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Rezi van Lankveld

Petzel Gallery, New York, USA

Sometimes it's difficult to see the difference between collapsing and rising up. So it is with the strange figures that populate Rezi van Lankveld's paintings. Her influences, apart from perhaps some early, dark cartoons, seem to avoid the 20th century like the plague, and must surely include Hieronymus Bosch, Albrecht Dürer and Francisco de Goya. I doubt her characters are all human; they may appear to signify flesh and blood, but it's flesh and blood grown in a sunless place, probably Middle Earth.

A girl in a pink dress lies prostrate in a polluted pink landscape and turns away. It's impossible to tell if she's miserable, defiant or lounging about; but what she's doing isn't the point - it's the way she does it. A hunchback in a frothy dress gazes into the distance as her body dissolves into a slime-green atmosphere; a hooded figure, accompanied by its clinging, smaller, double, droops lifeless in a swamp. Yet, although the titles indicate that gloom is the order of the day - Hunchback (all works 2003), Poison Girl, Frost, Ashes for example - the gloom, as in fairy tales, is not one-dimensional. Despite the grisly intimations, a clarity of feeling, even a light-heartedness, occasionally makes itself felt - look at these paintings for a while, and your eyes begin to adjust to the dark.

Perhaps the lightness stems from the bones of the pictures; a lightness built from a keen observation of how, even in lifeless or depressed bodies, blood pulsates beneath skin, and bones indicate their presence in soft swells and abrupt points; and how the earth can echo bodies. Although it may be an underworld population that van Lankveld describes, it's one that thrives (as painting always has) on being mischievous, often misleading and open-ended in its intentions. But above all, it's obvious that van Lankveld is in love with the possibilities of paint. As a result, her trippy flourishes seem to delight in their physicality, tickling misery for being the bore it is and demanding it lighten up.

Van Lankveld builds her paintings by pouring various pigments on boards laid on the floor. She then models the liquid with brushes and by moving the board around. Yet despite the fact that the figures emerge from a swirling, marbled atmosphere, they often have a tough, graphic quality. Frost, for example, looks as if it had leapt head first from the rainy atelier of a northern European printmaker, animated by the potential of other beings or meanings hovering beneath the surface of the world - that what we have and where we live aren't necessarily it. Other images, such as Ashes, are near-sculptural silhouettes that appear to thrive on suggestion. Faces emerge with solid personalities, despite the lack of detail; you can feel the curve of a belly in the slightest hint of shifting paint.

The energy these pictures emanate is nervous, shimmering and slightly toxic, recalling oil spills or detergent stains - sick pinks, acid yellows, mud browns and greens dominate. Yet as with an oil slick, when the light hits them unexpected rainbows can appear, turning them luminous. These are slippery colours rendered in a slippery medium. This is apt - van Lankveld's subject matter is a place where dissolution dominates.

Jennifer Higgie is the editorial director of frieze.

Issue 78

First published in Issue 78

October 2003
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