Valentin Van Der Meulen’s work depicts powerful images of people, often in pain, in which he develops his subjects then rubs out or obscures their faces. Rather than causing confusion or distancing the viewer, Van Der Meulen’s figures seem more immediate and personal. The artists gestural marks upon the finished image bring the viewer into arm’s reach of the subject.
His most disturbing image, to me, was the figure of an infant who had been partly erased. Was the child never really there? Was he unimportant enough to never become a finished image? Was the violence upon the canvas to be visited upon the child portrayed?
I began to ruminate upon the plight of innocents everywhere. Children live in an unsafe adult world and are at the mercy of their caretakers. Children in war-torn Syria and children in urban ghettos in the United States have only glimmers of childhood amid the violence that is their biggest reality. I saw a news report of a Syrian soccer coach who continued to teach his pupils when there was a lull in the fighting. Their lessons took place upon a field riddled with bomb craters. These musings led me to contemplate the meaning of the word playground – a safe playground in a calm neighborhood versus a place to play carved out from a war zone.
I thought of wire fences. They delineate the boundaries of a playing field, but can also look sinister in an area of danger. I gessoed a couple of pieces of Bristol board and took the wet paper outside to spray paint through a couple of pieces of grating. I wanted a design suggestive of a dilapidated fence.
My paint was green and I wanted some contrast so I sprinkled powdered charcoal through the grate into the wet gesso.
The grating stencils impart the idea of a playground gone wrong, but I wanted to be a bit more literal and show children in the image. The green paint and charcoal would be difficult to draw over, so I drew a playground with children using graphite on drawing paper.
To obscure the image I used metallic paint, thinking that it would be a softer contrast than black and that it would coordinate with the graphite in the drawing. I put the drawing under the grating and sprayed on the paint. Not good!
I sprayed a tad too much and ended up with a ghostly image of children at play. I went back over the drawing with a pencil. It lacks contrast. I considered putting the drawing behind the black and green stenciled drawing and ripping an opening but think that the silver drawing is too far removed from the heavy darkness of the green and black drawing.