The expansive painting installations of Rutger de Vries emerge from the seemingly contradictory acts of expression and concealment. His spatial interventions mark spaces in such ways that oftentimes they seem to disappear under colorful layers of paint. Divergent in both geometric visual language and more organic, fanning painterly surfaces, the uncompromising painterly landscapes initially echo the expressive character of an energetic, restless painter. However, visible traces occupy the installation’s scene: the tools left behind characterize the maker’s own absence.
De Vries’ work is influenced by traditions of both process painting and conceptual art, from which systematic logics arise that conform to the working conditions at hand. The outsourcing of artistic gestures to formula-like methods evokes associations with artists such as Sol LeWitt, although his canonical statement ‘the idea becomes a machine that makes the art is reinterpreted by De Vries and extended into self-developed tools and computer-controlled machines. By having this equipment determine the composition, form, and intensity of his automated paintings and drawings, De Vries investigates the scope of his own authorship.
Although De Vries’ practice stems from painting, it is at odds with the radical and visual tradition of the graffiti subculture. In graffiti terms, the act of writing a (preferably very visible) tag in public space is called bombing. Such markings are simultaneously a gesture of strong authorship and anonymity, navigating between decoration and destruction. To avoid the risks of prosecution, graffiti practitioners initially chose to protect their identities and remain obscure. Today, anonymity and the use of pseudonyms have turned out to be a farce: the grown popularity of ‘street art’ and the legitimization of rebellious attitudes in mainstream culture have turned them into a mere commercial strategy.
In reclaiming autonomy, De Vries acknowledges the impossibility of circumventing the artist persona: the art world is highly dependent on upholding the notion of authorship. By appropriating techniques such as aerosol spray paint, paint bombs, corrosive etching chemicals, and typography, De Vries blurs the value of his identity while reflecting the visual means of anti-establishment movements. Consequently, operating in the context of the visual arts, a new antagonist appears: while art spaces present themselves as public spaces, today many institutions are primarily occupied by privileged audiences. De Vries, originally working in the graffiti scene, bombs these traditional places for art reception with explosions of paint, in search of a new platform for painting and alternative exhibition formats.