Proximities: New Works by Rob de Oude

by Paul Corio

The functions of the healthy eye are predictable, reliable and efficient. Some postulate it to be the sense via which we gather upwards of 90% of our data about the world – meaning that its consistent performance is the principle criteria for our plans and decisions, from the most trivial right up matters of life and death. For all its nearly mechanical precision, however, the world presents certain phenomena that it simply cannot process without difficulty, disorientation and error. The moiré pattern is a prime example of such an exception – a notorious historical bugbear for textile designers, photographers, commercial printers, and computer programmers.

When two or more patterns of similar constitution are laid over one another slightly off register, it creates a dilemma that the otherwise indefatigable eye can’t process. The result is a kind of displeasure that some characterize as pain. This particular exception to the otherwise routine rules of visual perception is the space in which Rob de Oude’s current work thrives.

Pain, however metaphorical, would seem to be a dicey place for an artist to begin. Unless one is either a sado-masochist or straining to make a socio-political statement, it can be safely assumed that aesthetic or intellectual pleasure is the natural objective for such a project. But pain, harnessed and edited by an eye and hand that’s astute, constitutes a kind of visual pleasure of the most unexpected and thrilling kind – tantamount to the type of pleasure one might experience on an especially tall roller-coaster, or at a genuinely scary horror film, or while eating an impossibly hot pepper. De Oude manages to turn pain into a kind of manic exuberance – his pictures are aesthetically and emotionally challenging, but at the same time infectious, urgent, and slyly witty.

The question, then, is how does de Oude affect this pain-as-pleasure conversion? The answer might be found in Ernst Gombrich’s The Sense of Order, in which the author suggests that the key to the enduring and cross-cultural appeal of pattern in art and design resides in the make-up of the mind itself. The human brain, Gombrich says, is built to solve problems – at root, the problems associated with survival. When the brain is at rest, this urge doesn’t subside, which provides a reliable explanation for the appeal of crossword puzzles and other concentration- driven activities that would upon first analysis seem at odds with the concept of leisure time. Pattern too easily understood, like a checkerboard, soon results in boredom. Chaos, while momentarily compelling, doesn’t present the active brain with a soluble problem, which in the end has the same result: boredom. Like the great arabesques of the best Islamic pattern designers, de Oude’s pictures present the viewer with something intuitively understandable as a repeating system, but the system refuses to give up its secret as to exactly what the repeating unit is, and where it begins and ends. The variety that de Oude routinely achieves in his fields means that even smaller scale pictures can be explored and revisited again and again, each time yielding new visual pleasures.

De Oude’s means are deceptively simple. Two, and occasionally three colors are arranged in sets of stripes of equal width and spacing. At least one set runs parallel to two of the picture’s framing edges, and subsequent groups are overlaid slightly

off of the horizontal or vertical axis. The number of sets of stripes involves minimal planning – each one is a response to the previous group. De Oude proceeds in this way until he determines the picture is finished, which is a decision that is purely

intuitive and aesthetically derived. Some paintings take shape in a relatively smaller number of passes, others are more densely layered and create surprising “artifacts” – the term used for the odd, unaccountable hiccups that begin to turn up in a heavily edited Photoshop file. When the color groupings have strong value contrast, the resulting grid crackles with aggressive energy (“pain”). Closer-valued color groupings result in a more atmospheric space – the effect is chromatically lush and painterly even though the execution is hard-edged.

The spatial organization created by these overlapping groups of stripes is unitary, but also filled with incident. The all-overness suggests Pollock, but the individual events that occur within de Oude’s matrix are quite different than Pollock’s loops and skeins. De Oude’s web organizes itself into smaller pattern groupings that momentarily repeat, but ultimately break down only to form new groups that set off the same false alarm. The sub-groups often seem to be melting in and out of one another, like a fade from one scene in a film to another. These phenomena are pointedly exemplified in the impressive and always shifting Proximities and Parameters from 2014: The overarching grid forms small clusters of squares (more accurately described as parallelograms) which organize themselves into four-unit groups, then nine, and occasionally into extended horizontal configurations, and, on the right side, into long verticals scrolls. The logic is relentless, and yet the picture is filled with surprise.

De Oude’s fellow Dutchman Willem de Kooning once commented that the true subject of abstract painting is space. I’ve always thought this quote was a simple and wonderful antidote to the idea that abstract painting was “painting-about-nothing,” and saved one from having to rhetorically draw the contentious and subtle distinction between content and subject matter. De Oude’s pictures are above all else a paean to pictorial space. His space evinces a certain tradition in painting – from Cezanne through Cubism to Pollock - but also embraces more than a century’s worth of technology, from early half-tone printing through to the ubiquitous screens of present-day computers and handheld devices. Most interestingly, the paintings report back about the instances when all of these technologies, old and new, are not functioning exactly as planned. This report isn’t offered as a dire critique, however – quite the opposite, it shows the extent to which visual pleasure can be found in the most unlikely places. De Oude finds a quirky kind of beauty in particular corners of the dominant landscape of the 21st have always admired and painted the landscape of their own eras. The principal and compelling difference in de Oude’s landscapes, however, is that they have essentially nothing to do with nature.

