BRAM ZWARTJENS at Galerie De Zaal in Delft

When you walk into the wonderful space that is Galerie De Zaal in Delft you would be forgiven for thinking they were currently offering a two man show. The right hand wall is covered in hundreds of A4 photographs of faces, albeit transformed to a greater or lesser degree, while on the left wall hang predominantly white minimalist abstracts. But they are two sides of the same coin, the work of Delft born and bred artist Bram Zwartjens.

Realism and abstraction have the same value for Zwartjens, there is no conflict, the two styles work mirroring each other. In nature all is possible, nothing is fixed. For him, the abstract paintings represent freedom, the inner soul, whereas the portraits reflect how he has experienced the world.

Since 2007 Zwartjens has produced about three hundred of the collage portraits, most of which form this installation. And very impressive it is too. The pictures are all to the same format – an isolated head on a sheet of white A4 paper that has been manipulated, added to and subtracted from – a nostril added here and eye off-centre there. The result is very much like the DaDa collages of Raoul Hausmann or Hannah Hoch. These are not faces chosen at random but people Zwartjens admires from the world of music, science, nature, philosophy or those who took a stand. They are the artist’s memory trail. Some are easy to recognise, most are not. I spotted Laurie Anderson, Paul McCartney, Chrissie Hinde and Nelson Mandela among the motley crew.

Whereas the collages are complex, the abstract paintings on the other wall seem simple. They are all basically white with a swirling texture that used to be common in ceiling tiles in the 1970s. But they are punctuated along the edges by little rectangles of colour, each placed on the golden mean, giving each picture another dimension. Unlike most pictures they radiate at the edges rather than the centre. The swirling ridges are like magic symbols, mystic geometries which vary according to the fall of the light or the viewpoint of the spectator.

In the small back room of the gallery are some . . .  err . . . small pictures which in a way bring together the diverse elements in the main room. There is one beautifully painted self-portrait in which the face is partly obscured by a mask with displaced eyes, while floating around are some more of the Mondrian-like coloured rectangles and squares. There are also a series of head-shots with a paper mask hiding the face, including one that again refers to DaDa with the face being unceremoniously covered by Marcel Duchamp’s seminal Fountain (that’s the urinal signed R. Mutt).

I enjoyed this show and could have spent many happy hours studying the collages, spotting the well-known faces, the myriad references and, no doubt, the in-jokes adorning them.    Michael Hasted  13th November 2022