There is not one single person who has not experienced the thrill of an immaculate white winter landscape in which silence prevails. Visual artist Laurien Renckens’s paintings are like untrodden snow. Her canvasses radiate infinite serenity and clarity. No wonder that her artworks are untitled; they are merely provided with a number and a date. That will do.

Experiencing the void in her large, often monochrome canvasses can only be achieved after having mastered the art of scrutiny. In contrast to what you see on the face of it, there is no void at all. Laurien Renckens is totally devoted to her oeuvre, working in her studio in a former plywood factory called ‘De Houtwerf’ [The Timber Yard]. She uses the white painted floor of her studio as walls: on it, you find an array of art works; beautiful monochrome canvasses, containing hardly any visible traces of contouring or profiling: they are spaces of visual silence.

The spectator is looking for tangible concepts to define her work. We are searching for an anchor in what is identifiable. But the thing is that Renckens creates voids, full of meaning. In her work she advocates a new way of observing. The average visitor to an art museum allows himself a mere thirty seconds to look at a work of art; that is rather ephemeral. Her work incorporates the desire and belief that the concept of time is an essential part of the process of creating art, but that it also includes its perception. Paintings like the ones she creates lead ‘the spectator towards himself’, as she put it; ‘one loses oneself in them’. For sure, Renckens does not paint land and seascapes. Once we have perceived that, we have mastered a new way of observing: with free-floating attention. Looking at visual arts the same way you listen to music. Music is sound and rhythm; visual arts are form, colour and, indeed, rhythm. We find ourselves in a new world of ‘delayed observation’. Do not rush into trying to define your first impressions. No! Wait! Observe, and wait once more to find out in what way this painted void affects us: affects our hearts, our brains. The act of observation constitutes the core essence, not only for the spectator but also for the artist herself. Serene emptiness is our most precious possession in this day and age in which we are engulfed by images. Indeed, visual pressure is perpetually present; it is at the heart of our day-to-day encounters. In contrast, a painting that apparently depicts a void is something new. A void is something we have to conquer, and what is more: we must be willing to accept.

Her geometric abstract work, constructed from blocs of colour, is rooted in the tradition of Mark Rothko, Piet Mondriaan, Yves Klein and Barnett Newman. ‘You have to surpass a threshold,’ according to the artist, ‘to feel at home vis-à-vis this work.’ In her studio, a series of six paintings is catching your eye. Moving our eyes from left to right, we observe a dark ‘night landscape’, depicted in his entirety on the most left-hand sided canvas. On the second canvas, the subject has been shifted to the right, revealing only one half; as a consequence, the left-hand side discloses a white surface, whereas the right-hand side does not. The next canvas reveals only a third part, leaving a narrow strip of the original painting on the fourth one. The image has consecutively been shifted towards the right, up to the point where it threatens to fall of the canvas. And while the image decreases, the white on the canvas increases. Please, take a good look, it is breathtaking. Here, image and void contradict, and so do movement and stagnation.

The minimalism of Renckens’ art is addictive. Especially worth mentioning are some small works that have been partially sealed off by tape. You might interpret this as works-in-progress, but to Renckens this is an intentional effort. To her, tape is as important and meaningful as is paint itself. Tape and paint merge intimately on these totally stilled small canvases.

At one point in time she was asked to add some figurative elements to her abstract work. But that would be the worst possible road to embark on. The magic would vanish into thin air. A choice for abstraction in art can only be sustained by the all-embracing nature of it. The spectator’s wish to add an element of figuration to the work can only be attributed to our brain’s insecurity when coping with a void. A void lacks an anchor point. A void makes us look for starting points, for recognition. Renckens’ work confronts us with our yearning for the figurative. And perhaps we must triumph over this yearning by transcending it.

Looking at Laurien Renckens’ paintings, we discover our inner self in a way we never experienced before. Observing her work is like playing games with one’s eyes: we discover that our gaze directions automatically shift from dark to light, from the obscure to the radiant. It is so indicative of how we approach life, what our roots are and what we consider best for our future. Laurien Renckens’ paintings make us oblivious to time and lead us into a world beyond.

Kester Freriks