Alex Jacobs and Ellemieke Schoenmaker are an artist duo called V&B, based in Rotterdam, but was founded in 2007 in Los Angeles. Their residency at 18th Street Arts Center, where they are creating a new body of work for an exhibition at the Torrance Art Museum, marks a return to the city where their collaboration originated. They remark that "When we started our collaboration as a duo six years ago we were also in Los Angeles, so this city has a special place in our hearts. For us this place is very exotic compared to Rotterdam. The weather has an influence on everything from the plants you see in the streets, to the way houses are built and the color and light in everyday life." Their new works reflect the color palette and the free conscience of Los Angeles, absorbed in their months of immersion here.
V&B are artists whose interest in content or subject matter sets them apart from the mainstream of Dutch painting, which is largely interested in surface and material. Initially collaborating as "Villeroy & Boch," V&B assumed their collaborative name from a well-known housewares company active throughout Europe as a means of appropriating the social status and personal style that the corporate mark conveys. That choice reflects their interest in consumption as a social phenomenon, as their decision to rename the collaboration with initials points to their investment in ambiguity as a critical position.
Through the recurring use of ironic self-portrayal in their paintings, sculptures and installations, V&B stir up a commentary on the (art) world. Their work combines historic references and self-portraiture with elements borrowed from contemporary media and popular culture. Their collaboration "starts with a conversation where we try out different ideas on each other and we verbally crystalize these ideas. After these initial ideas for a work we digitally manipulate self-made photography and other found images, allowing for spontaneity and chance encounters when developing a concept for a painting. We use this concept and imagery as a framework for the painting." Motivated by both impulsive inspiration and a critical interest, V&B reveal surprising combinations through this process that invite viewers to search for commonly missed relationships among often familiar images.
Working with a mix of acrylic and spray aerosol paints, and with source images gleaned from both self-generated and found photography, V&B create canvases that represent the fragmented visual language of contemporary media in vibrant color. Their techniques, like their subjects, blend high and low art forms to depict absurdist scenarios that challenge conventions within the art world and beyond. Their collaboration is both conceptual and physical. "During the painting process we make painterly decisions about color, the type of paint and the mediums and techniques used in order to achieve the desired results. Within this process we leave plenty of space for new possibilities," they state. "Sometimes we have to go back to the digital arena to experiment with different ideas." Moving back and forth between painting and digital photomontage, V&B make works that blur boundaries between digital and traditional media, and between object and process.
The title of V&B's exhibition, "179 Easy Steps to a Masterpiece," is the answer to every aspiring artist's questions. On the surface, it makes art look simple, like "Painting for Dummies." However, the 179 easy steps might not be so easy after all, and the more you get into the work the more irrational it seems to become. They explain, "For us every work is an attempt, a new path towards an unknown destiny. This path and the new ideas, techniques, and knowledge we encounter is a process just as important as the results. We are addicted to the unknown possibilities in contrast with the idea of an easy step by step to a masterpiece." The show uses a spectrum of ideas on how to make a masterpiece, how to survive the life of an artist and what choices to make.
V&B's exhibition title "179 Easy Steps to a Masterpiece" is meant, in the artists' words, to "ironically question the quality of art and the process of making it." They invoke references from self-help books to the Greek myth of Sisyphus to describe their artistic endeavors. Art can represent liberation and transformation or it can be an impossible, heavy, useless task. The artists describe themselves as "the actors in an existential narrative found in each work...puzzling out issues in our (art) world: surviving, artist/audience communication, inspiration, and ambition/market/quality." Their exhibition ranges across styles, techniques, and subjects to explore the dynamic between surface and image. Questioning their own position within systems of labor and capital, V&B celebrate acts of creation and experimentation while exploring the operations of the (art) world with critical eyes.
Top Image: "This Paintings needs Attention from an Expert in Statistics," V&B (Alex Jacobs and Ellemieke Schoenmaker) 2014 54 x 66 inch.
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