03.09.2015 – 10.10.2015
“Just let me put my shades on, I can’t face this ghastly neon glare!” one lady said to the other. “I know it’s just like Times Square,” her companion replied.
Me, I’m mad for Times Square, Piccadilly Circus, Tokyo, Shanghai and especially neon, which is to colour, what the high C is to opera. Colour – glorious, keyed-up, Day-Glo colour – is one irresistible enticement at Jan-Henri Booyens’ cracker of a show, ‘Whiteout’ at blank. Another is his consummate mastery of the brush, palette knife, trowel and spray can, his impeccable sense of surface, of variety of texture and contrasts between flatness and free-standing impasto twirled into entangled intricacies. Abstraction is all the rage, but, Jan-Henri is no imitative ‘Zombie Formalist’ or ‘MFA-clever painter.’ Never, for a second, does his work appear déja-vu or derivative.
That Jan-Henri Booyens is a heroin addict is an open secret, and many suspect his habit is so reckless it could prove lethal. A true original, Booyens paints under the effects of the drug, and I believe that thereby his perception of reality is transformed, enabling him to reveal the previously unseen, and force paint and colour to express something entirely new and breath-taking. ‘Whiteout’ illustrates the artists’ heroic, yet anarchically self-destructive love of the extreme, the risk of pushing art and himself as far as they can go, and to hell with the consequences!
A whiteout is a form of blackout in which you recall where you were, but not what happened, as a result of alcohol and drugs. In the song by Killing Joke that Booyens quotes in the press release, whiteout is used as a synonym for ecstatic liquor-fueled suicide. Whiteout too, we are informed, ‘is a weather condition in which visibility and contrast are severely reduced by snow or sand. The horizon disappears completely and there are no reference points at all.’ All these allusions suggest a state of complete disorientation which is exactly what Booyens’ paintings produce as they whisk us away into an alternative place of unutterable beauty or aggressively jangling dissonance.
I’ve got immigrant fears immediately recall the Aurora Borealis – which is often configured like a curtain. Vertical cascades of tiny splashes of gold, yellow, and green blaze out fiercely against the dark midnight blue ground, and seem to open up spaces between each other. In the lower register the painting becomes horizontal, as opposed to vertical in structure. It is richly layered, a great hazy blur of incandescent strata of purples, greens, oranges, yellows and golds. At base the curtain drops are echoed by vertical sweeps applied with a trowel, creating bars with free standing ridges that run upwards, but dissolve at base into scarlets, carmines and shocking pinks.
Although this mystic cosmic vision includes many purely abstract passages, there is a sense of a skyline of mountain peaks in some psychedelic wonderland as yet unknown to man. The painting holds together as a magisterial composition but the truant eye constantly skives off to revel in passages of impasto, iridescent shimmer or errant ascendant trails of paint.
The cloyingly beautiful Vigilante Love and regret is so intensely alive with glowering colour, that figure and ground merge. Nevertheless there is a structure. A configuration of gold and green diagonals – like a shattered stepped pyramid – runs from left to right across the painting conducting us into depth. The rest of the canvas consists of blushes of fiery carmine, flushes of synthetic green, his pigmented mists and familiar trickles, trails and spatters. Mysterious glowing veils and hazes of colour are one of Jan-Henri’s imprimaturs: they always appear to conceal a mystery, and suggest that revelation is imminent, and that the nebulosity is the seat of some mystery.
These two paintings reference glitches and computer malfunction. Glitches occur because of a momentary surge of electric power which changes the electronic signal. Digital codes can be manipulated by electronic devices so the program produces startling unforeseen effects. In the late 90’s, artists such as Jon Satrom, Evan Meaney, Jon Cates, Rosa Menkman, Nick Briz and Tristan Spill systematically developed glitch as the core of their art. Sometimes glitch, as in Booyens’ North Star Fade into you inclines toward Punk-inspired ‘Dirty New Media.’ Sterling Crispin defined such art as ‘an inversion of humanity and a symbolic embrace of death & rampant nihilism.’ Certainly Booyens celebrates anarchy, collapse, destruction and decay with a wildly self-destructive zest, whilst at the same time transforming it into a sumptuous phantasmagoria, of miraculous shapes and forms, chromatic wizardry and luminary derring-do that hugely extend the boundaries of what painting can actually do.
The ‘dirty’ in Dirty New Media derives from the rejection of smooth screens, neatly organized interfaces, and the whole squeaky-clean, sleek, slick design of commercial and corporate styles of digital expression in favour of something seemingly far more messy, raw and rugged.
In North Star Fade into You this dirty new media aesthetic manifests itself in a great blast of colour, energy, light and gestural sweeps of the brush, and pigment is applied with a violence and aggression that conveys psychic turmoil and upheaval. Every thing appears broken, fragmented, bespattered, and ripped apart. Pixels merge into rows that often form patterns of superimposed straight vertical and horizontal lines and it is this interlacing geometric tracery that is the foundation of glitch aesthetics. An aesthetic order is inherent in this apparent chaos, and the artist remains firmly in control. Thought, design, structure and composition always underpin the chimerical appearances.
Titles such as Die ontnoemeing van alles and god die vader en die dood suggest metaphysical concerns with the absolute and transcendental, evoke the primal act of creation, and convey the mystic aspects of this brave junkie’s numinous punk. Mechanized breakdown is applied to devastating effect in conjunction with Booyens’ inexhaustible repertoire of virtuoso brushwork, mark-making, electrifying color and beguiling tinted fogs to create an effect so overwhelming we can barely assimilate it.