Using only a pencil, Robbie Cornelissen (b. 1954) has filled three enormous sheets of paper with drawings, creating a work 13.2 metres long and 2.4 metres high. For six months, he challenged his physical stamina to complete this huge, virtuoso drawing, which draws the viewer into a world of illusion. Like most of Cornelissen’s work, it depicts an architectonic space consisting of cabinets, buildings and transitions between different levels. In an organised chaos of structures and extreme vanishing points, the viewer is tempted to stop and let his thoughts wander. In winter 2011, Cornelissen – one of art’s leading contemporary draughtsmen – will be showing his huge pencil drawing The Capacious Memory X, produced specially for the Gemeentemuseum in 2010, in the museum’s Project Hall, along with a selection of recent work.
Cornelissen, who initially trained as a biologist, did not start drawing until later in life, attending the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam in the 1980s. He believes his background in biology has benefited his art. His work depicts ‘inner worlds’, taking the viewer on a journey through the artist’s memories and thoughts. Thanks to his knowledge of the human body, Cornelissen knows exactly how the complex cellular system inside us fits together. Though he uses this knowledge, his drawings do not refer to the human body. The spaces he depicts are mental spaces, metaphors for the human mind.
In The Capacious Memory X, which Cornelissen regards as the final piece (for the time being) in a long series of works, he uses an extreme perspective. The various places in the drawing are entrances and exits: this is no labyrinth in which the viewer becomes lost, though it is possible to become disoriented. This is because the proportions of the buildings and cabinets make it difficult for the viewer to relate to the work, as it is not possible to know how big anything actually is. Cornelissen’s methods are intensive and time-consuming. This huge piece is highly detailed, which allows it to be viewed both from close quarters and from a distance. Cornelissen thus plays with the viewer’s ability to zoom in, penetrating deeper into the work.
Cornelissen erases a lot, some forms are only temporary, fading later, or disappearing entirely, and so the drawing shows traces of the process by which it was created. In the end, the entire sheet is covered with pencil lines. There is a lot of action in each single drawing, which induces a slight trance-like effect as the viewer attempts to follow the various elements. The fact that Cornelissen expresses his thoughts directly on paper gives his work a certain authenticity. Indeed, his body of work can be seen as one long story, an entire inner world in itself.
The Centraal Museum in Utrecht will be staging a Robbie Cornelissen retrospective entitled Studio Vertigo from 10 March to 29 May 2011. An illustrated publication entitled The Capacious Memory, with contributions by Lex ter Braak and Edwin Jacobs, is being published to accompany the exhibition (price € 25).
The project has received financial support from the Netherlands Foundation for Visual Arts, Design and Architecture.