A World Interrupted
The Visual Intermissions of Thea van Doorn
A World Interrupted: The Visual Intermissions of Thea van Doorn.
Solo Exhibition: Thea van Doorn, curated by Art Historian Paulina Capilla.
Reading Time: 6 minutes
Thea van Doorn - An Introduction
Contemporary Dutch artist, Thea van Doorn, has been busy painting scenes around her since the 1970s. A graduate of the Willem de Kooning Academy, her paintings portray everyday life scenes, usually of strangers, that catch the artist's eye. Characters in her works are often infused with mystery and a certain detachment from their surroundings. Often in Thea's work, the environment in which she places her subjects plays an equal, at times overwhelming role in the composition. Great art continues to hold up over time, and Thea's paintings offer a lens to explore the recent global crisis.
Theater (2015). Thea van Doorn. Acrylic on Linen. 100cm x 150cm.
The emotions of a Pandemic
It comes as no surprise that many people have been socially, financially, and emotionally impacted by the ongoing global pandemic that began in late 2019. As the world slowly attempts to return to normalcy, the past year and a half have left us with a lot to ponder over as we reevaluate our priorities with ourselves and others.
Artists have the outlet to grapple with emotions that are often difficult to describe. Their visual platform allows for a more nuanced expression of these feelings. They can essentially translate moments and emotions into images recognizing the universal sense of apprehension felt during the Covid-19 pandemic.
In such a context, Thea van Doorn's contemporary paintings capture our socially isolated imaginations. Her paintings often depict candid scenes of people going about their daily lives. These are usually groups of people, such as children and musicians whom the artist encounters. Rather than approaching her work with a planned composition, the artist allows her memory of these moments to guide her hand, often resulting in a reflective, thought-provoking work of art. Thea's method of working alone in her studio while letting her thoughts organise her composition is not unique to the pandemic. But it translates well in our current situation, where people have had to change their work/life balance. Furthermore, many of us can also identify with the introspective figures seen in her works.
Twijfel (2020) Thea van Doorn. Acrylic on Linen. 100cm x 100cm.
Social Melancholy of Modern Life
In the grim context of the loss of life, jobs, and comfort of loved ones, many can relate to the sense of isolation felt in some of Thea's paintings. Whether entirely alone or placed in a small group, the people in her compositions seem contemplative and withdrawn.
Though particularly relevant now, this theme of social isolation is one which artists have long reacted to. Late 19th and early 20th century artists took scenes of nightlife and city life and transported them to the canvas, resulting in crowded, busy compositions. Their depictions of modern life in the city reflected the social adjustment undergone in the footsteps of rapid industrial change—these changes paired together with the shifting approach to painting allowed for artistic experimentation.
Untitled (2010). Thea van Doorn. Acrylic on Linen. 150cm x 200cm.
Dutch artists also responded to these societal shifts. George Hendrik Breitner (1857-1923) photographed the busy streets of Amsterdam and brought such scenes to life on canvas, like Dam Square at Night (1893). In Paris, artists Kees van Dongen (1877-1968) and Jan Sluijters (1881-1957) captured lively scenes of cafes in Montmartre and the interactions of café visitors. Both artists depict similar settings at the turn of the 20th Century: Van Dongen's La Mattchiche (1906) and Sluijters' Caféscene (ca. 1904). Sluijters, Caféscene is illustrative of the same introspection in a bustling environment that is also apparent in Thea's work. A sobering reminder that you can be surrounded by people and still feel completely alone.
Now Thea van Doorn's works also add to this tradition of an artistic understanding of contemporary life. Her paintings comment on our relationships with others and ourselves and present a modern-day representation of what it means to be alone. The exploration is even more exasperated in the context of the pandemic. Laying bare the larger social circumstances of our modern era.
Bergen aan Zee (2018?). Thea van Doorn. Acrylic on Linen. 100cm x 120cm.
A Culture of Quarantine
Seeing Thea's paintings, one is reminded of silent, awkward moments in our interactions. The lull in conversation or when your gaze drifts off onto other items in a room. When your eyes comb through every detail of that object as you weave together a thought before speaking. Simply put, her works feel like pregnant moments between events and carry with them a sense of inconclusiveness.
Many of the figures in her work are isolated and express a sense of uncertainty. These figures are often detached from the rest of the work in some way. Their gazes wander off, and the viewer is left wondering what they're thinking.
Art Heist (2020). Thea van Doorn. Acrylic on Linen. 100cm x 100cm.
