On a beautiful October day, Arjan van Es came to our door. He dropped by to draw. My girlfriend and I live in a former dairy factory, near the Frisian Wadden Sea coast. There are days that the air is incredibly clear, probably due to the north wind bringing in cleaner air from the Polar Regions. This was such a day.
Arjan found his spot behind the factory, on the floor where cheeses once lay to dry. Two recently installed windows offer a view over the surrounding countryside.
From 2002 to 2015, Arjan van Es created drawings using only one subject: his own face. I just imagine how his eyes searched his reflection and a hand that synchronously follows the gaze, how he draws without looking at the paper. This results in moving and instable lines which does not seem to achieve a similarity with the reflection in the mirror. It seems awareness and reality never coincide when looking.
What does this unbridgeable division between the inner and the outer world remind me of? The answer lies not in the visual arts, but philosophy provides me with the answer. In the 17th century René Descartes searched a certain basis for knowledge and his radical doubt left him with nothing but his own thoughts. However, Van Es is an artist and he is not looking certainty in thought, but in what he sees. The attention is not focussed on the inner world, but on the world outside.
By accepting the invitation to take part in an exhibition about the Wadden in Museum Belvédère in Oranjewoud, Van Es was forced to change his subject. I don’t think he grew tired of looking at his own face, but in 2015 he only draws landscapes. The result was a series of Wadden landscapes, in the same searching and exploring style as his self-portraits. He then drew the view on the lake and the surrounding country side from the Wall House in Groningen and now also from the old dairy factory in Marrum.
The world inside and the world outside our awareness; I don’t know whether that division can ever be definitively bridged. Descartes saw God as a connecting link. But a godless worldview also offers opportunities: when I look at a drawing of Arjan van Es, I get the feeling that he offers himself and us a way of looking and experiencing which increasingly allows the inside and outside to merge.
Not the things are the focus of his drawings, I even think he does not even draw the contours. Van Es allows his gaze to wonder like a chicken scratching around. From chicken to egg is a small step and surprisingly enough, the step from eggs to Descartes is just as small. The philosopher loved to eat omelettes I read in a poem by Samuel Beckett, but only eggs that were hatched for eight to ten days, otherwise the result was ‘disgusting’. On a website for chicken farmers I read how eggs are checked by holding them in front of a strong lamp: ‘After seven days you see veins running through the egg; this means that the egg contains life, and you can look forward to a happy birth’. I suddenly realise how and what Arjan van Es is drawing: he views the world, preferably in the brightest light possible, and draws the veins that enable the existence of the world and expose its life.
Peter van Lier, Marrum 2015