what is the reality of a shadow? it is there and yet it is not. shadow has no substance. it needs substance and light, and then it is there. the shadow is the result of a process in which we play a part. (from a piece by herman de vries about the work of Carlijn Mens, 2011)
Over a period of more than ten years Carlijn Mens has made the shadow the most important subject in her oeuvre. The shadow interests Carlijn even more than the 'original' and certainly when the light source is the sun, the shadow will move along with the sun and this movement is something the artist makes stunningly visible on the paper. She has to work fast in order to set down in charcoal the shadows of tree or plant; to fix, as it were, the motion.
The woods and dunes at Schoorl, her local area until recently, have been 'portrayed' by her in this way. The devastating forest fires a few years ago have left their mark - and shadows. Carlijn has recorded them in her series ‘Preserved Places’. She has also done this at the request of fellow artist herman de vries, one of the original Zero artists, in his own biotope of the Steigerwald in Franconia, Germany.
A particularly dramatic study by Carlijn was ‘Faith, Fear, Face’, in response to the tragic fate of 58 Chinese refugees in a freight container in Dover, a shocking event that dominated all the news media in 2000. In 2011 - 2012 she filled the walls in the darkened basement of the GEM in The Hague with meters-long shadow drawings of stacked crates and human forms in a container. As if we are looking at the x-ray pictures alongside the customs officers who made the gruesome find that day.
In early 2018 Carlijn is invited to live and work in the Van Gogh house in Zundert for a few weeks. Here, in the old sexton's house by Reverend Van Gogh's small church and a stone's throw from the house where Vincent was born, Carlijn continues her studies into her favourite subject: light-form-shadow.
This time it is the structures of the old trees around the studio and on the small adjacent churchyard whose shadows she catches on her drawing paper. Literally in the footsteps of her illustrious predecessor and sharing in his love of nature in general and of the tree in particular.
And now, in the spring of 2018 Carlijn Mens has returned with her family to the area close to Gorinchem where she was born. Between the apple orchards and the high river embankments and with a view of Loevestein Castle, she is working with enormous energy on her series ‘Preserved Places’. Here it is the shadow of the apple blossom in her vast orchard and that of the spring flowers on the slopes of the river embankment and along the side of the road that result in “ROADSIDE”.
Amsterdam, April 2018
Paul van Rosmalen