the artist

All the layers of painting


About the work of Maarten Thiel

by Dirk Schwarze
What is the easiest and most effortless way to complete a piece of work? You have to know your trade so perfectly that
the work process itself becomes almost automatic. It is routine that frees the mind for new challenges. This is true for
almost all professions.
Or maybe not. Maarten Thiel in fact is of a different opinion. He has been painting and drawing for more than forty years.
A native of the Netherlands, he has lived in Germany as an artist about just so many years. He is experienced and has
been most successful. But he fears nothing more than repetition or travelling well-tread paths. “I am always afraid, that
drawing and painting could become a routine. There is nothing I fear more“. He says passionately.

I believe his paintings show this. They all convey a certain resistance. They are full of rifts and fractures. At times you have
the impression of two wrestling principles. For instance, there is a large space of a single colour, a deep red, a celestial
blue or a sunny yellow. The colours are spread out and sharply defi ned. But then traces of colour or a beam destroy the
seemingly perfect space. Or you see clearly defi ned triangles and squares next to shaky, irritating lines. And then there
are paintings that give the impression as if a smooth and calm composition has been painted over with a few swift strokes
of the brush, as if to blot it out.

Are these obsevations correct? Superfi cially yes. If we stick to this approach, the clarity of the paintings, their serene
force will surprise the spectator whose eye is torn between the calm surface and the pictorial intervention. But we do
not remain on the surface.

If you want to penetrate to the essence of Thiel‘s art, you have to look him over the shoulder. You soon realise that for him
painting is an adventure a long and slow process. The paintings grow gradually. Most of the time there are several canvasses,
halffi nished or barley started that stand around his studio. Others have been waiting for years for their completion.

I imagine this is not too different from a conversation. A thread is spun for a moment, interrupted and left hanging in mid
air because somthing else comes up. Of course Thiel could cover these unfi nished products with shapes or colours, as
we talk about the weather or our last holiday if we don‘t seem to make headway with the problem under consideration.
But Thiel prefers to allow the tension between structure and colour, to develop rather than to fi nish a painting. It‘s all
about the essence of painting, the liberation of colour, the visible rythm of the brush, the overlaying of the still amorphous surface, it‘s all about reaction, and the echo of the given. The painter is drawn inside his work. And when his compostion
has reached a certain stage, he loses his authority. The painting has its owns laws and develops independently, leading
ist creator to unknown and unexpected shores.

The paintings grow layer for layer. Five or eight layers of paint from the foundation before that, wich we fi nally see, asserts
itself. Why all this trouble when, in the end, we see an entirely different composition? Because these paintings are
progressive colour spaces, because colours and structures rise from below and alter and energise the uppermost layer.
If you step up close to the painting, you will feel the spark of life that arises from below, because the paintings are open
translucent spaces and point to their genesis. It is in this respect that the elements of the uppermost layer respond to
that which lies underneath.

Maarten Thiel started out as a graphic artist and painter of small formats. Today tiny elements still refer to this beginning.
Numerous architectural projects during the last years, projects in which Thiel developed colour concepts for rooms and
buildings, have led him to larger spatial expression. Colour spaces receive a stronger presence, and enlarge the contrast
between the wide open spaces and the interference of the small fomat.

The colour concepts for buildings call for a very
careful preparation. Calculations, sketches and studies are needed, and their realisation is carried out according to a fi xed
plan. Now and then Thiel applies this procedure to his paintings, this however, has always been the exception. On the
contrary, the artist allows the painting to take over, to draw him inside, and to surprise him with unexpected and new

Judging by the paintings of the last years, one is tempted to classify Maarten Thiel as a non-representational artist. Yet
his paintings invalidate the usual contrast between cool construction and emotion gesture. Both attitudes defi ne Thiel‘s
paintings. Both wrestle with each other for dominance. I am always surprised at Thiel‘s different approaches to his compositions
the arrangemaent of space, or the painting over a surface –, none of his pictures resemble each other. Yet you
can always recognise his signature, and this is not only true for his last productions but for his entire work.

Up to now I have not spoken of one element that characterises his entire work, and that is the narrative element of his
paintings. He is fond of including memories of plants, scenes from nature or symbols of growth in his work. They appaer
like ruins of a destroyed world, suggest untold stories, and remain as puzzeling questions. Here you see grasses, reeds or rods, there you percieve lines reminiscent of fortifi cations, at other times you encounter slender triangles that recall
sails, or leaves, beams and dices.

Are these reality citations? Some of these signs and fi gures recall the time when Thiel‘s art was still representational and
narrative. But they are certainly not more important than the abstract elements of his compositions. You come closest to
their message if you consider them as dream images that arise from the depth and settle on the surface.

Let me conclude with a few remarks about his graphic work. Maarten Thiel‘s drawings have their own place in his production.
Certainly there are drafts that prepare paintings or etchings. Here plastic and representational forms dominate.
But Thiel is much more as a draftsman as he is a painter. I fi rst knew him as a darftsman and designer. If you study his
painings you will soon discover how strong the presence of these elements is.

His etchings refl ect even more the pleasure of drawing lines with pen or needle. There you fi nd plastic and representational
forms. Both talents the element of the painter and that of the designer are combined in his coloured etchings.
They are full of the force of his paintings, they refl ect them and expand their expression, while at the same time clearly
defi ned signs retrain the pictorial expansion.

That means: the etchings are not simply replicas of painted pictures. No they open another fi eld. They are the medium in
which pictorial art considers itself. And thus, we the spectators, gain another level of perception.

© Copyright Dirk Schwarze 2004