Het eiNancy de Graaf
Het ei (2020)
85 x100 cm
Pigment and oil paint on linen
According to Nancy de Graaf, it all starts a few months ago at the bottom left on a linen canvas with drawing two potato-like shapes in a transparent sienna-coloured oil paint. After creating the works Een beer en een Schans (A Bear and a Ramp) and Die met het Water en de Berg (That one with the Water and the Mountain) she gets a taste for drawing in a painting. Then she draws part of an interior on the canvas with Siberian chalk. Nancy makes a frame with a plant and a table on which a mug with a face is on show. She saw and photographed this scene in someone's home. A standing figure then appears in the background in the interior.
In this recent work of art, however, there is no more trace of a human figure. The mug with the drawn face has also disappeared. This is because she initially wants to paint an impression as in her earlier, more figurative period. During that period she often made large theatrical works of art in which parts of the human figure were shown. Lately she has been committing herself to investigate what it is like to create a monumental image on very small formats. For the art work het Ei (the Egg) on the other hand she challenges herself by choosing an intermediate size of 85 x 100 cm. For her this is quite a tricky size because it is too small for an impression - as you can see in Poppenkast (Puppetry) - and is too large for the monumental one, such as her Studie 1 en 2 naar het Ei (Study 1 and 2 to the Egg). Despite the fact that she has dissolved the visuals elements, the human figure and the mug in the background, they continue to play an important role in the work. The artist sees it as a foundation, as an extra layer that is part of the whole.
Her favourite working method “the relay of forms”, as she calls it, has been eagerly applied in this painting. The artist has the special gift of attaching a character trait to certain shapes and objects. For example, Nancy associates the potato-like shape with a certain tone or sound. During the research phase that precedes the process of painting, de Graaf makes a template of a shape she is in love with at the time - as she puts it so beautifully. With the template she can quickly re-use the same shape in a work or other works. By applying this method, she plays with rhythm and tries to investigate whether the feature of the form changes by the way she paints it. This creates a series of works that are connected to one another, yet they each have their own atmosphere. The form relay creates, as it were, a common thread through a series of works.
The rhythmic use of the potato-like form is immediately noticeable in het Ei (the Egg). These ovals are - as in a chair dance - placed across and on top of each other. Nancy builds up the painting by alternately painting flat areas of colour opaque or transparent in a harmonious colour palette. De Graaf likes to experiment with different types of paint thinning and deliberately creates confusion about the foreground and background. From behind the potato shapes, the artist reveals some sort of tentacles - inspired by starfish she saw on a Youtube movie - making these organic shapes resemble swimming sea creatures.
Nancy breaks the circle of ovals around the plant by adding boat-like visual elements to her painting. Angular, very simplistic and in a different direction than the oval shapes, the boat shapes are integrated on the canvas by the artist. In this way she again applies her form relay. Three boats - drawn with an acrylic paint marker - contrast with the softly painted potato-like elements in form and imagery. The artist gives these subtly drawn visual elements more presence by painting the space around the boats in a bright lemon-yellow colour. This creates a nice contrast to the soft purple area at the bottom right and gives the painting more weight at the bottom.
Nancy de Graaf also paints a large part of the background brown. She mirrors this brown surface diagonally opposite the yellow surface. This creates an upwards effect from bottom left to top right that reinforces the mysterious and alienating effect in the work. The artist deliberately left the corners of the painting unpainted. In her drawing and painting, Nancy examines how the image can evolve within the four sides of a frame without the impression being cut off in the corners. Het Ei (the Egg) has a sophisticated composition in which colour and shape reinforce and keep each other in balance. Due to the special framing and the rhythmic arrangement of the content elements, the artist is able to direct the viewer’s gaze.
The forms used in combination with the title increase the mystery of this art work. In the meantime it has become De Graaf's trademark to give her works of art titles which – as she says herself - make no sense. This is how she wants to mislead the viewers and encourage them to decide for themselves what they see or do not see in her works. Nancy is fascinated by the predictability of people. "How do people look at my work when I make a suggestion in the title?" she asks herself.
For Nancy de Graaf the process of creation equals her existence which means her entire oeuvre is interwoven with her entire self. Nancy experiences the world around her intensely and is constantly amazed at the complexity of society. Drawing and painting are the outspoken media for her to distance herself from the contradictions in the world. She prefers the flat surface to express what she cannot say. In her work she translates the deluge of impulses and impressions to which she is exposed daily by placing different layers on top of each other. Nancy also has a keen eye for detail and is full of associations with certain shapes and objects. She gathers these substantive images in small notebooks that she always carries with her. These books are a means for the artist to channel and serve as a source of inspiration. During the creative process, she is constantly disturbing the balance in her work for then restoring it once more. In this way she builds up her work in the flat plane, layer after layer, until the balance is reached. At that moment her work is finished and peace has returned to her head.
Nicole Boden Knokke,
05 July 2020.