An introduction to the works of Christina de Vos (4)


The new millennium brought Christina de Vos freedom from that questionable reliance upon other artists’ works (and looks). From now on, her body of work will come from the head, the heart, the guts, the spleen, on her own two feet, out on a limb... glued together into drawn and redrawn, painted and repainted collages. They speak of an ambiguous, multi-layered, emotionally charged subject matter, suggesting memories and loss, holding and losing, absence and keepsake. Pretty basic and depressing as far as themes are concerned, but Christina adds an endearing and equally suggestive iconography that adds sweet to bitter – occasionally prompting a heartfelt laugh.

To be honest, both Christina’s newly-found, hard-earned independence and just about her entire output between 2005 and 2010 was inspired by the novel Zonsopgangen boven zee (Sunrises Over Sea, 1977) by Jeroen Brouwers. The story is as compact and claustrophobic as the impossibly dense prose in which it is written: man, woman, elevator, stuck. The lack of any significant action, i.e. the monumental significance of any action, makes reading the rather nonconsecutive chapters of the novel much like “reading” the separate panels of an altarpiece, that, as a whole, tells one universal story.


Christina’s “panels” aren’t however remotely akin to illustrations to the chapters: Brouwers’ language might be extremely evocative and plastic, but his subject matter is quite basic and doesn’t really differ that much from hers. What she did take from the author was a certain coloring and emphasis, all titles, some directions, but most of all she took courage.

What attracted her to Brouwers in the first place, is his mastery of matching form and expression – when writing about, for instance, a sickening subject, his language actually seems to be very ill. Christina had already mastered form, but expression? Aye, there’s the rub, for if making art is unavoidably personal, making figurative art is tantamount to autobiography, and Christina firmly and rightly believes that her work should never ever be about her. Jeroen Brouwers, however, taught her that an artist must give all, that art must be all about the artist – and, conversely, that looking at art is all about the onlooker. From now on, Christina will tell her own stories, and she’ll show ours.

A “De Vos” is instantly recognisable as such because of Christina’s unmistakable style and handwriting, but what really sets her apart from other human figure-oriented artists is her almost complete lack of interest in that tired old story of man stroke woman – in contrast to her fascination with the cruelty of man against man.

The many blurred lines between the sexes, partially caused by Christina’s Frankenstein method of assembling her models from not necessarily same-sex body parts, are mirrored by those between liveliness and lifelessness. Her many double portraits are mostly depictions of an active and a passive, statuesque person, the latter usually represented by only the head. Dead or alive are however not very meaningful terms of describing those pietà-like couples: what matters to Christina is the act of holding and keeping, of reaching out to, or grabbing hold of memories and mementos.

Add to all this a growing profusion of fluttering, flying and slithering little creatures that are clearly yet not obviously symbolic in nature, and we are looking – and keep on looking – at remarkable and wholly original art.

You might also want to visit Christina's Dutch web site


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