Jan van der Ploeg


27 April - 26 May 2018



Jan van der Ploeg’s vibrant exhibition, Lyrics, playfully provokes viewers with a musical analogy for his paintings. These compositions may resemble musical notation for some, yet they retain a slippery quality evading singular interpretation. Fitting then, his trademark rounded form with its pointed tail is often referred to as a “flipper”.

The exhibition title also evokes the term ‘lyricism’, more commonly associated with descriptions of biomorphic abstraction than the cool, hard-edged forms of its geometric counterpart. Yet his precision works hum with the dynamic energy and colourful expression we might associate with the lyricism of Kandinsky, along with his interest in synaesthesia. This strange associative capacity for one sense to be translated into another – in this case producing ‘visual music’ – is evoked by Van der Ploeg here. It is also echoed in his wider practice. For example, the bold stripes of his public art gallery commissions Wall Painting No. 218 Untitled at the Christchurch Art Gallery (2008), and Wall Painting No. 277 Untitled (Dignity) at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery (2010), and Wall Painting No. 401 clean at The National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (2015) – all of which could be likened to nightclub interior designs.

There is a poetics to this palette. Some pulse with lush, luminous pop colours, while others favour a restful, muted quality. The tone of the exposed linen or canvas sides also resonates with the picture plane. The continual reworking of these formal elements innovates endless, singular combinations of colour and form which evade attempts to describe them.

It has been said that the artist’s rounded “grip” form is reminiscent of the hand-shaped hole often cut in the sides of a cardboard box used to carry them. To get a grip, as it were. Yet one might ask, what is there to “get”? Van der Ploeg’s practice has shed the ideological baggage of modernist abstraction. It is playful, generous, unburdened – at once self-referential and pointing to the world beyond itself.

His work also extends the history and visual language of international modernism in its globally dispersed iterations. Van der Ploeg travels and exhibits extensively in an international dialogue, with recent projects in New York, Beijing, Germany, UK, Sydney and Wellington. Since the seminal 1992 exhibition, Distance Looks Our Way organised by New Zealand artists James Ross and Tony Lane – which toured Spain and the Netherlands and then returned to New Zealand – he has developed strong collegial relationships with New Zealand artists and curators. He became a close friend of the late Julian Dashper, often exhibiting alongside him. During this time he was also exposed to and influenced by the work of Gordon Walters.

This may not be an ideological exhibition project, but it is an experiential one. Van der Ploeg continually tests and remixes the language of abstraction, including the experience of the architectural space it inhabits, such as the dialogue between painting on canvas, paper and the gallery wall. Here painting itself is the protagonist, yet without the requirement of a narrative. Van der Ploeg’s practice frees painting to let its hair down and turn up the volume.