|Ronald Cornelissen, July 28, ink, pencil, watercolour, gouache and acrylic paint on paper, 114,6 x 244 cm, 2018|
Ronald Cornelissen (Beverwijk, 1960) studied at AKV/St. Joost in Breda from 1983 to 1988, specialising in painting and monumental design. He has exhibited in The Netherlands, the US, Greece and France. A solo exhibition of his sculptures was shown at Museum Boymans Van Beuningen in 2010, under the title The Horseman's Kitchenette, (When Demons Cook). He had a duo exhibition entitled Ground/ground with Paul van der Eerden at Drawing Center Diepenheim in 2015. Ronald Cornelissen is represented by Galerie Bernard Jordan in Paris and Zurich.
When did you start drawing?
I used to draw a lot as a child, but I was never told you could make a career out of it. That realisation came when I went to art school in 1983, where I focused on painting and sculpture. My teachers there liked thick layers of paint. They also preferred paintings to be abstract. When I moved to Rotterdam three months after graduation, I began to realize more and more that this way of painting was not for me. I like to tell stories, for me it’s about iconography. My interest in art started between my sixteenth and twentieth, not fed by museum visits, but by music, comics and things from American underground literature. In art school, however, narrative was considered suspicious. If they told you your work was anecdotal, they meant you had a serious problem.
Ronald Cornelissen, 1-4 June, ink, pencil etc, 88,5 x 138 cm, 2017
The obvious answer is it has to be finished. The question is, though, when is a drawing finished? I keep pretty much everything I put down on paper, even when I feel a drawing doesn’t feel right. I keep all my drawings, bad or good. After a while, a year maybe, I’ll come across them again. Over the years I´ve learned you can turn a bad drawing into a good one. It´s something I like doing. When a drawing is no longer quite so fresh, I’m less nervous about screwing it up, as I´m less aware of all the time it took to get it to where it’s at. Also I usually work on a lot of drawings at once, that way it´s easier to let go of the idea that a particular drawing has to be ´good´. And I never make preliminary studies. That way everything is wide open when I start working, which is nice because in that phase drawing comes easy, you can’t go wrong really. As I progress it gets more and more difficult to manoeuvre, until I get stuck. And that is the stage a drawing must be at in order for to finish it and turn it into something I consider good. Now you have to come up with the right move. At this point I might make what you would call a study, a small version of what I have so I can try things out, often something quite arbitrary or perverse. You could say that’s rather adolescent of me, but I see something very vital in precisely such a seemingly mindless act at that point. It creates a tension between sophistication and crudity that I like a lot. It also tends to give a drawing something tragicomic and I like that.
In Japan they distinguish four types of manga artist: bad and good draftsman without character, and bad and good draftsman with character. The first two categories can be dismissed. The last category includes the true masters, obviously. The third category, though, should not be underestimated; it certainly has my warm interest. I love artists that still work in the so called ‘heta-uma’ style, such as Yusaku Hanakuma and Takashi Nemoto. In fine Art too I prefer work where the ugly or banal plays a meaningful role. I admire Franz West for that reason. Charles Bukowski once wrote: When the spirit wanes/ the form appears. That ties in with what I said about manga styles. One of the things that truly counts in a work is character. If that is missing, formality surfaces, the structural application of mere tricks. It’s important to avoid that, even though it can be difficult when you’ve been drawing as long as I have. Over time you get to know what works well; it’s tempting to fall back on that knowledge. If you do, though, predictability lies in wait. To avoid this I try to organise my work process so that I end up painting myself into a corner. In that way, an emergency jump becomes unavoidable. And that has to be exactly right, as I mentioned before. It’s precisely that leap that can open the way to unforeseen results.
|Ronald Cornelissen, The Hyperborean Garden, 2013|
I see all my drawings as landscapes of some sort, but the Arctic world is indeed something different. To my mind, though, it’s not as far from home as you might think. In 2013 I made an installation in De Korenbeurs in Schiedam. One of the topics on my mind a lot then was the shift to the right in politics and how ‘Henk and Ingrid’ (as a certain right-wing politician refers to his idea of the typical Dutch couple) felt that their culture, which was considered superior, was under threat from an inferior, outside culture. Reading about these issues, I ran across the name Hyperborea. Originally a Greek idea, Hyperborea was a fabulous realm of eternal spring located in the far north, where it was sunny 24 hours a day. I wound up calling my installation in Schiedam The Hyperborean Garden (see below Notes post1). On delving deeper into the subject, I found that this ancient notion of a northern paradise underwent a revival in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In Theosophist and Ariosophist circles, this mythical north was linked with racial theories and the rejection of modern thinking. This delusional world of esotericism, conspiracy theories, racial doctrine and anti-modernism - as described in detail in The Occult Roots of Nazism and Black Sun by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke and Arktos: The Polar Myth by Joscelyn Godwin (see below Notes post 2) - influenced twentieth-century thinkers such as René Guénon and Julius Evola and through them individuals who figure in contemporary politics, like Alexandr Dugin and Steve Bannon. I found all this to be as interesting as it was repulsive. So I decided to take a look at the North for myself and ended up spending time in Svalbard.