The gravitation to Thea’s paintings is due to her talented ability to represent these feelings of alienation which have become much more prevalent with Covid-19, national lockdowns, and anxiety over the future. The power of her work lies in its ability to capture the unpredictability and apprehension in her compositions. These are feelings that most people come into contact to varying degrees. Her paintings mark the historical significance of this period with the translation of isolated emotions that undoubtedly speak to contemporary audiences.
Hondenbaas (1999). Thea van Doorn. Acrylic on Linen. 100cm x 150cm.
Scenes of Seclusion & Sentiments of Socialisation
Everyone can likely relate to the figures in Thea’s works. Left alone in our homes with our pets and our plants, it's easy to imagine these spaces we inhabit engulfing us. Thea's scenes of isolated figures are intensified by the objects surrounding the characters in her images. The figures are often overshadowed and enveloped by the other objects in the painting.
De Muzikant (2020) Thea van Doorn. Acrylic on Linen. 100cm x 120cm.
Take, for instance, De Muzikant, who sits almost barricaded by the items in his home. His instrument is just out of arm's reach. And we are instead forced to focus on his pensive gaze at something out of frame.
Tuinrust (2020). Thea van Doorn. Acrylic on Linen. 100cm x 100cm.
Perhaps a more literal example is Tuinrust. The paintings show a figure lying among overgrown grass. She becomes a part of the landscape, enveloped by the grass around her. The dog in the background is easily overlooked behind so much foliage.
Aegidiusstraat Rotterdam (2018?). Thea van Doorn. Acrylic on Linen. 100cm x 120cm.
Aegidiusstraat Rotterdam shows a peek into the interior of a well-furnished home. The objects in the home dominate the view as the figures become more ornamental rather than the operant elements in the painting.
In contrast to lone figures in open spaces, Thea explores the dynamics of multiple characters sharing a space. As the world tries to return to regular social interactions, how we engage with others under the circumstances of all we've experienced can be concerning. Time spent away from others or even too much time spent under quarantine with the same people has shaped our social intelligence. It will likely take some time and practice before reaching a comfortable middle ground between total isolation and crowded events.
Garden Party (2020). Thea van Doorn. Acrylic on Linen. 100cm x 100cm.
Garden Party explores the varying types of interactions among figures, objects, and spaces. Two people sneakily hold hands behind a plant as another figure can be seen walking by and taking notice.
Afspraak (2020). Thea van Doorn. Acrylic on Linen. 70cm x 60cm.
Afspraak signifies a planned meeting between people. Yet, the location in which this occurs is emphasised by the objects in the scene. These objects create a separation between the two characters.
Tweestrijd (2018). Thea van Doorn. Acrylic on Linen. 120cm x 100cm.
A typical scene of sharing a table over a meal takes on a much more introspective mood in Tweestrijd. Aptly titled, the two people in this work seem contemplative and distracted by their thoughts.
Our Collective Experience Examined
In a sense, Thea's work is all about human experiences. Many of her paintings show small, simple moments in time. Thea observes those around her living their lives and documents these moments from her memory of the experience. In this selection of paintings by Thea, we can visually examine the uncertainty felt while living through a truly global crisis. This sense of tension and the apparent fragility of normalcy became universal concerns during the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. It is through this contemporary lens that Thea’s paintings feel so familiar, they capture our collective experience. And as we now try to reclaim our lives, it's healthy to keep in mind how we are alone with ourselves and our thoughts.
Thea van Doorn produces her most dynamic works when she can attend live jazz concerts surrounded by people. In this way, she can pick up on the music and energy of everyone there. Aside from paintings, she creates beautiful drawings on paper and her iPad. About half the works in this exhibition were created in 2020.
About the Artist: Thea van Doorn
Thea van Doorn (1947) is a contemporary Dutch artist, from Rotterdam. Her Figurative Expressionist Paintings are wonderfully large painted drawings depicting alienating scenes from our daily lives. Thea has been a successful painter and illustrator since the 1970's. The last decade Thea has been creating large paintings, with a drawn like quality. Her new works are available at Gallery Sorelle Sciarone exclusively.
About the Curator: Paulina Capilla
Paulina Capilla is an accomplished art curator, who has studied Art History at The University of Berkeley and The University of Amsterdam. She has assisted and curated multiple art exhibitions for several museums and galleries, as an intern for The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Paulina managed to explore the sense of isolation in Thea van Doorn's artwork.
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All paintings are for sale.