For her solo exhibition at the gallery, entitled Hydra, Iris van Dongen (b. in 1975 in Tilburg, Netherlands, lives and works in Berlin) presents a series of drawings mixing gouache, soft pastel and pressed charcoal, in which she uses elements from different styles and cultures. The fascination Van Dongen has with Art Nouveau, and then especially with the work of Jan Toorop and Gustave Klimt, is this time accompanied by a recent interest in Asian Art. Jan Toorop has referred a lot to Indonesian art himself (the thin arms and legs are for example referring to Wajang dolls), and when Van Dongen took a closer look at his sources, the style and subjects where an eye opener and aha erlebnis at the same time.
In Hydra the protagonists are mostly young ghostly women.
These women, sharing an ambivalent nature that is close to the spirits that are very popular in Asian cultures, are far from frightening. They foremost express a melancholy that runs through all of the artist's work. With their slender arms (and sometimes no arms or legs at all), and dressed in colorful, printed and floral kimonos, that sometimes merge with the vegetation that surrounds them, they not only recall the Indonesian Wayang dolls and Gustave Klimt’s female figures, but also refer to the way that ghosts are depicted in for example Chinese cinema. Next to these feminine representations, Van Dongen drew a Japanese kind of monster with a grotesque face that reproduces a Delft Blue ceramic plate from the artist's private collection, or even a character without a head dressed in a traditional outfit.
If the references to Asian art, from Japan to Indonesia, are not entirely uncommon in Iris van Dongen's work, they're more obvious here, and are rooted in personal and collective sources: a profound interest in ghost stories inherited from her childhood, an Indonesian grandfather, the influence of Asian and Indonesian arts on Dutch artistic production—especially through cultural exchanges during the colonial period—, the work of Dutch-Indonesian painter Jan Toorop—an iconographic reference to his work is made in the drawing entitled Hand of Toorop—, and even Delft Blue pottery, which the artist collects. In her drawings, one also finds an extraordinary decorative abundance, and a central place accorded to the fauna and flora representations, characteristic of Art Nouveau, a movement that was also influenced by Asian art.
In Hydra, the artist reflects upon the human condition, and more particularly on the antagonism between the spirit's timelessness and the earthly, perishable nature of matter and bodies. This reflection intersects with a broader reflection—one that is essential in the artist's work—on the fundamental oppositions between representation and abstraction, between the rational and the irrational. An impressive vitality emanates from all of the drawings that make up Hydra, and from its figures of female nomadic hunters, warriors and adventurers. For Iris van Dongen all that fascinates her is coming together in this latest body of works. From the innocent way in which she was reading Eastern fairytales when she was a child to the mature woman that is making a drawing we can not see. This could be a self-portrait, a self-portrait that shows us how profound yet playful the artist reflects on the images that capture her mind.
Iris van Dongen (Tilburg, 1975) studied at the academy of fine arts in Den Bosch (1992-1996). From 2005 till 2006 she did a residency at Kunstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin. She had solo exhibitions at the Museum of Schiedam and the Haags Gemeente Museum. Numerous international and national institutions and important public and private collections collect her work.