Abstraction With a Fresh, Airy Touch

SOMETIMES when people look at abstract painting, they say ``My grandchild could do that.'' But Dutch painter Frederick Willems has a ready answer. He says: ``Well, please let your grandchild do it - please! - because you have lost it!'' Clearly he feels that art is an intuitive gift which, like other characteristics of the child, can sometimes - too often - disappear in the adult. When a child of six, Willems vividly remembers seeing a black and white photograph, on the front of a newspaper, of a painting by the much-admired abstract artist Hans Hartung. ``I was thrilled and moved,'' he recalls. However, his father said, ``But this is savage and has nothing to do with art. It's not an example.'' Years later, passing a bookshop window in Amsterdam (where he now lives and works), he was greatly impressed to notice a book which had on its front cover exactly the same pai nting he had seen as a young child.

Hartung was a notable exponent of the kind of European abstract painting that appeared at the same period as American ``abstract expressionism.'' His work uses gesture and strong graphic marks that slice across the surface. Looking at Willems's painting ``Pleasant Memory'' it is possible to see how work like Hartung's has been an inspiration.

Willems agrees that absolutely abstract painting - which he thinks would mean a white canvas - is not possible: A painted image prompts associations with forms and images seen before. In his case, such associations are from nature. He confesses that he would prefer to live in the country, but while he still has to live in the city he brings nature into his art.

``Pleasant Memory,'' Willems says, was painted during a very fine summer, rare in the Netherlands. In the painting he has tried to express his feelings about that fantastic summer. Certainly the painting is fresh, its depths and movements airy and exhilarating. But its language is abstract - as the language of music is. Asked if music is important to him, Willems says yes, certain pieces by Schubert particularly. If it is possible for music to inspire a choreographer, then a painter's images can be insp ired by music too.

``Awareness'' is a collage. Willems has cut shapes from surfaces he has already painted, and in this way imposed on the dynamics of brushwork something more static and incisive.

He accepts that some people might see a vase of flowers in this work, and adds that it was made the year before the big Van Gogh exhibition was held in Amsterdam. He feels that Van Gogh is greatly overrated, particularly financially. So in making his own version of ``Irises'' or ``Sunflowers'' in the abstract language of his own art, he says he was (humorously) making an ``eye-blink'' to the earlier Dutch artist.

This series showcases artists at work. Each essay is succinct, introductory, and captures art in motion before labels are applied.

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