By Katarina Hybenova
Repeated randomness creates patterns. That’s the premise Rob de Oude derived, not from mathematical computations, but from his geometrical paintings. Rob de Oude was born and raised in the Netherlands, but art school exchange in New York spurred a set of coincidences and he eventually settled in Bushwick, where he now lives with his wife and 4-year old twins. Rob works in Ridgewood, in 17-17 Troutman building, which is also a new home to the gallery he co-runs, Parallel Art Space.
Rob has been creating his strictly geometric paintings for years, over which he has come to very interesting and always more and more sophisticated conclusions. His paintings of pleasing color schemes based on the layers of intersecting straight lines are so hypnotic, you cannot forget them for the rest of your life. Rob enjoys not only the geometric perfection he reaches thanks to the structures of rulers he builds specifically for his paintings, but also the mythical sense of a simple, perfect straight line, which doesn’t have an end nor a beginning…
Rob’s artwork has been recently exhibited in many galleries; one show frantically following the other, which frequently suggests that the galleries finally noticed how extraordinary someone’s work is. Storefront Bushwick was followed by BRIC Rotunda, ZigZag in Baltimore, Small Black Door (twice!) and Sardine.
How did you come about this kind of work?
I had a hiatus as a painter a couple of years back. I stopped painting, because I was doing other stuff. Mostly I was making money. I set up a woodshop in my studio and I was making kitchen cabinets. Very precise kitchen cabinets, so there is an angle there. [He laughs.] Anyway, the recession came in 2008, and I didn’t have the use for my woodshop anymore, and little financial difficulties pushed me back to painting. For me it was actually very good. Painting was something that I wanted go back to for a long time, but it was always this compromise between doing something to make money, which is inevitable in the city, and this another thing, which is what you want to do. It has really been a couple of years that I hadn’t painted, so I started with something really simple, which is what I really wanted to do. I made a straight line. It’s a little bit quirky and funny, actually. It is also partially based on an ancient Greek story I once read. It’s a story about Apelles and Protogenes, and how a hand of a painter can determine the level of quality and perfection. Protogenes was not in his studio when Apelles came for a visit, so Apelles made a straight line on his door. When Protogenes came back home, he saw that line and he knew that Apelles visited him. So actually there is a lot in a straight line…
But you’re making yours with rulers.
Yes, but there is this mechanical way to it that is sort of doubled, because it’s done in an old fashioned way with oil paint and a brush. It is a combination. The idea, especially in expressionism, is that the hand or gesture of a painter is determining his identity as an artist. This is also something you can also see in another way; you can take that identity out…There are opposites to it and it is a play. The other thing that I realized was that when I can make a perfect, straight line, I can also play around with it. I made these constructions to make a straight line, and I made a guide to it with numbers.
These constructions are quite an amazing and sophisticated idea. Is it something you developed over the time?
Yes, here is one, a small one. I had to take apart the big one when I was moving my studio. I am building a new one for the square paintings. I use a lot of tools to make my paintings. I realized that you can play around the straight lines it in certain way, and create these optical elements that can just grab you. That’s one idea of it. I like to grab the attention of people, as a first layer; to make them stop and look. Hopefully then the other elements of a painting kick in and people will see them.
A line is something that has a lot of meaning to it. All the lines that I make across the panel, from one side to another, don’t have an end. There is a sense of continuation within the line, and how long the continuation will be is left in the middle. It could be forever… Think of a laser for instance. A laser that you shoot out in the space, or a beam of light… From a special stand it’s something that is continuous. That’s something I’d like to say through my paintings. If you look quickly at work (and people usually look quickly), there is a lot of stuff that you miss. These lines are all coming together in this kind of accidental spots…
How do you come up with you patterns?
The patterns are completely random. That’s a funny thing. I work with many opposites, like the perfection of the line combined with the fact that I do it by hand. It seems very mechanical but actually the opposite is true. The decision-making within the painting is something that a lot of times I don’t know and many times I don’t have a clue about where I’m going. I have been painting lines for some time now, so I naturally already know that if I go this direction, this is what happens. Many of my paintings are number based, but I don’t write anything down, because I don’t want to feel like I’m painting the same painting. My technique is very mechanical and repetitive in some ways, but the decision making is very random; the sense of color as well. A lot of times the color choices are based on what I’m seeing and how I’m responding to that. This illustrates it well too. [He points to a dice on his table.] I was going to make my choices so random that I would roll a dice and paint according to the numbers that come up.
So when you start a painting, what do you prepare? What is the first step in your mind? Where do you make the first line?
First line is usually on the top. It is a layered process. In the finished paining there is usually 5 to 6 layers. Sometimes more, depending on how I like it. I have a couple of patterns that I do repeat, and I am creating sort of a library of patterns, and I vary them in many ways. A lot of times within a painting I make a decision I haven’t made before. Like now, this is the first time I am making a background that is so vibrant and is so strong that it pushes the background to the foreground.
Also I figured out that your eyes see a blur at the intersection of the lines, and that’s something you can play around with it. Repeated randomness creates patterns.