As recounted here, on Friday my old classmate, painter Harm van den Berg, gave me a private tour of the exhibit, Door Schildersogen (From a Painter's Perspective), he co-curated at Arti et Amicitae. (It's closing today.) Two out of thirty-two pieces in the show have magic in the title: Roger Cremers' The Magic Lantern.
And Wouter van Riessen's The Magician:
Now Cremers told me that originally the magic lantern was surrounded by a satellite factory, but that compositionally he could not make the piece hang together so he created a more diffuse image. (If you come close to the painting, you can kindda see what he is talking about.) I am relieved the factory was effaced, because -- as is -- the painting already flirts with kitsch with all these innocent images beloved by imagined 19th century children. Yet, just as I was about to abandon the piece, I looked into the projector and froze, "what the Devil!' I was standing in the plane of the magic lantern's canvas...
It is not uncommon for a painter to portray a magician. (I spent some lovely time on Google Images researching this theme.) This copy of a now lost Hieronymus Bosch is among my favorites; in it the magician is playing the shell-game while a hapless victim is being pick-pocketed. When a painter portrays a magician, however life-like, it is, of course, a barely disguised metaphor: what you see is the least important part of the story; the trick has already taken place out of sight. But what is off-stage here? The artist's technique; the institutional setting; the history of viewing (etc)? Without magicians, painters have always played with the idea that the most important detail is not on the canvas. (For example, what are Dr. Tulp and his peers looking at in the Rembrandt painting?; certainly not the dissected corpse!)
Not unlike Bosch's, Van Riessen's Magician may also be performing a shell game (in Dutch: balletje-balletje)--a familiar sight on Amsterdam's streets during the 80s and 90s. The artist as a con man is not a flattering self-portrait (something of a theme at the show, see Micha Pationott's contribution and Pim Blokker here), but ultimately the trick is on the viewer, who -- while staring at the Magician, is being robbed...of time, faith...?
By chance, I also bumped into Van Riessen at the exhibit, and we got to talk about his Magician. Against my claim that the painting is about hidden craft-knowledge, he insisted that his painting is closely connected to the mind-body problem--a claim reinforced by the close proximity in the exhibit room of Hagenaar's Tinman. (Van Riessen reads a lot of Dennett, who is TV-famous in the Netherlands, but he didn't like the recent "religion book" much.) Indeed, many of Van Riessen's doll-themed paintings turn on mind-body allusions. (He has a fondness for masks and ventriloquist-style self-portraits.) In the Magician, the tree-shaped arteries perform the same function as a mask would--they depersonalize the painting. And maybe that's why -- against my better judgment -- I am moved by The Magician; this artist longs and needs to be seen, yet all his paintings' props reveal that nothing will be allowed to be found.