Koning or wild colour

Our country
is this narrow shore where we have been cast,
our journey is
the journey in the whale.

J-P. de Dadelsen, Jonas.

One must undoubtedly avoid «creating literature» around Noëlle Koning's work.
However, we will yield a little to the temptation.
One of her paintings, which must date back to 1995, hints at a small fisherman beset by a sea monster.
One thinks of Icarus and, of course, Jonah. (But a Jonah on his wave like Job on his dung heap...)

It is one of the painter's first canvases that I had the opportunity to contemplate – one stormy evening, indeed.
Since I became interested in her work, the memory of this painting has continued to haunt me.
I believe I can say why. There, dread and admiration of the world were combined.
And, from exhibition to exhibition, I have always found this ambivalence at the heart of the enterprise.
With Koning, fishing is miraculous... Even nightmare borders on illumination. There is a sort of enchantment of the catastrophe.
The work pays flabbergasted homage to the beauty of things at the same time that they distil, here and there, a secret terror.
One is often at the threshold of Eden, but a truly «cannibal» Eden: turbid, impure, almost impenetrable.
It is as though there were something of a Chagall rid of his anecdotes – if one can imagine that possible – and, moreover, certain scarlet shades dear to Matisse.

We owe Giono a very beautiful foreword to the French translation of Melville's masterpiece: Moby Dick. A terrific tale of whale hunting, engulfed in metaphysics. The sunniest of Southern writers celebrates the most crepuscular of New England's great writers...
Noëlle's work contains a something of this sunshine, but also a prelude to apocalypse.
Her still lives are truly alive (no pun intended).

What, then, did she go looking for in Australia, apart from the means of material survival? Not local colour, but her own colour. Stopped short in front of the monumental aspect of the stones, trees, flora, and the light itself, she practised, in her work, an ethnology of the interior.
It is she that appears «exotic» much more than the nature towards of which she treads.

As one knows, certain painters have «periods».
As for Koning, she rather appears to have moods.

In the second half of the '90s, the motifs, the framework of things, were still very visible and suggested references. Figuration expanded.
There was already this greed, this voracity, this appetite for the cruel savour of things.
The world still unfolds naturally like a mosaic.

«Against all expectations», she entitles a canvas in 2001. It must be understood quite literally. Not so much as an overture to the unexpected but as the very refusal of all waiting.
The brush does not wait. Ecstasy itself is in motion.
One thus witnesses a collision, a clashing of colours.

The figurative narration is ever more shattered, prey to a violence where the shadows of ancestral terror are checked by a secret joy, unhoped-for, unexpected, in fact.

This is not (only) colour. So much of it spatters the canvas, invests it, overflows it. One knows where it begins, but where will it end?

It is as if the colour, here, is enraptured with itself. Such as mad love and mad happiness exist...

It intoxicates itself. Abandons itself to gleaming inebriation.

I would like to add this, too.
Noëlle's exhibitions make one happy. One can run through them quickly and go back to start over again with renewed enthusiasm, turn back to check.
One literally does not know which way to turn.
One comes, goes, «zaps», one is attracted elsewhere, already in the belly of the whale.
Superb work in progress.

Pierre Mertens
December 2005.

Text extracted from Monograph Noëlle Koning, Didier Devillez Éditeur, Brussels, 2006.

 

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