The presentation ‘Through Hell & High Water’ at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen shows the peculiar worlds of Rotterdam-based artist Ewoud van Rijn from February 16th until May 18th 2008. Van Rijn’s monumental drawings depict the primal forces of nature. Fairies, nymphs and sirens fight a mythic battle against death and decay marooned on rocky outcrops surrounded by turbulent waters and swept by wild waves. With the clarity of a comic strip he employs his futuristic-romantic style to effortlessly lead the viewer through centuries of the history of art and morals. Painted drawings on large sheets of paper in which capricious environments take shape through a dark interplay of lines.
It all begins with a small-scale sketch. The images, already formed by the thought process, a layering of ideas and associations, are transferred onto paper. The scenes this generates are not static, but are being complemented, combined, and are in a sense growing. The resulting image is blown up through slide projection. After the lines have been traced one by one, form, depth and tonal contrast are added with acrylic and ink. This happens during, as Ewoud van Rijn describes it himself, a meditative process of elaboration, because the artist, during this phase, is completely caught up in the slowly emerging world.
The figures in his drawings evoke Renaissance Venuses and his landscapes exude an atmosphere of romantic decadence. The unwary will easily find themselves lost in this world rich in fantasy, in which we can endlessly discover new details. We see inhospitable islands full of wandering exiles. Fairies divested of their magic powers, mannerist nymphs and an artist in a continual state of decomposition fight a mythic battle against death and decay.
Ewoud van Rijn depicts the ‘death’ of painting, a much-discussed topic since the 1980s, but also the triumphant return of the muse. Her commands, which emerge from droplets of water, breathe new life into the doomed art of painting. The drawings shown at the museum represent ‘death’ as well as ‘rebirth’ and come together in an installation especially developed for the museum by the artist.
The ‘Venture’ drawings look like blown-up pictures from a book, the narrative of which has been lost, leaving only the cryptic illustrations. Each work depicts an island that is being undermined by the forces of nature. The islands are inhabited by human fairies, animated corpses and decaying remains.
The works in ‘The Muses Imperative’ show the other side of this image. The adoration of the muse, taking the shape of a water nymph. In splashing and swirling water imagery, the muse passes on oracles and assignments, in the imperative, such as ‘Be Mysterious’, ‘Be Clueless, be Hopeless, be Useless’, etc.