This 70-page book is a true jewel of a publication containing 61 reproductions of my work. You may order the book either through Joke Frima or your through local bookstore. (ISBN 978-90-72736-53-6)
A VEGATABABLE PARADISE
An intruduction by Diederik Kraaijpoel in the book "Manifestations"
The theme is the world of plants. A choice we can appreciate. Plants are beautiful, beautiful enough to be cultivated specifically for the embellishment of our gardens and homes. What is it that makes them so appealing? The first thing that comes to mind is their coloration, which is roughly attuned to the natural harmony of browns and greens. Other noteworthy and satisfying considerations: the laws governing growth, the venation of leaves, the symmetry of flowers, and even the mechanics of plants: trunks, stems, branches, twigs thicker at their base than at the tips; not a bad design wouldn’t you agree, to avoid breaking. We experience such logic as beautiful.
This logic is, however, not just a simple addition of various parts. Plant structure is by no means rigid: leave out a few branches, prune where you will, you’ll not be taking away from what is essentially a tree. One really cannot take such liberties with the limbs of humans and animals. Moreover, plants tend to remain reasonably still, except when it blows. Of course they shift, as anyone painting them will notice; because changes in humidity cause plants to droop or climb, but compared to mice and men they are rooted to the spot. A painter also strives after order, attempting to suppress coincidence and chaos. Individual plants have the tendency of nicely cooperating. The truth however is that nature’s spatial configurations contain far too much coincidence. Take a picture of a bush, see what happens: twigs criss-cross messily, contours become massed and cluttered, shadow areas lose detail. While the laws governing the vegetable kingdom create beauty, they tend to fall short whenever we wish to achieve a coherent representation. This applies not only to plants. The world is a chaotic place. An artist has to resort to firm action if he wants to create a sense of order.
Interference aimed at regulating things has existed since the dawn of man. One of the more straightforward principles of regulation is the arrangement of objects in a convenient line. Take the ancient Egyptians, the Indians, the Aztecs, the classical Greeks, take medieval art: at first glance the strict frontal coordination is evident, and runs close to the expression ‘getting things straight’ when we want to make something absolutely clear. The most elementary assimilation of that principle resulted in flat images, e.g. the mosaics in San Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, which show an almost infinite sequence of martyrs . The hypnotic effect of repetition demonstrated here is by no means a duplication in the literal sense of the word, because the heads, gowns and hands holding the martyr’s crown show minor differences. Subsequently, a more refined development of the frontality principle appeared in compositions during the Renaissance, e.g. Cosimo Tura. The representation is no longer flat; the figures have a three-dimensional quality and are surrounded by space; frontality here is evoked through symmetry, incorporating a measure of variation, rather than through repetition.
Joke Frima has attentively studied such works of art. She says she has always been attracted by the sacred imagery of these compositions. We may recognize their influence on her own work. Repetition, symmetry and closely related frontality feature in the majority of her compositions. They exude a religious feeling. In The Procession of Bottles the same bottles and common bluebells are repeated, but with slight variations which remind us of Ravenna’s martyrs. The hierarchy is a recurring, enhancing element. An impressive object is centrally placed and appears to be worshipped or is encircled by small fry. The Japanese persimmon surrounded by willow catkins (p. X), is evidently and primarily a still life; unavoidable however, is the impression that we are dealing here with an altar-piece, showing a divine figure flanked by saints and angels; a bit like the grouping of figures art historians categorize as sacra conversazione
One of the elements of composition is colour. In Joke’s works colours are invariably harmonic. Here nature cooperates in a gratifying way. Seeing the soft browns, ochres and greens one could speak, as Rembrandt did, of ‘the unison of companionable colours’. However, sometimes startling contrasts appear in the way of flowers and brightly-tinted fruit. The dazzling red of a poppy’s petals (ill. 3) immediately catches our eye, without flattening the composition. How does she do it? The secret lies in the careful consideration of nuance. The red in the petals contains only a small amount of saturated cadmium red; paint straight from the tube is applied sparingly, all colours are mixed. The lighter shades were sometimes mixed with white, or with cadmium lemon and cadmium orange; the shadows contain oxide red, alizarin and perhaps some oxide of chromium (green). Red is also visible in the background; muted but nonetheless important it acts as an overture to the crescendo in the centre. The important thing is achieving the right balance of colours. Here precision is essential: get it wrong and the viewer will never accept the coherence of the image.
