Her Universe Like a Dream

Yvonne van Eijden is a painter, but as a poet she marvels at language as a social construct—recognizing its power and its limitations. In her paintings she creates a visual language centered around space, moments in time, and memory. In her poem, “Open Spaces are There,” she writes:

the universe like a dream

a dream like the universe

no boundaries no where

how can we talk in words

words are limited (9-12)

This is the world she inhabits in her paintings, and the eleven works on view at the Carnegie Visual & Performing Arts Center, now through November 23, portray figures emerging from this dreamlike space.

Primarily working with black and white, dark charcoals and grays, her use of color is spare. Her large canvases appear stark and atmospheric. In fact, her first piece in the show is titled Surrounded by fog. It is awash of dense white, but the depth and richness of the negative space is stunning. The delicate outline of the figure resting in the center of the canvas is quiet and contemplative. To the right of the figure’s head, van Eijden has incorporated lines from a poem. The words themselves are barely legible—at the end of the last line one can make out the words “taken for granted.”

Although she incorporates words into her paintings, the actual meaning of the words matters less than the fact that words are meant to signify meaning—complimentary to the work’s nonverbal visual language. The words themselves coexist with the figures within the depth of space.

The show includes two series: What is True Moment #1-9 and Remembrance #1-5 are small, each piece in both series approximately 7 x 7 inches. What is True Moment #1-9 is oil on clay tiles, and on each of the tiles van Eijden depicts the outlines of the backs of figures in white on black with a touch of an earthy terracotta color mixed in. These paintings have the same effect as some of the larger works in the show—Language not spoken, Tacit and Broken Shadow. These are her strongest.

The space in van Eijden’s paintings continues to feel dreamlike—existing in our minds, in our dreams, like memories recalled. The word “tacit” means “understood without being openly expressed.” Language not spoken more plainly articulates this same idea. The figures speak to us: the way the bodies bow and slump, the way an arm extends outward, or knees fall open. These gestures read as archetypes, the figures as universal self-portraits. It’s as though in these works we are remembering conversations or interactions—real or imagined—and these gestures return to us with primal force.

The second series in the show, What is True Moment #1-9, continues the themes raised by the larger-scale paintings: A rose without thorns I and II and Different Faces I, II, and III. All of these works depict faces that peer out at us with strikingly similar features—a strong brow and long nose, pursed mouth—and the effect is unsettling, especially in the Different Faces paintings.

The faces in these works are painted onto brown paper and then affixed to the white canvas. The light plays off the edges of the paper and walking around the paintings, they seem to break out of the flat surface of the canvas, and/or our subconscious. Like the words she incorporates into some of her work, it’s not about what those words mean per se—and in this case it’s not about what the faces look like. These faces could be whoever the viewer wants them to be. The fact that she paints them in a somewhat uniform fashion speaks to this. It’s more about the feeling we get when we look at them—the faces that emerge from our dreams, from our minds and that space with “no boundaries.”

A rose without thorns I and II seem to be the centerpieces of the exhibit. The white space is similar to Surrounded by fog, but instead of a very faint figure, what emerges from the white space in these paintings are two piercing green eyes, the bridge of a nose, and the faint outline of a mouth. Upon closer inspection you see the white or negative space has numerous layers, revealing the top of the head, the jaw and even the chin—making the faces more imposing. The two paintings are slightly nuanced, but the second of the two includes a bright red rose, hovering in space.

This element feels somewhat decorative, contradicting the very deliberate choices van Eijden seems to make in the other work. However, when looking at her paintings from 2009/10 in general, we see a bit of a departure. In A rose without thorns I and II she seems to merge styles, and introduce new elements into her visual language. She may be equating the rose to an opening of her investigation of the female form, while referring to experiments with language. Gertrude Stein’s attempts at the turn of the twentieth century, and her famous line “a rose is a rose is a rose.” But a stylistic shift seems imminent. We may interpret the faces as masks, implying the construction of female identity, whereas the rose—a symbol of the feminine—is depicted without thorns. This implies vulnerability, much like her other work, in which the figures’ backs are turned away from the viewer in a protective stance.

– Laura Partridge

A Global Affair at The Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts Center, featuring works of Art Quilters Anonymous, Petra Kralickova, Stefan Chinov, Yvonne van Eijden, Andrea Kay and 2010 Kentucky Governor’s School for the Arts participant Charlie Goering. 1028 Scott Blvd, Covington, KY 41011. Tel. 859.957.1935. Gallery Hours: Monday – Friday 10am – 5pm, Saturday 12pm – 3pm.
Through Nov. 23.


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