Paul Corio

March, 2014


Rob de Oude: TILT at Galerie Gourvennec Ogor, 11/15/2012 - 01/05/2013

Rob de Oude makes straight lines bend. He achieves this perceptual effect through a rigorous and meticulous painting process, layering and weaving matrices of straight lines until, between the contrasting colors and crisscrossing patterns, grids begin to bow and warp. This visual slight, a more painterly and maximalist type of Op art, tricks the eye through sheer ocular overload. In an age of unabated visional stimulation, these super-imposed networks speak of digital delirium, increased connectivity between disparate points and, perhaps most crucially, unbridled visual pleasure.

Much like a web — whether of fiber-optic cables or spider-spun silk — de Oude’s compositions have a seductive power that’s difficult to escape. Indeed, each piece reveals more of itself the longer viewers’ eyes remain caught in its patterns. The many precise and overlapping threads begin to separate and become distinct, previously unnoticed hues emerge, and the compositions seem to shape-shift and spin as viewers parse the works’ optical static. The latticework of lineaments slowly reveals its inner logic.

De Oude’s paintings demand contemplative and close engagement beyond their immediately gripping visual tricks. Looking at a piece can induce a trance-like immersion not unlike his painting process. A surprisingly simple rig with clamps and ruled edges allows for an infinite variety of fine lines applied in dozens of layers over a base of airbrushed neon clouds. By juxtaposing contrasting hues, he builds up a complex mesh whose individual strands can only be teased out on close inspection.

For his exhibition at Galerie Gourvennec Ogor, de Oude will be showcasing four series of works, two of which are recent developments in his practice and feature the tilted perspectives that give the show its title. In addition to sets of large canvases and wall pieces, he has begun experimenting with rotated canvases for his newest and brightest medium-sized paintings. Full of competing shapes and shifting colors, these canted works throw the composition further off balance, suggesting new potential horizons. And in sharp contrast to recent pieces dominated by Day-Glo blues, lime greens and radioactive yellows, de Oude has pared down his palette to create his first series of monochrome paintings. Without the complex interplay of colors, these works focus attention on line and geometry in a manner that evokes the likes of Bridget Riley or Victor Vasarely.

In all four series featured here, however, de Oude demonstrates his prodigious talent for turning rigid grids into enveloping nets. What he calls attention to, above all else, is how willingly our eyes can be seduced from linear ways of thinking and looking into swirling patterns of color and webs of lines designed to ensnare vision. As we let ourselves become lost in the grids, like optical flâneurs wandering a boundless maze, previously invisible images shift into focus.

Rob de Oude was born in the Netherlands and studied at Amsterdam’s Hoge School voor de Kunsten and SUNY Purchase in New York. He currently lives in Brooklyn and has his studio in Queens, where he is also the co-director of the gallery Parallel Art Space. - Benjamin Sutton, art critic for Art Info


Imagine if Georges Seurat decided to copy Frank Stella and Agnes Martin. - John Haber/haberarts.com


Rob de Oude creates abstract paintings built from the most basic visual element, the line. He has devised handmade rigs in his studio that allow him to precisely measure and systematically paint row upon row of lines on his canvasses. By introducing shifting angles and layers of new color, he establishes self-generating patterns of rhythm and a relentless sense of motion. These layers of tightly spaced bands of color and collisions of angled lines produce changing optic effects, including moiré patterns that make his surfaces vibrate with an underlying energy. There is a scientific, mathematical basis to de Oude’s paintings, but also, an unexpected social, even spiritual aspect. He draws inspiration from pioneering abstract painters of the last century whose work embodied visionary, utopian ideas, among them, El Lissitzky, Malevich and Mondrian. Like these pioneering abstract painters, de Oude is dedicated to rigorous formal experimentation. But through the interplay of difference and repetition in each work - and more recently in his groupings of paintings - he evokes social networks, and the possibility of individual elements working together to create something anew. -Elizabeth Ferrer (for Mystics at BRIC Rotunda Gallery)


The story of Apelles and Protogenes, as told by Pliny.

It provides an excellent illustration of aesthetic pleasure independent of the subject treated by the artist [...] Apelles arrived one day on the island of Rhodes to see the works of Protogenes, who lived there. Protogenes was not in his studio when Apelles arrived. Only an old woman was there, keeping watch over a large canvas ready to be painted. Instead of leaving his name, Apelles drew on the canvas a line so fine that one could hardly imagine anything more perfect.

