This month, RH Contemporary Art is featuring four artists—Tofer Chin, Koen Delaere, Paul Gillis, and Lucas Jardin—whose painterly works of conceptual and formal depth often mine the history of abstract art and utilize non-traditional techniques. In the Chelsea gallery, Tofer Chin’s minimalist and stylish black-and-white geometric tricks share space with Paul Gillis’s soft and meticulously textured scenes of architectures and alchemy. On the fourth floor, Koen Delaere presents his rippled paintings, in which oil- and water-based paints are piled on top of each other, parallel bands of pigment running down the canvas in delicate lines.
A few hours before the show opened, the Brussels-based Lucas Jardin was on the gallery’s first floor tracing a finger across his large, abstract paintings, pointing out the clusters of machined patterns and ghostly shapes that are the only remnants of the work’s source material. As he walked through the gallery, he recalled the billboards and advertisements that caught his eye before he transformed them into these subtle abstract compositions—one was an ad for laundry detergent, another promoted a local theme park.
“I like an image that’s a bit fake,” he says. On the street, you have “all the same words, the same boring graphics, it’s very aggressive.” Jardin believes that being over-saturated with such repetitive images “reduces your imagination.” So, during his three-month residency in Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood, he decided to reframe these “banal images” and find something beautiful in the unsophisticated.
Jardin enjoys working within tight constraints, and his previous work has similarly brought his delicate sensibility to overstated, aesthetically bankrupt images: in Europe, he says, he used mass-produced pornography as source material. Now, thanks in part to the space afforded to him in his DUMBO studio, he is able to work on a larger scale. For this series he’s chosen to work exclusively with these unimaginative billboards and advertisements (another kind of pornography, one could say), dissolving their inks using acetone and other transparent solvents and then painting with their colors to create entirely new images. “So it’s not an additive process but more of a subtractive [one],” he says; an attempt to erase the image and create something new.
“I try to find the original chemical structure of an image,” remarks Jardin, standing in front of what was once a digitally rendered billboard for a train. The paintings are textured and sometimes bear the mark of the artist’s hand or the imprint of the floor on which he painted; they’re executed in blurred, muted tones on account of being the product of so many colors running together. Yet they are undeniably the works of an experienced and careful painter.
It is appropriate that these paintings are some of Jardin’s largest—“in America things are bigger, often, than in Europe, in Brussels,” he says. He calls New York, with its skyscrapers and density, “a city that’s standing up.” Though his work is a distant cousin to the advertisements in New York’s subways that are drawn on and cut-out by inspired commuters, he has been impacted by that practice, too. “I’m very inspired by graffiti and how they destroy [it],” he says. “And all of that vocabulary, this visual vocabulary of the street.”