The seduction of pure form
With his purified work, Johan Van Oeckel manages to find a meditative frequency that brings an oasis of cerebral calm to our overstimulated existence. By meticulously combining and balancing planes, shapes, lines, colours and textures, he repeatedly achieves an aesthetically attractive and harmonious image. His practice is in the tradition of non-objective art, but with an interesting twist.
Whereas classical abstraction usually involves a reduction of reality, this artist does it the other way round: he takes a pure form and loads it with information. He starts from nothingness, from the totally indeterminate, and builds up from there. Rectangular areas of colour are given indentations that are folded over, creating an elegant dance between rigid and curved forms, a rhythmic puzzle that combines hard and soft, indulgent and determined.
An important protagonist in Johan Van Oeckel's work is colour. Colour as a signifier, colour as a carrier of a certain spirit of the time, colour that breathes information. When Van Oeckel chooses green, it is not just any green, but green that silently tells a lot about a certain stylistic period. Colour, just like smell, is an ideal vehicle to bring us quickly to an unconscious memory.
By using not only colour but also form as the ultimate bearers of meaning, Johan Van Oeckel reaches for principles beyond the visible. His work navigates in a silent, universal space that is timeless and can be found anywhere and nowhere. It touches on fundamental structures and laws that also apply in language, mathematics, music and even in nature. Ratio and emotion, order and chaos, standstill and agitation always and everywhere present themselves as threads.
What Johan Van Oeckel creates in that infinite dimension are gifts. Eye candy, to put it irreverently, or perhaps rather visual enjoyment. With each work, the artist hands you a personal icon, something that is all yours and stays with you, because you are the one who gives it content. You may also carry it around with you, like a take-home dose of sacred geometry, which you can apply whenever you feel the need. This makes Johan Van Oeckel a giver. He creates a free, sovereign experience for the viewer.
This is only possible because, as an artist, he remains true to the 'pure idea'. There is no beginning and no end, there is no progression in the work. The process is not made more painterly interesting - lines, matter and layers are deliberately absent. Every painting or screen print by Johan Van Oeckel says "I am" instead of "I become".
Yet more temporality creeps in than is intended. Not only does the colour refer to a specific moment in the past, but each work absorbs the energy of the maker and of the moment when it was made. This results in an interesting field of tension, which means that Johan Van Oeckel's principle objective (striving for pure form and colour) is always in danger of failing somewhat.
In his sculptural work and installations, he further challenges his own premises. For instance, he tries to convert screen prints into 3D, so that it seems as if this abstract work is suddenly a representation of the sculpture. He takes us from abstraction to figuration and back again - thus creating a stalemate in his own artistic discourse.
Johan Van Oeckel resolutely follows his own path, but is not afraid to change course after advancing insight and research. As a result, his work promises to remain fascinating at all times, by inexhaustibly questioning its own starting points. He is an abstract artist who draws the playing field much wider than he initially intended. The side effect for the viewer is a visual language that refreshes, surprises and produces new, energising symbols.
Annelies Vanbelle, 2021
Art journalist & copywriter
A gentle reboot
How to explain the profound but subtle effect Johan van Oeckel’s works have on the viewer? It may very well be due to the fact that they offer a privileged access to an introverted and silent space, cutting us off as they do from an overcrowded world that does not stop bombarding the human senses with fleeting and/or moving images, textual echoes, unstable meanings and omnipresent noise. Watching these images can be considered a form of unplugging, a clean break with this endless stream of stimuli and their unrelenting pressure on our ‘identities’, that is on what we are supposed to be, how we are to present ourselves to others and which choices we are required to make.
This is not to say that these images constitute, in any way, a form of escapist art. They do not belong to a realm of sensuous, idyllic and/or harmonious beauty. They do not indulge in the pleasure of rich or vivid colours and their interplay or of a well-balanced composition. They are – without being ascetic – even somewhat dry and frugal, as unobtrusive as they are alien.
If it is true, then, that this body of work shuts out the world as well as any possibility of a fanciful escape, one is bound to conclude that in experiencing it, we are confronted, in a well-nigh meditative fashion, with our very basic selves. If we are prepared to accept this confrontation, these images grant us an opportunity for a gentle ‘reboot’, an ephemeral form of wordless regeneration. Watching them is, in a way, a genuine blessing.
Erik Spinoy, 2019
Poet, essayist and professor modern Dutch literature