on the new challenge during and after the pandemic, and shows a positive attitude towards the unknown.
About the Curator Chloe X Xu
Curator Chloe X Xu
Chloe Xu curated and developed this exhibition. As a young ex-pat, she believes the importance of companionship and that companionship helps people to find a sense of belonging in the world. She appreciates Denise's work and wishes to create some positive impact through this curation.
Gallery Sorelle Sciarone commissioned the exhibition. Gallery Sorelle Sciarone is a contemporary art gallery that specialises in romantic and reflective paintings. The gallery aims to bring talented work to a broad public.