Ben Sleeuwenhoek

Ben Sleeuwenhoek’s works are a reflection on the modes of perception and access to reality. Particularly intellectual, his painting does away with the myth of the artist, who is transcendentally inspired, whose hand paints sensually and fiery a divine message charged with vibrant, animal and sensual tensions. By consciously referring to spiritual painters, such as Mondrian, he uses painting and images as tools to explore the concept of reality and representations. In this quest he gives the sensitive and the intellect their respective shares back and tries to determine just how much of our lives can be a constellation of illusions and conventions.

A critical discourse tinged with irony and eclecticism betrays the influence of postmodernism on the artist. Everything is an illusion: the lack of guarantee that any truth exists is a central theme in his work. The codes and conventions, such as language, numbers, and the representation of space, may not be reliable tools to answer some existential questions, as they can only generate conventional responses. In this quest for the universal, Sleeuwenhoek mistrusts individualizing elements as the impression of movement in painting or the expression symbols assigned to colours. These would be the matter of emotion, of an intimate but also agreed iconography. Or the representation of reality through the traditional, vanishing point perspective, a testimony to the hegemony that a habit can exercise on the representation of images on a collective scale. Acknowledging that every convention is the result of a society building its own tools of communication, Sleeuwenhoek distances himself from discriminating and traditional codes of painting. The eyes and mind are freed from the reductive conventions by refusing the seductive trap of effortless standardization that makes a simplified and limited vision of the world accessible to everybody.
Aware that sensations are an absolutely subjective source of information and that they couldn’t carry the universal truth, Sleeuwenhoek mistrusts the perception and the affect. The artist suggests a construction of the image destined to build a method. This is precisely what makes his art so particular. The forms of a motive would draw too much attention. He reduces the iconographic elements to an absolute sleekness, shadows. Purified of all superficial lines, the silhouettes allude to the essence of the object. The object, always identifiable, doesn’t exist for itself anymore, but subsumes the genre it belongs to. Not being disturbed by the individuality, the spirit can move more quickly to the symbolism of its message. The shadow also represents, according to the well-known allegory of Plato’s cave, the first access to knowledge, or, at least, to the illusion of knowledge… These “symbol-icons” evolve on flat and ordinary backgrounds as the brick wall or timber, denying the singularity of physical space and time and focusing on the mental and timeless dimension of their projection. The layers are superimposed without space, without illusion and without deception, causing interactions between the elements and a renewal of patterns of meanings that run through the combination, the addition, the contradiction and the dialogue between the forms. Far from the linearity of a riddle, these images open the possibilities of meanings to a multitude of interpretations: a juxtaposition of undetermined symbols that deeply and largely affect the individual and collective spirit.

Sleeuwenhoek’s iconographic world consciously employs fairly usual objects, which according to him, make up our daily lives. Rustic furniture, dice, mushrooms, hearts or bones sometimes refer back to kitsch. This interrogation of reality mixed with a certain ironic detachment goes as far as bringing up spiritual concerns with the question of existence itself. Certain recurrent motives such as the eyes and the origin of light reveal the influence of numerous trips to India and the Far East, which constitute a reflection on knowledge and its footprint in everyday life, while other elements rather evoke melancholy embodied by vanities.
A certain fear of missing the meaning of life leads to a rejection of current findings, denying the existence of any truth. This interpretation is at the heart of the post-modern discourse. The semantic openness allows the artist to escape the sad record in opening the field of possibilities. His works constitute a broader system of comprehending reality, which through simple, accessible and open codes leaves a great role for the imagination. With some relish, Sleeuwenhoek invites the viewer to focus on himself and his environment with a view alternately grated, naive, raw, amazed and amused. The strength of his work lies in the surprising mixture of melancholy and irony evident in the lightness with which he speaks of death, life and their possible significance. All his paintings present these two themes in double lexical fields. Crossing or confronting each other, sometimes even united. Allowing one, through a quasi-existentialist inspiration, to perceive the fundamental and universal questions.
Matthieu Lelièvre

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