Le Château de Mai
Jos van der Sommen’s paintings and drawings depict a fragmentary world. Different storylines run through his images. The scenes are at the same time both recognizable and alienating. What is reality and what is fiction? He uses photos which he often makes himself of places and situations which fascinate him. He transforms the photos into fictional happenings by exaggerating details and adding surrealistic elements. Images which he has committed to memory can also serve, sometimes years later, as a source of inspiration.
When Jos van der Sommen was studying at the Art Academy in Eindhoven, he became interested in the paintings of the French painter Francis Picabia (1879 –1953). He admired Picabia’s ability to vary and combine different styles. His later — surrealistic — works also gave him ideas for his own paintings. Not only Picabia, but also the surrealistic painter Max Ernst (1891–1976) and the absurdist films of Luis BuÑuel (1900 –1983) and René Clair (1898 –1981) provided van der Sommen with images which moved and inspired him. Jos van der Sommen loves the absurd world of surrealism. He loves images in which something unexpected happens and in which existing notions are turned upside down. He mixes stories together and presents us with a new world.
Poging tot handoplegging, 2009
Pencil on paper (100 x 80 cm)
(Photo: ©Peter COX)
The title of this book, Le Château de Mai, refers to the name of the castle near Cannes where Francis Picabia lived between 1925 and 1935. Jos van der Sommen has visited this castle and many aspects of it are assimilated into his drawings and paintings. The painting entitled Appartement van een weldenkend mens (Apartment Of A Right-Minded Person) is inspired by Picabia’s house. On canvas Van der Sommen has made a fictional reconstruction of this castle. The interior is an empty museum room with a single table and some paintings on the wall. We are looking out from the room at an immaculate blue sky. Against the blue background is a tall tree with bare, dark branches from which crystal chandeliers are hanging. One branch is hanging right above the table in the museum room. The image of a tree from which crystal chandeliers are hanging appears in a text from the novel The White Tiger by the Indian writer Aravind Adiga. In this depiction, Jos van der Sommen connects the world of Picabia with an Indian story to bring to life Picabia’s surrealism.
Images from the past, sometimes years later, are also a source of inspiration for Van der Sommen. In the painting Tafelschikking (Table Arrangement) he incorporated his memories of the Sunday dinners at his grandparents’ house. He painted the long table at which the entire family took its place on Sundays. The fifties interior, the black velvet curtains, the festively laid table and the crystal chandelier hanging above the table, it was just like that — approximately. For in the same way that memories are coloured, Van der Sommen gives his own version of what he experienced in his thoughts. The crystal chandelier with elongated swan necks gives it a storybook dimension. And the deflated balloons in the foreground should in fact represent the cellophane wrappings of two bunches of flowers.
Jos van der Sommen made a large number of paintings and drawings of the last few years as a result of a stay in the Spanish village of Calanda, the village of Luis Buñuel’s birth, in the province of Aragon. Here, he literally saw surrealism in the street. “Then you cycle into a village and find yourself in the middle of a procession. You see a man in a very chic suit holding a cake in his hands and all of a sudden you see that everybody is earnestly carrying a cake. The next day there is another procession and everybody is walking straight- faced with flowers in their hands.” An image like this stays with him. He doesn’t want to know exactly what the people are doing and why. For him it is solely about the image and about its unreal aspect. The painting Promenade im Park (Promenade In The Park) is inspired by this procession. The people in the painting are walking in procession, in twos. We only see them from behind. It is a formal procession. It could be at a funeral or a ceremonious state visit. The men are dressed in smart suits and the women are wearing dark veils. The landscape, a decor of pink blossom and light blue and green colours, makes one think of budding Spring. It is an alienating image because Van der Sommen has left the context out of the painting.
In his paintings, Jos van der Sommen makes reality even more surrealistic than it can be. But sometimes reality in itself is surrealistic enough and he doesn’t need to add anything. He draws on the world around him and has an eye for odd, remarkable images that he spontaneously comes across. He magnifies these themes on canvas. He leaves out details or adds new elements to them. A painting can come about because of something he saw on the news, or from a meeting, or from a book he has read. But it is always Jos van der Sommen’s eye which sees through everything and perceives new worlds. He gives form to these worlds in his drawings and paintings. Essentially, all Jos van der Sommen’s work is an ode to his amazement at the absurdity of existence.
Sandrine VAN NOORT
Art advisor for the collection of the Leids Universitair Medisch Centrum (LUMC)
(Photo: © Peter COX)