Persona May, 11th 2023 by

World Fine Art Professionals and their Key-Pieces, 414 - Ab van Hanegem

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World Fine Art Professionals and their Key-Pieces, 414 – Ab van Hanegem

In The HAL Archief , the art project of Herman Lamers in Rotterdam, I saw some monumental paintings by Ab van Hanegem in black and white and shades of gray. One of the works involved a lot of improvisation on a checkered tapered narrow lane in the center and a parallel diamond strip on the right. With wide brush strokes through and over each other, it seemed very spontaneous, the artist had created a spontaneous party. See image 1.

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Van Hanegem was happy to provide some explanation. He has always had a fascination with spatiality on the flat surface, he says. “In recent years it has manifested itself in architectural constructions, interwoven with the painting form. There is more than one perspective and it is full of illusion.” Incidentally, he did not always work in this abstract expressionist style. “I have also made realistic work, but not that much. Especially in the 80s and 90s I made figurative things.”


Isometric representation

The paintings in The Archief Rotterdam are based on a grid. “There is a visible drawing underneath. There is perspective, but no horizon. An isometric perspective. An isometric representation (iso = equal) Is an artificial, measurable representation. Very useful for architects.”

All his recent work is based on a grid. “Initially it was a grid of objects stacked on top of each other, now it’s a bit more abstract.” On the grid we see various abstract experimental forms that separate themselves from the flat surface. As a viewer you go into depth and you can take several paths. It seems painted quite quickly and spontaneously. Van Hanegem: “You can compare it with Asian calligraphy. There is an energetic impulse, but also a lot of coincidence. I work on canvas which has been prepared transparently. The unpainted part of the canvas should remain visible. Afterwards I always correct a few things with a small brush.”

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Karl Otto Götz

Van Hanegem was inspired by the abstract expressionists such as Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning, but also by the work of M.C. Escher. “A wizard with illustrative jokes, very often working with isometric grids, creating impossible spaces.” But especially Karl Otto Götz, whom he discovered around 2010, made a big impression. “His handwriting was immediately familiar to me. At Götz I saw the opportunity to unite my fascination for expressive painting, mathematics and topology. Topology is the branch of mathematics concerned with properties of space that are preserved under continuous deformation. For example, the Möbius band and Klein’s bottle, infinitely closed surfaces. A surface with apparently two sides, but still one and the same surface, so that front and back, top and bottom merge inseparably into each other. Sometimes executed in a sleek and architectural form, at other times expressive in nature. Götz was a professor at the Düsseldorfer Kunstakademie; one of his pupils was Gerhard Richter. Götz turned 104.”

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Key work

Can Van Hanegem point out a key work? He can. He chooses the following two: ‘Untitled, acryl and oil on linen, 300 x 400 cm’ from 1992 and ‘Untitled (1815#1), acryl on canvas, 180 x 150 cm’ from 2018. The first painting shows a brown grid with, among other things, six tennis balls, and white silhouettes of peeled lemons, as can also be seen in medieval still lifes. See image 2. “It’s an isometric grid. You can move around in it as a spectator. I continued to build on this in later works.”

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The second painting resembles the first key work, but was made 26 years later. See image 5. “Here again a grid below it and also made legible by means of squares and blocks. It is painting with

architectural structure. I succeeded in connecting two worlds, the rational and the impulsive are well integrated.”

What drives him is always the same story, he adds. “The story / content / theme remains the same, the form changes.”

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How long has he been an artist?

Ab van Hanegem has been an artist for over 40 years. He attended the St. Joost Academy in Breda and the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam. “I wanted to be an artist when I was young because of the freedom it brought. That you didn’t have to deal with a fixed structure, with working days from 9 to 5. In practice, I now work all morning and afternoon and sometimes even in the evening.”

He had a large house with a studio in Amsterdam, but exchanged it more than 10 years ago for an outdoor studio in Berlin and a studio in Vlissingen, the city where he originally comes from. “The studio in Vlissingen is quite large, the space in Berlin is quite small, but I can also make large works in that small space.”

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What is his experience of art life?

“Dealing with colleagues from the art academy was initially very competitive, but that has now changed. It could go hard. Now that is no longer an issue. A different kind of respect has emerged. We feel mental kinship.”

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Finally, what is his philosophy?

The ‘impossible’ structures he creates represent special areas, ‘thinking spaces’, he says. “Spaces in which you can wander endlessly, not only with your eyes but also mentally. These are areas in which you are absorbed as a viewer: undefined, virtual spaces in which you float weightlessly, like in a bathtub filled with foam, and experience a feeling of bliss.”

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He likes to listen to music while making, mainly very free improvised jazz. “There is a relationship between that music and my work. That music takes place in abstract space. I used to play in a band at the Academy myself. The motto at the time was: ‘Sturdy structured, with room for improvisation’. Exactly how I still paint now.”


1) 2018, untitled, acryl on canvas, 230 x 400 cm, 2) 1992, untitled, acryl and oil on linen, 300 x 400 cm, 3) 2004, zipper#1, acryl on canvas, 170 x 240 cm, 4 ) 2013, bsr(pvo), acryl on canvas, 230 x 200 cm, 5) 2018, untitled(1815#1), acryl on canvas, 180 x 150 cm, 6) 2019, untitled(1815#3), acryl on canvas, 180 x 150 cm, 7) 2019, waterfallhouse, acryl on canvas, 200 x 300 cm, 8) 2022, untitled, acryl on canvas, 125 x 200 cm, 9) 2023, untitled, acryl on canvas, 125 x 200 cm, 10) portrait Ab van Hanegem (by R. Oreel) 

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