On his return, Protogenes noticed the line and, recognizing the hand of Apelles, drew on top of it another line in a different color, even more subtle than the first, thus making it appear as if there were three lines on the canvas. Apelles returned the next day, and the subtlety of the line he drew then made Protogenes despair. That work was for a long time admired by connoisseurs, who contemplated it with as much pleasure as if, instead of some barely visible lines, it had contained representations of gods and goddesses.

More on Apelles from Wikipedia


Brow undoubtedly glistening with beads of sweat as one walks down a worn, navy blue carpeted hallway on the sweltering opening night, the corner is turned to find the door to unit 409 wide open. This is Arts and Sciences Project’s latest exhibition, showcasing the work of Brooklyn artist Rob de Oude. The viewer is greeted upon entering by a vibrantly pigmented wall-drawing behind five tightly hung sixteen inch square panels in white shadow box frames.

These works are joined in the gallery by more intimate drawings on paper in colored pencil, a larger painting on canvas, and a small video projection of an outdoor installation. Even in this smaller space, de Oude has a way of making what could be a bombardment of visual information quite cohesive.

Restricting himself to a linear articulation indicative of high modernism with an approach that seems to lend itself to process art and in the color palette of a young post-Ab Ex generation, Rob de Oude seems very comfortable bringing disparate parts together. His oeuvre, widely ranging in media, holds together formally in his inclination towards dryly-calculated linear articulations. Most attractive here are the smaller works of oil on panel.

These works reveal themselves slowly. Intense in hue saturation, intermeshings of planar structures unfold before the viewer’s eye. As time is taken to understand the paint layer by layer, the initially confrontational line collisions give way to reveal deeply receding, self-reflective spaces that invite viewer contemplation.

In this way, the works operate spatially as if each were a murky gem. They are able to be understood both for their convex physical appearance of rigid structure but also as spaces to be looked into- ponderously self-reflective matrices of competing color.

Each additive line laid down obscuring a wealth of information that came before it, every move of this process-driven work seems conscious of skillfully manipulating painting contradictions. Installation decisions further enforce this sentiment. The small paintings hung over the mural operate much in the same way as each of his lines, adding to the complexity of the overall composition by obscuring the information which came first. Inherently an additive process, this is as much about the work on view as it points to the addition/negation aspect of all painterly creation.

De Oude’s most abundant skill lies in corralling seemingly contradictory art themes to his advantage. The artist has a knack for creating work that attracts the eye with a brightly arresting outward appearance but holds the viewer’s attention through recognition of an academic pursuit of his visual idea. Like much painting work, his creations are harmed greatly by the flattening effect our addiction to technology forces upon us in the proliferation of art via jpeg. The sensitivity to color and space de Oude produces in his paintings are greatly rewarded through patient viewing in situ. Finding the meaty substance therein may take a few moments. The return however, will be worth the wait. Arts and Sciences Projects. June 9th- 26th 2011. - Matthew Hassel, Critic for NYArts Magazine


Rob de Oude’s paintings exist in the inter-space between methodology and intuition, between applied mathematics and rendered curiosity. De Oude’s paintings are composed entirely through the systematic layering, at varied and formulaic intervals, of straight lines of paint across stretched canvas or wood panel. These lines, like the interwoven lattice of tapestry or a “God’s Eye”, intersect at various points across the picture plane. Our eye “reads” these random yet regularly spaced points in concert, optically contributing to the work by visually “completing” the forms that are suggested therein; octagons, diamonds or in the case of this current body of work, crosses and cross outs.

The works in Crisscrosses + Cross Outs, share the central compositional element of a cross or letter X, which is indicated as much by paint applied as by under-painting revealed, a wonderful interplay between positive and negative shape. Intimating playful “tic-tac-toe” gestures, prohibitory X marks, and the placid, conservational movements of the windmills of the Dutch artists homeland, these shapes vibrate from background into fore, disintegrating just as others come sharply into focus.

All of these readings can be considered “correct” as the abstract artist stakes his claim less in the objectified end result of his work and more in the integrity and execution of his process. By applying the same set of mark-making and interval spacing to each of the four sides of his canvas, de Oude commits to a follow through that combines the intuitive with the systematic, and takes an idea or theory, through rigorous and exacting movements into actualized reality. The resultant totemic work straddles the line between art and optical science, with a process of discovery that is often the same for the viewer as it is for the artist, himself. - Enrico Gomez, Writer & Art Critic (written for Crisscrosses + Cross Outs at Arts & Sciences Projects)


“In de Oude's works, straight lines are placed with mathematical precision and are layered to create dense systems of pattern. Found and readily available materials such as construction tape and mirrors are re-imagined as tools for transforming space. Though painstakingly precise, de Oude's drawing process inherently lends itself to errors of the hand and mind. Rather than considering such missteps as destructive, they are instead used to guide a new direction in each work, allowing for a more complex matrix to unfold." - Lauren van Haaften-Schick, curator