I often wonder whether or not people understand what I mean when I say investigate “meaning”. I don’t investigate the meaning of the work or art in general. That is for the audience to do. I investigate how the subjects I sense and depict are interpreted by people. I offer no meaning, but rather give the possibility of "investigation" to the audience so they can dissect the meaning they created about these subjects. What does love mean to you? What is your relationship with lust? How do you feel when you’re walking through a forest? I offer no answers, but rather give the possibility to discover them for yourself, and maybe re-evaluate what you think you know.
Is the “meaning” even something you know? When someone tries to tell you that a slap in the face means that it is a sign of respect, you sense that it isn’t right. “Meaning” is something that can only be discovered through experience, rather than knowledge.
So how do I translate these ideas into an artwork?
That’s where mythology comes into play. While science, or regular words, can’t explain or transfer this experience of “meaning”, I find that mythology can. They are stories, made by people who had a very limited and primitive connection to science compared to us. They had no “proven” reason for the sky to erupt in thunder, the sun being covered by the moon, the ocean's ebb and flow. They only had their inner sense of what happened and imagined these stories to try and translate their discoveries. The intensity of passion one person can feel for another as to cause a ten-year war, as Paris did for Helen. Or our desire for eternal glory, for which Achilles gave up his immortality.
“Lust is governed by both estrogen and testosterone, in both men and women. Attraction is driven by adrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin ...” (https://theanatomyoflove.com/faq/what-is-the-science-of-love/)
This scientific explanation for love, one of the concepts that is most easily understood to understand my understanding of “meaning”, doesn’t correlate with our experience of love.
This also beautifully illustrates the discrepancy between “reason” and “meaning”.
The “reason” for love, or anything else, can be given by science. Why does a tree grow a certain way? Why are we hurt when someone stabs us?
But what those things “mean” to us, is something else entirely. Often, we don’t consider our “meaning” on different subjects. It is much easier to accept the information that is scientifically given to us in a society that makes us focus on efficiency and productivity. We have to look inwards, and take our time, to start considering our individual “meaning” (which is, coincidentally, why I most appreciate artists and artworks that I find take a longer time to fully appreciate and understand).
Stories, in that sense, which mythology consists of, give us the time to reflect on the “meaning”, our “meaning”, of what is being told. Through the time we take reading, or listening; the story and its facets slowly unfold before us, giving us time to identify with it and unconsciously figure out what connects us to the story.
Mythology, in this aspect, gives a broad sense of how ancient cultures interpreted the million different facets that make up our lives. They can create “meaning” for us, but also highlight the differences between their and our own “meaning”, or act as a catalyst to create our own.
It is for this reason that I investigate and use these mythological stories as a guideline for my work. They act on interpretation and time, two concepts that are integral for “meaning”.
When I started painting, and making my first strides to finding the core of what would become my artistic practice, I was fascinated with spreading, molding and coincidentally flowing paint on the canvas, and then making “rips” in the “space” of the canvas as I described it back then. Later on, I found out that they weren’t rips, but marks that I was so keen on making.
In these early works, these visual elements had no guidelines or content. They were compositional, empty of intent, and eventually fell flat for me. I needed more, which was clear from even earlier works where I thought about my own emotions and “place in the world”, my sense of “being human”. Realizing this, I started combining the visual - the marks - with the content - the meaning -.
The first criterium remains that the marks and scribbles I make must always be, onto themselves, meaningless. This, then, contradicts the references - both through words and images - I add to them. At first glance, this gives the impression that these meaningless marks carry meaning. But I intentionally keep these references vague and obscure. Only someone with a thorough knowledge of the mythical stories that I investigate for every work I make, can start making out the origin of the references and be determined by the content of those stories. The remainder of the audience, who has no idea what the exact content of these stories, and the “meaning” that is transferred in them, can start to make their own interpretations, which leads to meaning, through the general direction of the work that I do attempt to keep understandable.
The marks can also be related to “leaving behind a mark” in some sense. We all have the desire to leave something behind to justify our limited existence on this earth, whether it is in the form of a large company, a healthy family, or simply a handprint on the wall of a cave. Taking a medium, whether paint or blood or whatever, and smearing it on a carrier to create a stain, is the most basic, fundamental or pure form of this. It is nothing more or nothing less than leaving behind a literal mark to tell the world I, or we, exist(ed).
The way I make these marks are also influenced by the ideas of J. Bronowski, who states that the fundamental acts of how humans create objects, is through the acts of “forming” and “breaking”. In a basic example, we either mold something out of clay or carve away in stone to create the desired shape or object. Art is creation, and the way I practice art I to simply use the fundament of human creation.
As for the “why” I do this, the answer is more ephemeral than contemporary.
For the aspect of “mythology”, the answer is easy and personal. There are multiple ways to achieve a think-process about “meaning”. Ever since I was a child, I was fascinated with fantasy-stories and drifted between “high-fantasy” books such as Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, but also mythological stories about Athena, Zeus, the Moirai, Persephone, and the whole pantheon of the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. The trajectory I followed afterward - the education I enjoyed, the hobbies and interests I had- kept focussing on stories that went beyond the regular “known” into the fantastical, where I believe the core of what I investigate to this day resides.
Why I focus my practice on the creation of “meaning”, has a more philosophical response. Some artists focus on subjects which are very relevant today, which will carry large historical implication in the future, such as our approach towards (post-)colonialism, attitude towards developing communities and countries, queer representation, pop-culture, and so on.
Mine, however, focusses on this “meaning” because I believe it to be an essential part of the experience of being human, or “being human” tout court. Trees have leaves to absorb sunlight for photosynthesis, animals gather near water to drink and survive. But why do we make art, to give an easy example? We are the only species on this planet that goes through such an extensive way of creating meaning, which is what differentiate is from the others and makes us human. Our capability to think, which intrinsically carries the creation of meaning within it. It is this that makes us “human”, and thus deserves consideration. And as an artist, I dedicate myself to doing this through art.