Richard Kooyman – “Where Poetry Resides”

“What does a painting named after the Hubble telescope, a photo of a bison by Eadweard Muybridge, images of the Great Lakes, and the 1970’s music of Neil Young explain about me, a painter from Michigan? Sometimes I am just able to get a real sense of the poetry of it all, and then as quickly as it comes into light it is gone and I am left wondering just what it all means, why do I do what I do? But those flashes, oh those little glimpses are golden. They are the real deal, they are what keeps me working.” 

Kaleva, Michigan painter Richard Kooyman, a graduate of the art program at Ohio State, spends parts of the time in Chicago, Illinois but has his main studio in an old barn in Kaleva. His paintings are informally precise landscapes and cityscapes done with thought and feeling.

Kooyman was born from Dutch immigrant parents. He grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan strongly influenced by his parents’ “foreigners’ mentality” and torn between two languages, Dutch and English. He admits he still doesn’t know the difference between a quarter to twelve and a quarter off twelve. What has this to do with the art he creates? Kooyman says: “This state of uncertainty luckily is one of the places where poetry resides, it is the place where artists straddle with one foot in the conscious and one foot in the subconscious.”

“Not only art is subjective,” says Kooyman. “People are subjective, too, and it is the job of artists to remind us that things are not the way we typically think they are. The music I grew up with in the 1970s represents for me the sound of people who are searching for something, for something different, something more. The Hubble telescope was designed to look where humans were previously unable to look. And Muybridge’s scientific photos were able to show things no one ever had been able to see before. I found these interconnected ideas in the dark, by feeling my way along the walls. It took poetry, a visual type of poetry, to put them together. When you look back on your life, it sometimes seems to make a certain amount of sense; yet when you look forward, you know nothing”.

There was a time when Kooyman thought landscape painting was passé. Kooyman: “Yes, yet over time I learned something. Every day we assume so much in our lives based on what we think we already know. We generalize that a tree trunk is brown. But when you really look at a tree trunk it can be composed of a myriad of colors, including purple. We assume things because it is easier and faster than taking the time to really see something. Seeing is different than looking. Seeing means taking the time to know something well enough that it begins to ground you, and to give you a sense of place. You begin to be able to tell where you are in the world in relationship to those details. And the beauty of place becomes a compass for you.”

“Landscape painting isn’t photography. It isn’t about capturing a scene. Landscape painting is about expressing the poetry of place. A painting that tries to be the place, that tries to be like a photograph, borders on illustration. Illustration by its nature is reassuring and contained and isn’t art because it doesn’t extend consciousness beyond a fixed expectation. To understand art is to comprehend the difference between the words ‘denotation’ and ‘connotation’. Denotation is the literal meaning of a word. Connotation is the idea or feeling a word invokes. Connotation like art is more akin to poetry than prose. Both poetry and prose involve taking the time to look, but poetry asks that you take the time to really see.

Painters explore new combinations, treatments of paint, brush work, and compositions in peculiar and unexpected ways that they may not always understand. Kooyman: “I am led to something new and exciting and even frightening by not knowing where I am going. This is counterintuitive to what I was taught as a child, when I was shown it was important to plan, organize, test, reassess, and have a back-up plan. Some of this I indeed do when I make a painting, but what I really want is to be brave enough to chuck all of it and fly blind. It is only in this type of foggy consciousness, which hovers just above what is subconscious, that poetry is formed. It is our primordial soup. It is the swampy bog of possibilities out of which we crawl to join those who have come before us. T.S. Eliot believed that the poet is formed by the ‘peculiar and unexpected ways’ of the generations that have come before. When the modern poet and the contemporary visual artist put their mark down, they affect all that came before them just as they, in turn, were affected by all who proceeded them. It is like adding your building block to a continuum of changing and growing consciousness. You are formed by what has come before you and you will form those who come after. It is a big, beautiful, cosmic art plan. A big, world changing plan for you, and for me, to participate in.”

Although Kooyman is predominately known as a landscape painter, at Pioneer Bluffs he is showing a body of work he started working on several years ago that is more abstract in nature. The paintings, all oil on mylar, are small poetic abstractions. Some have a landscape influence, some are even titled landscapes. All the work is ultimately about paint and what Kooyman finds so interesting about it.