Bending Time: The Art of Sam Van Olffen
Van Olffen’s interest in history, politics, and current events heavily surfaces on the canvas, and, if not meant to transmit a message, certainly is telling about his passions and interests- though not his beliefs. “Politically speaking, my compositions don't reflect my thoughts. It's not because I make a picture on North Korea that I am a communist, or if I make a bio-mechanical Hitler that I am a national socialist, it is more a proof of complete freedom as an artist not to marry an ideological point of view.” This same view also carries over to his works involving religious scenarios and icons. Discussing this, Van Olffen articulates, “In terms of religious connotation, it's quite simple. Jean Clair, former curator of the museums of France, has a very precise thought about the subject: ‘we are past the culture of cult to the cult of culture.’ By culture in France, in our century, we must understand ephemeral art, street theater and other humbug subsidized by public money. At a time when everyone claims to be an artist, you can easily imagine the damage when everyone has their own masterpiece! That's why coming back to fundamentals like religious themes is, I think, a form of resistance in our century where all combines to make you even more stupid.”
Intelligent, insightful, and possessing a sharp memory, Van Olffen brims with the innovation of generations of artists, paying respect to virtuosos and historical figures of all breeds. Accrediting the 16th century Venetians architecture and the Flemish for their interpretation of light as influences for him, Van Olffen references them as personal inspirations. Conceptually speaking, he has savored and absorbed the writing of Céline and Léon Bloy, whom he says have changed his approach to reality.
Though respecting and being swayed by several past creators, Van Olffen puts his own spin into his work as well as envisioning how he would edit other traditional paintings. Referencing the Annunciation of Fra Angelico of the XVth Century, he points out that, in a highly stylized manner, the angel on the canvas is draped in renaissance clothing. “If I had to make an Annunciation,” he begins, “I would do it through the prism of our era coupled with the past centuries. I would depict Gabriel or Saint Michael as a modern angel, with a tattoo and a leather jacket, or an Armani suit.” Favoring “being figurative rather than lost in abstraction,” Van Olffen seems to have a passion for modernizing archaic images and concepts--breaking the confines of time, allowing centuries to fuse. His art is described as “Apocalyptic,” yet many of his images are riddled with the romantic.
Winding cables around a bizarre love scene, Van Olffen’s work Pygmalion exemplifies the delicate balance of which he is known for. At the top of the painting loose chords drape alongside sheer, pulled back curtains. A woman, standing nude, hidden behind smoke and mist, reaches out towards a bouquet of pale pink flowers. A man in a gas mask, half machine, half human, uses a tripod metal hand to present the roses to her, looking with a hopeful glance. Face tilted and beaming with love and fulfillment—motherly, even—the woman, with pulled back hair, looks like an illusion. Her feet are not seen. Perhaps she is “Galatea,” the creation of Pygmalion. Perhaps she’s a projected image, a composition of organized lights standing as an unattainable object of desire. Whatever it means, whatever the spectator understands it to be, there is one thing that is certain: this is a Van Olffen original, a romantic anachronism- a clock ticking counter-clockwise.