Ilse D’Hollander (1968-1997) was a true painter’s painter, and it was her deep respect for the relationship between paint and the canvas that made her art so intense and pure. Her highly developed sense of color, composition, scale and surface are all subtle bur vital elements of her work.
I first encountered Ilse’s work through a friend and neighbor of mine in the music industry (music was very important to her) and I felt immediately drawn to the images I was shown. As I learnt more about Ilse, I became intrigued and then saddened by her life, and by her death at such a young age. The tragic circumstances of a young woman taking her own life just as her artistic career was blossoming made me think of similar young artists, and in particular the photographer Francesca Woodman, whose work I have long admired. Both these artists, one working in photography, the other in oils, were passionately driven and totally commited to the artistic experience they pursued. Who knows what might have been? One should not, however, dwell on the imponderable, but rather cherish the rich legacy left to us.
When looking at Ilse’s work for the first time, I saw parallels to another artist whom I greatly admire, Nicolas De Staël, and whose first exhibition in the US was held at my gallery in 1996. I don’t know whether Ilse was influenced by him or whether she even knew of his work, and for that reason I feel it is unwise to make too many comparisons – especially since he took his life at an early age – except to say that I felt the same immediate and visceral attraction to her paintings.
These first encounters with Ilse’s works were through the medium of printed images in catalogues, and so it was a revelation to see those same paintings in the original when I visited Belgium a few years ago. I could see the actual layers of paint applied to the canvas, the brushstrokes and finger-marks that make the surfaces of her paintings so rich and alive. The subtle tones and sparse compositions, combined with the small scale of the works, are testimony to an artist who was very aware of what she was doing and was carefully controlling and suppressing the emotions and thoughts that lie deep within. Out of the torment of her mind, she created subliminally beautiful oases of calm.
The last two years of her life were particularly productive; it was almost as though she knew that her time was running out. Yet one gets no sense of this urgency in the lyrical, sometimes sparse and elegiac paintings she created. They are extraordinary studies in restraint. Behind this restraint was a person who lived life to the full, exulting in nature, walking and cycling through the countryside, immersed in music, and tirelessly training her hand with countless drawings.
Floating color fields in soft earthy shades evoke feelings of calm and tranquility; abstract, and free from much literal representation of the world around us, the paintings depict elements of natural beauty such as tree branches, but subtly suggested, giving the viewer hints of reality. I have the distinct pleasure of living at home with a painting by D’Hollander, and every day as I walk past it in the hallway on my way out of the house and into the maelstrom of New York City, I am touched by its beauty. To quote Ilse herself :
“it is painting itself that always remains fundamental; with due regard for the person who is painting. The viewer who turns his gaze on my paintings remains even more fundamental.”
I am delighted that Ilse’s work is now getting the recognition she deserves and that her paintings will be shown to a wider audience.
New York, 2013