The Dutch painter Robert Zandvliet (born 1970) understands a painting as an analysis of its respective subject. He reflects on the question of what painting is and how it works. He is guided by questions of color, composition, art historical reference, reception, and pictorial effect.
He is thus an artist whose conceptual approach places painting itself at the center of his practice.
Zandvliet often deals with the same subject over several years, investigating it like a researcher. So far, he has dealt with the human figure in the series "Stage of being", with the depiction of the crucifixion in the series "Crucifix" and with stones in the series "Stones" among others. Landscapes are an exception as a permanent focus.
The titles of the series of works evoke associations with concrete depictions and sujets. Nevertheless, Zandvliet is not interested in the reproduction of the associated manifestations or narratives. In his paintings, the motif has broken away from its tradition or typical appearance. It forms the occasion for numerous investigations into representational possibilities and effect. Thus the painter reflects on the activity of painting as a formative act and questions himself as an artist: What is the essence of a pictorial object and does its appearance correspond to this essence? In the Platonic sense, Zandvliet investigates the "idea" of his motif. Ideally, through this process he finds a fundamental principle that he understands as typical for the subject he is working on.
Robert Zandvliet's practice exhibits parallels to the tradition of Renaissance painting. Not in terms of design ideals and styles, but in the basic idea that drawing, painting and artistic production are part of scientific processes and knowledge production. Through artistic realization, a deeper understanding of the pictorial object or motif, of its inner constitution, is to be attained. The painterly means are reflected in a self-referential act.
Based on the assumption that the way something appears does not necessarily correspond to its idea or existence, painting forms a starting point for Zandvliet to gain an awareness of his subject.
The motifs and figures of his works are therefore situated between figuration and abstraction. The tipping points, on which scales tilt to one side or the other, are of interest to him. The figure or the object itself may be the starting points for this, but they are no longer determined by a narrative.
The play between abstraction and figuration is usually fixed as a conceptual framing before the painting starts. Although gestures, painterly processes, and physical movements are often visible on the canvas, the painter's expression is not at its center. The concept is too precisely pre-formulated before his actual work begins. The visible painterly structures are much more a performative part of investigations into the artistic process: What does the painting of the motif mean? How can a painter approach the subject of a painting?
Consequentially, Robert Zandvliet is open regarding the interpretation of his paintings: For him, the picture is self-sufficient - the interpretation is free.