Dr Bert Jansen – I will be complete when I catch my butterfly
When I, for the first time, see the images Daniel sent to me by email, I am reminded of the tradition of Japanese and Chinese calligraphy. He also mentions this in the accompanying email. It is also apparent from the signature inspired by that oriental art: the stamped block in red ink with the name of the maker next to a Chinese copy. When I ask for a few keywords that could help me as coordinates to give my text direction, he mentions two names: Breton and Pollock. Both are well known names in the world of art, but they vary in several ways. One of them, Pollock, is an artist. The other a writer and thinker who has propagated an art direction.
André Breton is the organizer and facilitator of the Surrealism movement of the 1920s. In the context of Daniel’s work, I am thinking specifically of the technique of écriture automatique. Jackson Pollock is the American artist who started performing this technique on a monumental scale in the United States after the Second World War.
It’s good to take a closer look at these two inspiring figures because the combination of both indicates the different ambitions that Daniel combines in his own life. He’s a scientist and a physician, but in this exhibition, he presents himself as an artist. He works, among other things, as a psychoanalyst and it was precisely the latter that provided the foundation for Breton on which he based surrealism substantively. During the First World War, Breton worked as a nurse in a hospital. The victims of that war were not only soldiers who had been injured. There were also soldiers who had witnessed the horrors of the trenches. This made them victims too, but in a sense previously unknown to medicine. The mental damage they had suffered expressed itself in shell shock and aphasia. As a medical student Breton became acquainted with the treatment methods of Sigmund Freud. Especially the technique of free association to gain insight into any underlying motives. This means that the patient is asked to say out loud whatever comes to mind, spontaneous and unfiltered, saying words one after the other without thinking about their logical connection. Based on his experiences in hospital as a nurse, Breton introduced the technique of free association to the poets of Surrealism. Their fellow drawing-artists “translated” those in wordless characters, which they automatically noted down. The idea was to express inner urges directly by using, unhindered by any inhibitions of language, those abstract writings.
After the Second World War, in the 1950s, this surrealistic technique underwent a revival in the United States through abstract expressionism. In particular with Jackson Pollock who applied it monumentally. Pollock danced on the canvas like an Indian shaman. The canvas was lying flat on the ground, and Pollock was waving a dripping brush around. At the end of the session, the result was a dense weave of lines in different colours.
Abstract expressionism has two sides. On the one hand, the emphasis is on the lines as with Pollock, on the other hand it focuses on the monochrome plane, like with Barnett Newman. On the one hand, the movement of the line that you, as a viewer, follow in the space of the plane. On the other hand, the meditative silence where time stands still. Which is combined with colours.
Colours are generally associated with metaphors; red is warm or fiery, yellow is fierce, blue is cool and spiritual, green is calm. These are the factors that come to mind when looking at the vocabulary Daniel uses in his work and which help me to find meaning.
Before I start, let me say the following. I started with a comment on stylistic Eastern calligraphy. In those countries it concerns existing ideograms. Existing words are written with an emotion that moves the writer, which is reflected in his brushwork. That is of a different order from Western automatic writing which is “wordless”, abstract. Daniel Weber combines those two. The viewer is assisted by the use of titles, so the works can be “read” as a recognizable image.
However, communication only occurs to a certain extent. It is not a word game to be solved. It is a suggestive indication of a possible meaning for which the viewer is ultimately responsible. Thereby he is in line with Daniel, who examines himself in the drawing and catches himself on his motives. This self-examination is done with the necessary irony.
Some examples. In I will be complete when I catch my butterfly, a human figure with two eyes is recognisable. The figure is made up of doodles laid down in the jerky movements of a fluttering butterfly. An outstretched hand tries to grab two of those scribbles located to the side.
Ticket to ride. Light colours have been applied in a diagonal direction, partly smudged together. Which indicates a purposeful movement, full of energy. But the smears of colour don’t float in a space. They are framed within a fine line. Perhaps a board game with that title was the inspiration for this work. That game in which train routes are shown in colour. Or does the work refer to that Beatles song with the same name?
Irony can also be seen in The Donald hair & brain, in which a dashing brushstroke floats above a watery clump in two halves. It is easy to recognise a portrait of the previous president of America whereby the brush stroke is representing his inimitable head of hair.
I also think that the reference to Daniel’s source of inspiration, Jackson Pollock, is rather ironic. Jackson’s folly shows a knitted work of congealed paint stripes against a background of light smudges. It looks like a miniature edition of the monumental canvases used by Pollock to indulge his frenzy, the traces of paint as a choreography of his trance-induced dance.
In Eyes cannot see, his eyes are recognisable as a couple of round shapes. Those eyes are confronted with a framework of horizontal and vertical tracks. In comparison with other works, they represent a door, which in this case blocks the view.
Two drawings refer to the devastating bush fires that ravaged Australia. In Wood God’s anger a wide strip of red / brown tones rises up like a wall of fire made of logs. The track ends in a shape that can be recognised as a head with an evil look. In The Fire head devil I think I see the charred body of a koala (or is it a wombat?) that perished in the infernal heat.
Wood God crypt examines the essence of wood, as an encryption of God’s creation, by printing the material (wood) directly in the medium without the intervention of the artistic hand.
Clown has been drawn in a bright shade of light blue whereby a head can be recognised, judging by some pinkish spots indicating the placement of eyes and a smiling mouth. Thecombination of blue and pink represents the innocent and the minor pleasure the depicted figure brings about with its presence.
The title of the work Aegeus in the labyrinth challenges me, given my classical education, to put my own associations into words. The Greek hero of the story of the labyrinth is Theseus, the young man who defeated the Minotaur, half animal, half man, and who found his way back with the help of the girl Ariadne (the one from the thread!). It is, in itself, a beautiful lesson about a man’s victory over the beast, with the love of a woman. But Daniel doesn’t give it the title of Theseus but of Aegeus, his father. He crashed into the sea (the Aegean Sea) when he thought his son had died because, upon his return, the son had forgotten to replace the black sails of his ship with white ones, as he had promised upon departure. Given these facts, how can the work be interpreted? The drawing is made up of black and white paint traces, smudged together through circular motions, next to a purple colour. Can this work be seen as an image of the imagination of the father seeing his son during his fearful confrontation with the beast? Or is the labyrinth taken figuratively here, as the desperate doubt that befalls the father, upon seeing the approaching ship? Resulting in the fact that he plunges forward into the maelstrom of the sea below? The sea that is always referred to by Greek poets as “wine-coloured”. Some works are Untitled. Is it a coincidence that we are dealing here with large sizes of two square meters? It offers the viewer the space and freedom to let his own associations float freely.
I think I recognize Van Gogh in Artist with hat. Like he portrayed himself in the many self-portraits he made during his lifetime, always looking to the right with a hat on. They provide an overview of the life of this tormented artist, who eventually sought death despite psychiatric therapy. And whose art arose precisely from his desperate search for happiness. In the drawing of Daniel, he is, with his sunken eyes, the prototype of the artist from the book Hunger by Knut Hamsun, a contemporary of Van Gogh. During an interview Daniel cites him as the example of the artist he does not want to be. The hypersensitive mind destroyed by art, even though he is able to register his own psychological reactions.
Dr Bert Jansen, Amsterdam, December 2020