A Studio Visit with Claude van Lingen
by Kevin Ivester
As I approached the front step of Claude van Lingen’s home studio, I could hear one of his totem-like television installations blaring from inside. He opened the door and politely invited me in as the chaotic sounds of our 24-hour news cycle grew louder. Nearly every wall is covered with his wild pencil drawings, flood debris from Austin’s riverbeds and torn paper. Yet among the noise and confusion van Lingen simply switched off the television and asked me how I would like to begin.
Why must we fight so viciously today over issues that will be trivial in 1000 years? And why do we place our own interests above the interests of our communities?
He revealed to me during our short tour around his home his life’s work, from his early paintings as a student, to the most recent experiments of his 1000-year project. It was immediately apparent that even in his early years, van Lingen was not afraid to explore unexpected mediums, if the concept called for it. He insists that his principle concern when making artwork is to vigilantly analyze the world around him, and then to react.
In 1978, van Lingen visited an art supply store, which carried about ten different paint manufacturers. The variety had him wondering, “How similar or different would each brand be, and how would each addition appear in contrast to the previous years after one, a hundred, or a thousand years?” This reflection on a seemingly insignificant paint display, led to twelve paintings. The 18 x 13 in. paintings consist of 1,000 layers of one of the brands of paint van Lingen saw that day. They each have their own unique quality, but they all share a sense of incredible weight. The paintings sparked his 1000 Years From Now works.
Over the past forty years, the 1000 Years From Now project has continued to evolve. Two more studies that were direct results of his observations in the art supply store are still under construction, and will continue to be until the year 2,978, and 2,985 respectively. The objective for both of these offshoot studies is to fill each of the 1,000 rectangles van Lingen has outlined. The 1,000 rectangles correspond to each of the 1,000 years from the initiation of the study, to its conclusion.
In the study beginning in 1979, the rectangles on two panels will be filled with gold or silver pieces. This piece not only questions the effects of the passage of time, but also the value of the medium van Lingen has chosen to employ over the set amount of time. In the second study, which was begun in 1986, the gold and silver pieces are replaced with swatches of paint. The study is repeated with 15 specific colors on 15 separate panels. Not even a tenth into the task of filling the panels, the visualization of the spaces left empty is humbling.
Van Lingen’s sensitivity to his surroundings, coupled with the choice of medium is essential while considering his work. As exhibited in the annual gold and silver panels, and the annual paintings, the distinctions in medium directly affect the concept. On one hand, the gold and silver pieces will gain value over time, whereas the physical attributes of the paint are predicted to deteriorate over the same amount of time.
Each word’s fight for space sends a clear message about the complications of the issues breached.
As 1000 Years From Now has persevered and evolved, the project’s significant social, political and environmental positions are also essential to consider. Van Lingen was born in South Africa and witnessed apartheid divide his country, he fled the conflict to New York in 1978. When asked about his works message, van Lingen speaks gravely about our society’s inability to put our own issues into perspective. Why must we fight so viciously today over issues that will be trivial in 1000 years? And why do we place our own interests above the interests of our communities?
His frustrations with the anger he once witnessed in South Africa, and now in America becomes clear in the tattered drawings of the Conflict Series, which also fall under the overarching 1000 Years From Now banner. The drawings are easily recognizable from across the room. Aggressive pencil marks, which seem to spiral and cut incoherently, almost completely blanket the paper with graphite. In areas, the paper has been torn apart by the strokes, and in some of the work, the damage is so severe that the pulverized paper has begun to collect along the bottom of the frame that houses them.
Claude van Lingen’s near half-century career as an artist has produced daring examples of the artist turning the world outward on itself.
When approached closer, the scribbling becomes recognizable as overlapping written word. In the piece 9/11. The Aftermath, the name of every casualty of the war in Afghanistan is still being added to the already saturated page. I Am Right, You Are Wrong features those six words repeated again and again on top of each other. The Countries of the World, contains the 196 countries of the world written out. Each word’s fight for space sends a clear message about the complications of the issues breached.
In the wake of the devastating 2015 and 2016 floods that wreaked havoc in Central Texas, van Lingen was there again to observe and reflect on the events that unfolded. Charcoal, acrylic and the debris that washed through Austin’s riverbeds form the haunting compositions of The Disaster Series. Each effort to recreate the destruction seems to convey the helplessness of the situation. A similar survey was performed in reaction to Hurricane Sandy striking the Northeast United States in 2012. Again, the observation and medium was critical to portray the seven drawings dedicated to Hurricane Sandy. A stone was harshly scraped across paper, which was soaked in water for two to three days, and dirt from the areas affected was collected and applied repeatedly to the already battered surface with the name “Sandy.”
In his most recent years, van Lingen has elected to reflect the world as purely as possible. In 2013, an installation consisting of 40 narrow strips of mirrors, which were suspended by threads from the ceiling, was unveiled at Co-Lab. Four televisions set to different cable news channels were then projected onto the reflective, spinning surfaces. The visual and audible disorientation of the intersecting broadcasts plainly depicted what modern life has become.
Claude van Lingen’s near half-century career as an artist has produced daring examples of the artist turning the world outward on itself. He maintains that the most important element to produce successful artwork is to first observe, then to react.
In 2017, van Lingen will show in two exhibitions in Austin. The first show will include Hollis Hammonds and Jenn Hassin, held at grayDuck Gallery on East Cesar Chavez Street in April. Then in September, a solo retrospective show will be held at Demo Gallery on Congress Street.
“Think of the world around you, think of your fellow man… But forget it.”
It is not a reflection of who he is, it is a reflection of the world around him.