|In the 17th century a Dutch term existed for the application of colours, ‘houding’, denoting the balance between different colours. A painting without ‘houding’ was not considered accomplished according to Rembrandt, who passed this on to his pupils; amongst them Samuel van Hoogstraten who later wrote it all down. For the subtleties of colour nuances the word valeurs, possibly through Corot, became popular during the 19th century. The term implies the different degrees of grey between light and shade, something that catches our eye when studying black and white photographs of paintings made prior to 1900: the composition’s spatial configurations are as correct in black and white as when seen in colour. Coherence here is formed by tonal truth. This is also seen in academic charcoal drawings —the detailed studies of models many a young artist came to detest.||
Nevertheless, tonality was upheld: although the Impressionists scorned academic methods their paintings still hold their own in black and white. Not until Matisse and the Expressionists came on the scene did painters begin to let go of the tonality axiom. In contemporary painting little is left of such finesse. Nowadays colour is applied absolutely capriciously in muscled discordants that have to compete with advertising billboards. Point out to a young artist that colours have their lighter and darker shades of light and dark and you can be sure to get the blankest of stare. This is ignorance, mainly, the sad result of the abandoning of valeur-painting in Dutch academies in the early 1950s. Of the present generation of art teachers pitifully few have been enlightened.
Why then, is Joke Frima (born in 1952) so good at it? Talent, no doubt. Talent alone, however, is hardly enough. So she must have picked it up someplace. The time she spent at the academies in Rotterdam and Tilburg brought her preciously little. Then, in Florence, things looked much brighter. In 1976 she enrolled in the studio of signorina Simi, an ancient lady who had been initiated into the classical principles by her father, a Florentine painter, who, in turn, was taught in Paris by non other than Gérôme. A keyword during these lessons was: valori, or tonal values, of vital importance to an artist wanting to render plasticity and depth. Eighty hours and more were spent drawing the model in charcoal, in order to achieve a truthful rendering of the infinite shades of grey. The signorina saw little sense in painting in colour so long as a full command of the valori in black and white was not achieved. This 19th century tradition, apparently abolished by the avant-garde, thus proves to be more persistent than was thought possible and is still being passed on to the studious in certain art centres. The effectiveness of this kind of instruction may be seen in Joke’s work. Her paintings always start off as a charcoal drawing on gessoed canvas or panel. After loose charcoal has been dusted off, the remaining drawing is fixed by rubbing undiluted paint into the ground’s pores with a stiff brush; a layer that dries rather quickly. Charcoal surplus is then wiped away. We are now left with a rough of the envisaged painting, in vague shapes and colours. Then follows the detailing phase, during which shape and colour are taken to the ultimate stage. While the old masters sometimes required a more or less monochromatic underpainting between the drawing and the finished painting, Joke is happy to dispense with this intermediate phase. Her work nevertheless ties in to the great European painting traditions from the 16th to the 19th centuries.
Traditions are to be emulated, not by imitating earlier results but by continuing in the same, general direction. Joke’s paintings clearly cannot be confused with paintings from previous eras. The originality of her work is striking; I can even point out why. First of all, her stubborn way of splicing two opposed principles, gothic flatness and spatial illusionism. Although she takes them to their extremes in her work, she cleverly manages to avoid the pitfall of one ruling out the other. Also noteworthy is the remarkable handling of surface density: paint is never applied lightly nor built up in heavy impasto —the overall surface is made up of relatively even, short brushstrokes with undiluted paint, and brings to mind the texture of hand-knotted carpets. You might expect the resulting image to be as flat as a carpet, but this is not the case. The effect is lost in reproduction — except in work shown actual size, e.g. Strawberries (p. XX), where it becomes perfectly clear. Immediately we are struck by the fact that the short brushstrokes never lead to dull uniformity but, to the contrary, to surfaces that bloom with extraordinary intensity. While such small formats may be painted wet in wet in a single sitting, her larger, more complicated compositions clearly take more time to finish. In her paintings everything is viewed from up close. The realism is so illusionistic that you believe you need only stretch your hand to feel this or that fruit: space in Joke’s paintings is never very deep. In exceptional cases we glimpse a landscape through a window, a foil to smaller objects dominating the foreground. Her ‘deepest” compositions are those showing water lilies. In these our eyes are allowed to probe to a distance of perhaps a dozen metres, but all horizons lie outside the paintings. The feeling of intimacy the observer experiences may be explained by the proximity of depicted objects. All of this makes for an unequivocal signature style. A final question: why do we look at her work with such pleasure? I am convinced this has much to do with Joke’s vision of nature. Man is absent. This agrees with us because there are far too many people anyway. Also absent all trace of offensive human contrivances. No automobiles, trains or airplanes shatter the peace. A tranquil calm reigns. In the instances she depicts her living quarters, they appear to have become a kind of greenhouse. Real nature of course has its unpleasant aspects, such as disease and death. Of these, little is shown. Stalks, leaves and berries are shown at their freshest, and lushest. Harmless creature potters about. Evil is absent. We must surely have arrived in Eden. A single leaf nibbled by caterpillars or withered acts as a casual reference to the race to oblivion. Any such intrusive reflections are quickly cushioned by an all-embracing sense of well-being. Not a sign of struggle, nor of loss or gain. Joke’s instincts prove correct. More than enough misery comes to us through television and the papers, while at the home front things might not be as good as we’d like them to be. Art was devised to master chaos.