Noëlle Koning – Encounters

Chaos & harmony
The unprepared viewer might be disconcerted by the chaotic turbulence emerging from the recent paintings by Noëlle Koning. Here a stubborn line catches the eye, there it is shouted at by an explosion of colour; helplessly it scans the surface for a hold – the story! Meanwhile, the viewer's eye is along in the whirlpool of colours and shapes, flowing streams and abruptly interrupted movements. However, if the viewer takes a step back – stops searching and gulping for breath for a minute – the view widens and discovers how every painting depicts a harmonious picture at the same time. He or she can then bask in the inimitable combination of colours, the unfailing balancing exercise of fragments, and the paradoxical haven of rest that arises from the attraction of extremes.

Structure & light
In apparent contradiction with the literally and figuratively light nature of the paintings, the works make an explicitly structured impression. Created from paint on wafer-thin paper glued to canvas, they are simultaneously feathery (ephemeral and vulnerable) and reinforced by the layered structure. Dense areas, which seem to be meeting points of colours, signs, lines, shapes, energy, even of matter, are fraternally contiguous with light spots that immerse the viewer in all shades of light from demure to dazzling, from misty to Mediterranean, from murky to clear. Fragments in which information has been built up – where everything happens at the same time, where indications accumulate – alternate with zones where the light seems to absorb all matter.

Figurative & abstract
Should a viewer be asked to define the most characteristic element of Noëlle Koning's recent oeuvre in one word, the answer will probably be « colour ». The work seems to have been created from colour: spots, licks, streaks, smears, clouds, blocks, touches, zones, sections. Colour takes over the surface, determines the image, creates the atmosphere, structures and creates chaos. Only here and there a recognisable shape materialises from that play of colours – the colours disperse to make room for a motif, or are they coming together to shape a figure? Whatever, sporadically we recognise a figurative element in the colourful abstraction. Generally it is a trace of a concrete motif that held the artist's attention while working, a reason (or even rather a distraction) but never a subject. Sometimes our perception plays a trick on us and we construct a figure from the mass of colour in our search for recognition, a clue or a narrative.

Paul Klee & Willem de Kooning
The picturesque of Paul Klee: imagination, colours, light. The swirling of Willem de Kooning- appearance and disappearance, the doubt between showing and hiding. Noëlle Koning's recent oeuvre has several aspects in common with these two artists, although she does not mention them as direct influences. Her work also seems to talk of enchanted worlds, strange places and enigmatic events. Like Paul Klee « saw the light » and colour in Tunisia, her light and colours originate from distant southern regions as well as from the Low Countries. On the other hand, in a certain sense we can also read Willem de Kooning's brute energy in the paintings: the power with which the figures are started and painted away again, the hesitation between figuration and abstraction, between exposing and covering again.

War & peace
In painting, the artist often starts from something concrete – a photograph from a magazine, an image that stays (even real objects used to be integrated in paintings) – that keeps appearing and disappearing in the painting process until everything comes into its own again. In the composition of a picture – the choice and arrangement of the paintings on paper to a new unit on canvas – a similar process starts in which the image is transformed again and again according to which fragments get preference and how they are played off against each other. Therefore, each work can be read as a battlefield where the fight was about place, form and attention. Figures try to conquer the « shapeless » mass of colours, colours compete for victory, and paper fragments occupy parts of each other's territory. At the same time, the works also radiate some sort of peace; not so much the calm before the storm, but rather a situation after a turbulent period in which everything has come together and found a new relationship (understanding).

Artist & viewer
The artist does not make things easy for the viewer. Those who are trying to detect the story are not shown the way with indications, there is even hardly ever a title that may give a hint. In spite of the concrete and recognisable, often very banal motifs (such as a ladder, a chair or a rake) that seem to provide a clue in virtually every work, the artist anxiously avoids any hint of the anecdotal by isolating them from each other. Some elements actually contain a message – the artist gives it a certain meaning (such as the ladder as a metaphor for the ups and downs of life) – but this is not given to the viewer. The artist does not want to impose an interpretation, but sets out to challenge the viewer to look properly and make up his or her own mind. We are free to project our own ideas and feeling on to the works and to read our own questions and answers in them.

Baroque & impressionist
We would like to call Noëlle Koning's recent work baroque, because the paintings can make such an overwhelming impression on the viewer. It is as if they fling everything into the fray to « take us in »: the swirling dance of colours, the sometimes dramatic alternation between light and dark and- the often driving movements suck us into the world of the painting, appeal to our senses and emotions and make us forget that we were looking for a « why ». Simultaneously, the works have a just as noticeable impressionist quality: they are lit by an often radiant light that caresses and plays and trembles and shimmers and makes all contours fade away. We are absorbed into an experience of colour that makes us blink while we attempt to get back on our feet again.

Searching & resting
Painting – applying paint as well as creating the collage that will lead to the final picture – is a long process of searching. As a reaction to the world around us that threatens to disintegrate more and more and seems to drown in problems created by man, the artist tries time and time again to build a small alternative world with its own coherence and equilibrium. During her quest, all kinds of divergent elements are as it were digested, accumulated and transformed. In composing the collage, the main factor is the quest for balance: not all the tensions do necessarily have to be relieved in the space of the painting, but the mind should find peace there. That is why the finished paintings are harmonious but never unequivocal: they are the result of paintings on paper that developed at different moments and therefore testify to events, thoughts, feelings and circumstances from various periods in the artist's life.

Dream & reality
The painting – worlds can also be interpreted and read by the viewer as bizarre maps. Although no hints for the story are to be found, we still get the feeling that the surface is strewn with suggestions, as if a path is being shown – here a meaningful patch of colour, there an intriguing pattern – that we can follow to a mysterious destination. A comparison with the Dream Works of the Aboriginals, which the artist became familiar with during one of her many stays in Australia, is obvious. At the same time however the meaning seems to have much more to do with everyday reality than with dreams and myths. The path will probably not lead us to ancestors, mythical creatures or divine truth, but neither will it bring us to a more correct or more comprehensive insight into the world around us. The point is perhaps being on the road, viewing, searching, interpreting, comparing, getting involved and enjoying – the moment between dream and reality.

Marijke Van Eeckhaut


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