In her enigmatic paintings, Dutch artist Esther Janssen examines themes of tangible space and the disparity between the imagined ideal and conscious reality. Her distinct landscapes take the mundane and transform it into something uncanny and mysterious.Read More
Esther Janssen was born in Maastricht, Netherlands into a family of artists. In 2000, she received a BFA from the Design Academy Eindhoven, where she focused primarily on design and was taught in rigorous techniques of composition and construction.
The artist's graduation work The Pink House (2000) saw Janssen use artificial leather on a large scale, creating a sculpture that led her from design into the domain of contemporary art.
Janssen also explored an interest in digital artwork at the academy that encouraged her to start a series of digital paintings that were recognised and supported by the Mondriaan Fund.
Janssen's life has been deeply rooted in the arts from a young age, as her mother, father, stepmother, and grandmother were all visual artists. As a child, Janssen remembers helping her father, who was a woodcutter. She admired his ability to create a depth of shadow and light in his woodcut prints, a process that has influenced her own use of pictorial space in her practice today.
The film directors Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch have also informed her work with their unique art direction. The special illusions established by their uncanny and obscure set designs are not dissimilar to the landscapes Janssen creates in her paintings. She is also interested in David Hockney's practice and his humorous observations of the everyday. Chris Ware's graphic novel Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth (1995) impacted Janssen's approach to tonal colour and her creative vision.
The central themes of Esther Janssen's artworks focus on the transformation of isolated environments and atmospheres that were once familiar. She depicts perfectly cultivated gardens reminiscent of classicism, which she paints in a radiant style to construct an augmented reality. Her varying use of shape, colour, and light allows her to take the everyday and transform it into a contemplative space layered with theatrics and illusion.
The artist's unique method, which involves the incorporation of hand-sewn artificial leather, gives the work a sense of materiality that disputes the timeless construct of her visual narrative.
'The Neighbourhood' (2014–ongoing) is a collection of sewn paintings that illustrate perfectly polished gardens in a suburban landscape. The artist describes these works as being the first to unite subject, atmosphere, theme, scale, and material all together in a strange yet alluring setting. 'The Silence' (2020–2021) is a series of works depicting cultivated gardens with reflective rounds of water and uniform conifers. Janssen believes this series of work reveals human's conflicting psychological desires.
Though The Silence II and The Silence III (both 2020) detail imaginary surroundings that ignite a sense of adventure, freedom, and possibility, the works also evoke our need for boundaries, control, and security. Janssen wants us to be confronted by our paradoxical desire for both constructs in her work.
Solo exhibitions include Silence, Unit London, London (2021); A Potential Disaster, LABOR Projektgalerie, Cologne (2019); Chroma Key, Alex51 Gallery, Maastricht (2016); Extreme MakeOver, Alex51 Gallery, Maastricht (2013); Esther Janssen, Municipal Museum Helmond, Netherlands (2012); Swell, Cokkie Snoei Gallery, Amsterdam (2010); and Esther Janssen, Sergio Tossi Arte Contemporanea, Florence (2008)
Group exhibitions include Limburg Biënnale, Marres Center for Contemporary Art, Maastricht (2020); F R E Q U E N C Y, Philipp von Rosen Galerie, Cologne (2020); In het land van Maas en IJ, Privinciehuis Haarlem (2017); Bronsgroen Eikenhout, Bureau Europa, Maastricht (2016); Chamber Collection no. 1, Chamber Gallery, New York (2014); Art Basel Miami (2010); and Art Athina, Athens (2008).
Phoebe Bradford | Ocula | 2021