Stedelijk Museum Schiedam presents the work of artist Lotti van der Gaag (1923-1999). Best known for her sculpture and close involvement with the Cobra movement around 1950, Van der Gaag also built up a large oeuvre of colourful paintings after 1960. This exhibition explores the artist’s legacy, presenting dozens of works including paintings, drawings and sculptures, many of which and have never been shown to the public before.
Fantasy, colour and energy
Lotti van der Gaag’s imaginative and energetic paintings include dreamscapes, animals, and primal human figures. Several series will be shown at the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam, from early works characterised by darker tones to exuberantly colourful figures in her later work. This includes Attente Suprême (1970) from the museum’s collection, and Festival d’Amour (1967), where everything seems to be in motion, from three human figures looking out to a pair of feet that fly through the air, as well as various buttons playfully applied to this unique painting.
Van der Gaag also drew throughout her life, as shown in a selection of expressive drawings featuring the fantasy creatures she became known for as a sculptor. Among others, the exhibition includes a series of charcoal drawings made in the early 1950s when she was mostly working as a sculptor in her Parisian studio.
The artist casts humans as the leading players in her work, depicting feelings and relationships – whether complex, cheerful or tense. Large heads and often double sets of eyes look strikingly out at the viewer, each part of their own short and mysterious story. These paintings focus on freedom over realism: wavy lines pierce coarse brushstrokes, or sometimes even the back of a spoon is used to scrape lines into thick paint, as seen in Bosgod (1966). This led to her being dubbed peintre à la cuière or ‘spoon painter’ in France, where she lived and worked from 1950.
Zadkine, Appel and Corneille
In the late 1940s Van der Gaag attended the Vrije Academie in The Hague where her teacher, Livinus van de Bundt, introduced her to the work of French sculptor Ossip Zadkine. She went to Paris to take lessons from him, finding accommodation in 1950 on Rue Santeuil at the famous studio of Karel Appel and Corneille. These two artists had attracted a lot of attention with their Cobra exhibition at Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam in 1949, frequently exhibiting with their artist group in the years that followed. Although she shared their studio space, Van der Gaag was not a formal member of the group during the years of the Cobra movement from 1949 to 1951. She never had an exhibition with them during those years, yet there is a great affinity between her work and the Cobra painters. The mutual influences are so pronounced that, with hindsight, Cobra expert Willemijn Stokvis has labelled Lotti van der Gaag a Cobra artist after all.
While in Paris, Van der Gaag focused on artists who lived and worked in the city such as Zadkine and the French expressionists of Art Informel and Outsider Art. This can be seen in her sculptures, which gained a new sense of spatial freedom. When she starts painting around 1960, we see an affinity with, for example, Jean Dubuffet, with canvases from the period being dark and coarsely painted. They can be seen as translations of her robust sculpture to the flat surface, though she gradually let go of this palette to create her colourful and expressive later work.