“Horrible things frequently also have a funny side.” This is how Aaron van Erp (b. 1978) explains how his paintings, despite their often brutal subjects, can raise a laugh thanks to their bizarre titles. Since graduating from the St Joost school of art and design in ’s-Hertogenbosch in 2001, Aaron van Erp has become a rising star of the art world. His weird paintings have been acquired for numerous collections in the Netherlands and abroad, including the trendsetting Saatchi collection. Aaron van Erp opens his first ever one-man museum exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag: an overview of paintings and drawings produced since leaving art school, with the emphasis on his most recent work.
Jars of peanut butter
Van Erp’s paintings often include familiar objects from the world around us: shopping trolleys, meatballs, jars of peanut butter, supermarket bags and washing machines. These are located in bare, desert-like landscapes or huge empty interiors. His colourful pictures sometimes refer to well-known paintings of the past (The Meatball Eaters, 2000) or appear to allude to social issues like terrorism, problems in the health care system or child abuse. His painting The Child Tamer (2006), for example, featuring a shadowy figure keeping order with a whip, immediately suggests child abuse. But, despite its sadistic undertone, the work is painted in a humorous way. The green boots of the ‘tamer’, the title, the use of colour and the absurd setting all undermine the sense of violence.Theme
Another important theme in Van Erp’s paintings is that of victims versus attackers. Medical Personnel at the Meatball Plantation (2005/06) is a good illustration: at first glance, the painting appears to show Red Cross staff attending to a victim. Look closer and you find that they are actually tearing the victim apart and turning his flesh into meatballs to hang in the leafless trees. Dividing lines between good and evil are blurred; saviours can also be attackers and vice versa.
As well as inspiration from everyday life, the paintings betray the influence of artists such as James Ensor and Francis Bacon. This is apparent in the amorphous figures, the artist’s palette, a certain surreal atmosphere, and the fragmentary way in which Van Erp paints his figures. His social and political commitment is akin to that of Francisco Goya, who also produced works denouncing violence, constraints on freedom of thought, and human suffering.
In 2006 Aaron van Erp took part in two major museum exhibitions. Jan Hoet selected his work for the international group exhibition Sieben auf einen Streich in the new Marta Herford Museum and he was one of three Dutch painters featured in the Netherlands v. Germany exhibition at the GEM museum of contemporary art in The Hague. In the latter exhibition, his work was hung side by side with that of the German artist Matthias Weischer. The dialogue between the two artists will resume next January, when the Gemeentemuseum opens the first ever one-man exhibition of Matthias Weischer to be held in a Dutch museum.
The Aaron van Erp exhibition is accompanied by a book written by H. Pijnenburg and curator Doede Hardeman. In addition, especially for the occasion, Aaron van Erp is producing a number of drawings in different formats which will be included in the exhibition and sold in combination with the book.
The small drawings will be on sale at a price of € 400, the larger at € 1250.