Wood, aluminium, filler, wall paint – this is a list of materials for Ricardo van Eyk’s painting law firm (2018), although we might be forgiven for mistaking it for a shopping list drawn up on the way to a DIY store. Often large in scale, many of van Eyk’s works resemble, at first glance, neglected or else partially restored surfaces familiar from the built environment: temporary panels put up around construction sites that have attracted crude graffiti, say, or else cracked walls that are halfway through the process of being re-plastered. The artist’s palette feels equally provisional: the honey blonde of machine-cut wood; white, grey or black paint applied straight from the tin or spray-can; the nothing-colours of wood-fillers and sealants (which are, after all, specifically designed to be masked by other, more appealing shades); and the occasional glint of an industrial steel bolt. Look more closely, however, and van Eyk’s paintings have an intensity that belies their apparently accidental nature. Every mark here – even the sanding around a plugged screw-hole – is the result of an active decision, as crucial to the finished composition as any passage of oil paint made on canvas with a fine, sable brush.
If there is an unusual mixture of delicacy and aggression in van Eyk’s practice, it’s perhaps because to add something to a painting, he must often subtract from it first, like a sculptor carving stone. To make Bomber (2017), he covered what he describes as an earlier ‘failed’ work with seven or eight layers of enamel pigment, and then scraped away at it with uneven strokes, creating a palimpsest in which the original image partially remerges, like the remains of bombed out city, once the smoke has cleared. Something similar takes place in The one who dies with the most toys (2018). The support for this work is a huge aluminium-backed photoprint of the construction site of the Mercedes-Benz Museum, Stuttgart, which the artist found abandoned outside the offices of the museum’s designers, UNStudio, an architectural practice based near De Ateliers. Van Eyck has subjected this billboard-like object to a series of cuts and abrasions, removing ovals of aluminium, and grinding off the parts of the image that featured people and vehicles to expose the dull metal beneath. Notably, this last procedure makes the doctored photoprint difficult to tie to a specific place or time. While the Mercedes-Benz museum opened in 2006, without the tell-tale details of car models or clothing fashions, we might be almost anywhere, at almost any moment since the advent of colour photography.
Perhaps van Eyk’s practice is, at base, a meditation on time. Not only because his paintings hum with an awareness of the history of his medium, but because of their playful way with the language of entropy and repair. Patching something up – whether it’s a wall, or an entire cultural edifice – is not a done-in-one job, but an ongoing process. As van Eyk is aware, palimpsests are where we are fated to make our homes.
Text by: Tom Morton