First of all, I definitely want to go back there. I was invited last year (2018) by Maarten Loonen, a biologist attached to the Arctic Centre from the University of Groningen, to stay nine days at the Netherlands Arctic Station in Ny-Ålesund, on the north-west coast of Svalbard. Moreover, I could stay for three weeks as artist in residence in Galleri Svalbard in Nybyen. Svalbard, or Spitsbergen as we call it, is hard and stony. Close to the ground there is a rich vegetation of mosses and even a kind of miniature tree. Svalbard is visited by migratory birds and is home to Arctic foxes, reindeer and polar bears. If you go out walking it’s always with a guide and never without a rifle. Apart from all that mind-blowing nature there is little else. And last but not least, there are hardly any people. That creates an enormous sense of freedom. I talked to a Russian woman in her early twenties in Pyramiden, where only about 30 people live. I wondered what she was doing there. These exceptional circumstances apparently attract certain people (see below Notes post 3). In summer, which is when I was there, it´s light 24 hours a day. That light and the landscape made my stay feel sometimes hallucinatory, especially at night. And distances were difficult to estimate for me.
There is a lot to tell about Svalbard, ranging
from the mythical and the esoteric to the northern lights, landscapes and polar
bears. During preparations for my stay, my interests began to shift from
political mythology to ecology. For scientists who do research in the Arctic,
climate change is a fait accompli. What’s more, the scientific climate debate
is difficult to isolate from political discussion. It’s no coincidence that the
denial of climate change is an important doctrine for the new right, and I
would not be surprised to see the new right benefit from the climate debate and
arguments about the distribution of costs involving energy transition in the
years to come. The fact that the climate is often dismissed as a leftish issue
does not contribute in a positive way. It means centre right parties also tend
to downplay scientific pronouncements about climate change.
|Ronald Cornelissen, The Horseman's Kitchenette, 2010|
Gerrit de Veer, Waerachtighe beschryvinghe, 1598
|John Carpenter, The Thing, 1982|
|Caspar David Friedrich, Das Eismeer 1824|
Yes. It is one of the ways to keep the drawing process exciting for me and to obtain unforeseen results.
Ronald Cornelissen, 21-22 June, ink, pencil etc, 71 x 103 cm, 2017
As far as I am concerned, complexity, heterogeneity and lack of clarity are all part of today's reality. I can imagine that people struggle with my translation of this reality in the drawings. People seem to prefer clarity and want at least some sort of ‘message’. But am I obliged to go along with that? I have recently been reading two writers (among others) - Timothy Morton and Michel Serres. Morton, author of books on art and ecology, is not so easy to fathom. His prose is complex and, for a philosophically unschooled reader like me, often difficult to grasp. He throws all sorts of things into the equation that sometimes seem farfetched. But Morton also occasionally rewards his readers with grandiose insights, although he offers them no hope or comfort. Put quite simply, his idea is that we owe the enormous advances we have made since the Neolithic revolution to the fact that we changed from being nomadic hunter-gatherers to being farmers. But thereby, we also placed ourselves outside nature and that has led ultimately to the irreversible catastrophe we find ourselves in today. The beginning of the end of the world is already behind us. According to him we are now witnessing a post-apocalyptic phase and it is time we accepted that the world as we know it is slowly disappearing.
|Ronald Cornelissen Kronebreen glacier, Spitsbergen, 2018|
Ronald Cornelissen , 16-20 august, ink, pencil etc, 140 x 279 cm, 2018
Not really, all my work is in a sense about masculine behaviour or behaviour such as Serres describes it: the intellectual and otherwise mapping, imagining and taking possession of the world. It's about forms of contamination, about expressions of a deeply ingrained instinct that is just as inevitable as it is dangerous and insignificant.
