Arjan van Helmond is a portraitist of the things that surround him. For ‘The Humdrum’, his fourth solo exhibition at the gallery, the artist focuses on the banality of our daily environment, and tries to capture it in its stillness. The title of the exhibition points towards an essay by Georges Perec from 1973, ‘Infra-Ordinary’, in which the author investigates and celebrates the daily, the banal, the nothingness – looking into what happens if nothing happens. The infra-ordinary is the opposite of the extraordinary.
The paintings of Van Helmond are always explorations of empty spaces and apparently random objects that inhabit these spaces. In Perec’s spirit, the painter has awakened this dormant world, or at least subtly makes us aware of the fact that it exists. After all, one asks no questions about the mundane – it is here surrounding us, always, without intruding our consciousness. It is when something extraordinary emerges, our attention is attracted and one starts to really see.
Every good painter has command over a variety of stylistic and technical instruments to direct the viewer’s gaze, but his subject selection precedes this process. Simply deciding to paint the backseat of a car (Car Interior, 2012), in a realistic style like Van Helmond, means that he forces the viewer to consider what he/she is looking at as ‘extraordinary’, rather than plain, banal, everyday – that there is something, even though it is an unexpected detail, that legitimizes this choice of subject. Van Helmond thinks of it as his job to make the spectator aware of the conditioning of his/her way of viewing, and does that by nonchalantly promoting the things he perceives from the corner of his eye to the center of his attention.
The carpets, interiors, sinks, reflections, dresses and knick-knacks that are on display in this exhibition, form an associative range of objects, depicted in a muted, watery pallet that invokes echoes of a distant past. By working on a more fragile support like paper, as Van Helmond does, the artist purposefully reinforces the idea of fleetingness and the influence of time. There is a certain kind of longing present in ‘The Humdrum’ – for the obsolete to be valued, and the unnoticed to be scrutinized.