Dynamic Colour-Space

A section of the Groninger Museum is devoted to the exhibition ‘P. Struycken: Digital Paradise’. Peter Struycken is present everywhere – in the exhibited work and in the interior. Famed for his way of working with colour, structure and form, the artist became interested in interdisciplinary collaboration at an early stage. In 1994 and 1999 he was commissioned by former director Frans Haks to design colour palettes for the interior of the new Groninger Museum building.

After studying at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague from 1956 to 1961, Peter Struycken (1939) painted in a figurative style. He was fascinated by the differences and similarities in visual reality. A row of trees interested him more than a single tree for example. In his art, Struycken wanted to reveal the underlying structure of sensory reality. To him, a landscape painting didn’t offer an unequivocal image of inner order because all sorts of choices, such as the correct cut-out, made the image arbitrary.

When in 1968 Struycken became one of the first artists to work with the computer, he discovered a module that formed the basis for all his work, both two and three dimensional and virtual, from then on: a dynamically changing, unlimited space of colour. With the help of this system the artist tried to imitate the coherence of nature in an artificial way. Struycken does not design concrete images but draws up rules that his colour images have to obey. Colours can be compared according to various properties such as tone, clarity and saturation. In each work he starts by determining the specific relationships that the colours must comply with. The computer shows the results and the artist selects the best one intuitively. In that way Struycken creates a world that exists alongside everyday reality.

The close relationship with the Groninger Museum dates back to 1965 when it bought the first work by Struycken. In what is his fourth solo exhibition at the museum, Struycken combines both autonomous and commissioned pieces ranging from a Queen Beatrix stamp to architectural projects in public places such as the dynamic light installation under the NAi in Rotterdam. To lessen the impact of monumental works as little as possible, the exhibition steers clear of ordinary documentation material. Struycken himself came up with the idea of using his brother’s atmospheric, interactive panoramas. Thanks to his striking appearance, Carel Struycken (1948) is primarily known as an actor in American TV series like The Addams Family and Star Trek, but for a number of years he has also worked as a photographer. His atmospheric photos show a digital presentation of a number of architecture projects by Peter Struycken shown on a three-dimensional concave surface. The observer can view the space from all sides and thus feels as if he’s actually standing inside the projected space.

This panorama technique works so convincingly that the museum galleries are in danger of losing out to the projected architectural environments. Groningen is abandoned without difficulty for a parking lot in Arnhem. As a result, the autonomous two-dimensional artworks are pushed to the background in the exhibition. That’s a pity, because Struycken actually maintains that the interaction between his autonomous and commissioned work is crucial. The freedom he enjoys in his autonomous work enables him to put his stamp on the applied-art projects, and that enables them to be more than simply design. The imbalance was to be expected, however, and the artist himself knows that. Space and dynamism appeal to the senses more directly than a static flat surface. One automatically looks at it in a more intensive way, while an abstract painting demands more of the observer.

A work specially made for the exhibition in the Groninger Museum is located in the Coop Himmelb(l)au pavilion. Here Struycken shows a dynamic colour-image in the composition … explosante-fixe…(1971-1993) by French composer Pierre Boulez (1925). Five screens, some standing and some suspended, are visible in the darkened room. Some screens are tilted in response to the sloping floors of the pavilion. What’s more, the space that characterises both the music and the images is emphasised in this way. Dazzling, flowing forms in all sorts of colours alternate with one another to the sound of music. The daily grind seems a long way away!