Website Ronald Cornelissen
Website Ronald Cornelissen
RONALD CORNELISSEN: ADDITIONAL NOTES AFTER THE INTERVIEW
1 The term 'Boreal' refers to an important founding myth for the European ultra-right: the 'Aryan' and 'polar' roots of the Indo-European people, the supposed ancestors of white Europeans. In Godwin’s book, other Arctic myths are also described in-depth. Much of it is rather insane, but I found it a wonderful book to read.
2 The Occult Roots of Nazism: The Ariosophists of Austria and Germany, Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, I.B.Tauris & Co. Ltd, 2004.
Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism, and the Politics of Identity, Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, NYU Press, 2003.
Arktos: The Polar Myth in Science, Symbolism, and Nazi Survival, Joscelyn Godwin, Adventures Unlimited Press, 1996.
3 During the second week of my stay in Svalbard, I visited the Russian settlements Barentsburg and Pyramiden. Barentsburg is the second largest settlement in Svalbard and lies on the Grønfjorden (which is part of the Isfjorden). Barentsburg has about 450 inhabitants, mainly Russians (in particular Pomores) and Ukrainians. The settlement is entirely focused on the mining of coal. In 1920 Svalbard was placed under Norwegian supervision during a conference in Paris through the Spitsbergen Treaty. The treaty provides for Norwegian sovereignty over Svalbard, while at the same time providing for certain rights for the other signatories. The treaty allows foreign companies to operate under its own rules without having to fully take into account Norwegian supervision. About 40 countries signed the treaty, including Russia in 1924. So far, only Norway and Russia actually exercise their rights through coal mining. The name Barentsburg was given to a Dutch mining settlement by the management of the N.V. Nederlandsche Spitsbergen Compagnie (Nespico) from Rotterdam in 1924. Before that it was simply named after the fjord where it was situated, Green Harbour. Due to financial problems, the Dutch Spitsbergen Company was eventually obliged to sell all its claims on Svalbard, the Barentsburg one included. In 1932 the Soviet State Enterprise Trust Arktikugol took over the Dutch properties at Svalbard. Pyramiden used to be a Russian mining site on an offshoot of the Isfjorden, called Billefjorden. The village was founded in 1910 by the Swedes and sold to the Russians in 1927. Since 1998 the mine has been closed at Pyramiden and nowadays the village is largely deserted, but the infrastructure and buildings are still partly intact. In the past, Russians liked to go to Svalbard because work there was much better paid than in Russia and one could move relatively freely there (even though there was a KGB office in Barentsburg).
4 Something else about Gerrit de Veer's book, A True Description of Three Voyages by the North-East towards Cathay and China : undertaken by the Dutch in the years 1594, 1595 and 1596 (Amsterdam 1598.) Besides the simple fact that the story took place in the high North and that Barents and Van Heemskerck discovered Svalbard and gave it its name, Spitsbergen, there was another reason why I chose to take a closer look at this book. It is a history that, despite the banal economic motives underlying the expedition, is ultimately about courage and perseverance. And that is how we like to picture ourselves in the Netherlands. The expedition did not take place under the VOC flag (VOC meaning Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, the Dutch East India Company). The VOC was founded 6 years after the fact and the story remains untarnished from a colonial point of view; neither Svalbard nor the north of Nova Zembla knew an indigenous population. That does not mean that no price was paid for the discovery of Svalbard in particular. Whales (and other animals) were hunted there intensively for a long time. So my choice of this particular story can to a large extend be traced back to the original perspective for this project: nationalism, particularly of the kind in which the past must be idealized at all costs or even reinvented altogether. Incidentally, my interest in the book goes back a long way: my parents had a few books in their bookcase that stimulated my imagination from the moment I could read because of the exotic sounding titles: Mutiny on the Bounty by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall, Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak and especially Wintering on Nova Zembla by Gerrit de Veer. It took me a long time before I actually read Gerrit de Veer's book, but like so many other people of my age I was familiar with the famous school print of The Saved House, by J.H. Isings from 1951 that we had at my primary school in Leiderdorp.
5 The Thing could be interpreted as an allegory of what happens when the permafrost thaws. It is a remake of a 1951 film, The Thing From Another World. The Thing by Carpenter is situated on Antartica, the original movie from 1951 takes place at the North Pole.
6 Tarkovsky's lecture can be found in the book Andrey Tarkovsky: Films, Stills, Polaroids & Writings (Schirmer / Mosel Verlag, Munich, 2012). Tarkovsky states in this lecture that the Apocalypse cannot be interpreted and explained. According to Tarkovsky, the book of Revelation contains no symbols, it is an image. And while symbols can be decoded, images cannot. A specific meaning can be assigned to a symbol, not to an image, according to Tarkovsky. An image is something we can only perceive and accept.