Long Lines Through Time

Mark Kremer (2010)

Erik Odijk makes drawings in his studio and in situ at exhibitions where he draws on the wall. Nature is the protagonist in his oeuvre. The artist roams through untamed landscapes and recapitulates the experience of place in his work. His drawn landscapes have a rugged charm. The multilayered graphic style makes tangible the tendrils of time and their slow entwining of nature. The style is a traditional one; in formal respects, it recalls the hallucinating quality of line in the landscapes of Jan Toorop in his Symbolist period. Erik Odijk depicts the vitality and the darkness of nature. His work is suffused with the idea that the real experience of nature is a euphoric one which is denied to us by our civilized lifestyle. This is why photography is gaining a more prominent role in his present work. Erik Odijk has recently been compiling photographic series relating to his landscape walks. These add an objective angle on the place experience : the photographs are a counterpoint to the drawings, and so expand his study of the experience of nature in the 21st century.

The oeuvre of Erik Odijk (b. 1959) has its roots in the 1980s. It was a time of original, plastic oeuvres that arose partly in reaction to the iconoclastic reflex of Conceptualism. In Erik Odijk’s work we may also recognize a certain conceptual asceticism, but it is combined with its opposite – a formal, almost Baroque or Symbolist, exuberance. It discloses a wish to combine tradition and modernity. In his early work, as he was developing a visual idiom, Erik Odijk is a traditionalist. He is a typical artist of the Eighties in that he endeavours to establish long, connecting lines through time (in the same way as adherents of the Neo‐styles). In the Dutch context, he shares this interest with such contemporaries Jan van de Pavert, Fortuyn/O’Brien and Harmen Brethouwer, each of whom focuses in a distinct way on aspects of modern culture and its forebears. Nature and the experience of nature give Erik Odijk a lens to zoom in onto the intersection of tradition with modernity. He makes this explicit in his artist’s texts, for example by describing what happens when he seeks the wilderness in nature reserves where nature has become little more than a backdrop.

Erik Odijk’s artistic stance is a Romantic one. He cites Richard Long as an important artistic reference. His own oeuvre is a reflection of the individual experience, especially of nature, and attempts to reproduce it. Yet it is saturated with awareness of the impossibility of doing so, of the radical boundary that separates an intense experience from the act of communicating it. Retreating into nature, and the longing to become one with it, are hallmarks of classic Romanticism. The Romantic era saw the rise of a new paradigm in which a consensus based on rational thought was usurped by the idea of difference, and the acceptance of difference, based on personal sensation. But the discovery of an individual sensual and emotional world by poets, philosophers and artists, had a strongly reflective component. People were fascinated by the realm of sensation, a zone where, unencumbered by ratio, one might experience freedom. At the same time they were well aware that, in that world, the individual moved ever closer to his own personal precipice; as was illustrated by the character Lenz in the 1832 novella by Georg Büchner, who, submitting totally to his emotions (and hence nature) finds them irresistible yet eventually fatal. Lenz is a warning to us. As in the Romantic era, artists of today embrace the notion of the Romantic but preserve a little distance from it. In his nature walks, Erik Odijk knows where the precipice lies, because it has a safety railing. His oeuvre raises the question of the part played by the romanticism of nature, and makes it clear why even today we cannot manage without it.

The oeuvre of Erik Odijk is important because of its trenchant portrayal of one of today’s great issues: our changing perception of nature. His work catches us out with the divided feelings of the nature explorer, who cannot resist the call of the wilderness yet knows that every step taken could add to its destruction. The inner conflicts felt by this artist/explorer emerge with conviction in Erik Odijk’s writings when he refers the appeals to nature that appear so frequently in our culture. In his statement for the 2007 study tour Power of Place in the United States of America, he wrote:
“Arcadian duality is a theme that concerns me deeply. There are two kinds of Arcadia – raw or gentle, dark or light; the pastoral Arcadia of good taste, harmony and moderate form, as against the untamed, coarse, alarming Arcadia of the wilderness. People have always needed both forms and still do. City parks, and landscape parks in urban areas, are part of the genteel Arcadia. They are locations for leisure, recreation and social intercourse – social places with social trees, social hills and social lakes, with the added attraction of social amenities and infrastructure. But there is also a need for ‘wild’ nature. That need underlies the trend towards transforming our Arcadian farmlands into a semblance of wild nature. Dykes are breached to create riverine woodlands, which are exposed to and shaped by the raw forces of nature and are complete with a fauna of ‘wild’ animals which are left to their own devices. Where is the boundary between the wellordered, safe landscape of gardens, parks and farmland, and the raw, uncivilized, ‘inhospitable’ landscape that people fear? Does that boundary even exist?”