Unveiling the Rose:
Compositions & Constructions of the Self
By Reem Fadda
The capacity to swirl all references in an organized prism of colors and to create a fixed whirlwind effect, leads us to the question of the origins and context. Let us attempt to start at the beginning. The beginning of all things in this context is “this place”. For the artist Henrik Placht has a solemn attachment to “this place”. It is not merely a reactionary measure; for it has found itself as an expression evoked from all his surroundings, experiences and interpretations in the delicate layers he has created for himself, apparent in his work and his other artistic ventures. He permeates through his art the sensation of a re-birth and a natural connection to it.
The best exemplification of this newly found sense of belonging, away from the mediocre, or the fabricated, is how he has managed to capture some of the real essence of “this place”, jumbled with emotional experiences, which he brings with him from people, incidents or even other places. He then manages to create his own original vernacular through a song of paintings. This connection cannot be deemed merely physical and not either the benign argument of only the spiritual, for this artist knows that “this place” is sick and somber with the extent of its holiness. Jerusalem is wary of its own golden domes, its religious sites and the flux of prayers that lead to nowhere. Jericho cries for normalcy. Ramallah seeks life.
This artist knows all of this, for he too, observes with the eye of he who belongs, the eye that questions “where does all this lead to”? How can we aspire to add to it something from its own folds of reality yet seemingly neglected? The place wants to be redeemed from all its prescribed holy sites, to bring us back to the living. Placht manages to severe the distances from “this place” and holds on to a level of intimate proximity. He breathes in the nostalgia and remnants of olives in the air, yet, with chagrin, he also fights against the unduly humiliation and oppression he experiences mounting before him. This is no heroic claim of a battle. This is also not another case of a visitor’s fascination with his newly found surroundings and not another person ailed with one form or the other of the Jerusalem syndrome.
This is an artist who is capable of delving in the depths of his surroundings and attempting to capture the essence of things. Apparently, it is proven scientifically that the sun shines 310 days of the year on Jerusalem. That’s why its one of the best regarded spaces for filming and photography, because it allows for a play of shadow and light for long durations of time. Through this scientific claim, “this place” would be the source-well for visual seers. The artist had revealed that the source of his inspiration for this explosive group of paintings was a graffiti placed on the doors of a closed shop in Jerusalem, Abu Il Izz’s grocery shop. This graffiti was of color-coordinated streaks, ranging from blue, to red, orange, yellow and finally pink, geometrically spread apart like a reversed pyramid, with sheers of white separating the colors. It evidently alludes to light beams and particularly the sun, especially the way the two contrasting set of streaks are separated, yet boundless and ever reaching, reminiscent of sunsets or sunrises.
In this context, Placht is aware of the details of his surroundings, capturing the very soul of the place from a spread on a window shop! He is capable from that marking point to build an oeuvre of paintings based on applied geometrical abstraction. For Plachts’ paintings draw on the same interplay, of shadow, and light, depth and surface. Some of Placht’s paintings have literally started off from the usage of the streaks as a starting point and evolved in an intricate web of layers of colors, meanings and formations. His multi-layered structures of color evoke the sense of the composition of one’s self; we are what we make of ourselves. We are constructions of our own and that of the circumstantial bidding.
It is quite interesting to examine how the multitude of Plachts’ experiences create an in depth understanding of his theoretical and practical appliances. There is a clear-cut constructivist understanding in the very demeanor of his works. His paintings allude to this constructivist approach, whereby individuals formulate new knowledge(s) from their surrounding experiences, bringing in their own versions of the truth, tinted from their backgrounds, cultures or embedded worldviews.
Placht’s approach towards constructivism, is not only exemplified in his paintings, where geometrical simplification of properties of objects and spatial presences are ever more evident. But the philosophical definition of constructivism, which focuses primarily on key notions like education, is also made obvious with his other artistic engagements. Placht has been dedicated for the past 5 years in the establishment of the International Academy of Art Palestine, a venture that has both its artistic and constructivist connotations in itself. And in avoiding the meager analysis of the motives driving an artist towards the magnitude of such a project, and rather focusing on the due effects of such a project on himself, we can at least sum up that a project of condensation has ensued. How does the artist who has placed himself in such a complex zone of codes and actions articulate his stance, his own rebirth, and his new developed sense of belonging(s)? It is not another mere attempt at bridging East & West. It is a reformulation of ones own traces and makings; it is the manufacturing of the self.
Placht has apparently infused this newly learned set of variables into his artistic practice. He the learner has accumulated from his particular experiences the sensation to reshape all the properties of his visual understandings. It has provided him with much context and this duly has lead to an abundance of formulations of compositions and ideas articulated and culminated ultimately in his layered geometric abstract paintings.
In works such as “Piet” & his series of “Mondrian Republic”, he is on the search for energy and drive of cultures. It leads him time and again to the modernist painter Piet Mondrian, to notions of geometric abstraction and simplification, but also the need to convey the movement and velocity of the surroundings and the happenings from within and without. Light, color, even sound and narrative become translatable in streaks, not unlike the ones on the doors of Abu il Izz’s shop in Jerusalem, and a basis for a prelude of adjoining lines and compositions, reflective of his emergence.
In his search for the idol in this newly found place, it leads him to the doorstep of the known Palestinian artist and art historian Kamal Bouallata, to whom he dedicates and tributes his “Sophronius”. Boullata has been famous for his abstract layered usages of Islamic motifs and Arabic calligraphy in his own paintings. Placht sees Boullata’s clear attempts to universalize the context he comes from and utilize the geometrical and abstract to send notions of harmony and connotations of existentialist thinking. Placht projects that way of thinking through recapturing some of the Islamic artistic strongholds, such as the square, and integrates these harmonious references in his own stylistic expressions. Then, Sophronius not only becomes the mystic and philosopher who valued no interventions in the search for elevation, but also he who drew harmony on earth with his counterparts.
In the search of the self, Placht’s paintings become coded with a map of geographies and references to land, far and near, he merges and locks structures. In the two paintings “To Jericho 1” & “To Jericho 2”, Placht creates an ultimate geometrical abstraction of three intertwined wedges of different colors, adjoined in an intersecting way. This abstract simplification of a landscape is layered with experience and references. Placht’s technique depends on applying coats and layer upon layer to create a stratification of elements. His “Ramallah in me” painting best describes again the complexity of “this place” and the attempt at the recreation of one’s self through it.
The essence of things and the relentless quest for the self thwarts him to the very elements of nature. It is exhilarating to find that the geometry of his paintings have found even further references and allusions in natural elements like diamonds. Through diamonds he has been able to recreate an abundance of geometrical analyses, which he has utilized in his paintings for structural references. Placht applies the different cuts of diamonds, “Eye of the Rose” (Baguette), and “Princess” cut, with the same interplay he has done with his other references. Peoples and places intermingle with the abstract and geometric. Layers transform into new entities of aesthetic and personal meaning. He then sends allusions to the rose, which is of a similar compositional intricateness. Spiraling, this rose leads us again to the core of things. For behind, his diamond-like princesses, his gemstones, his beloved places, lies the answer. And “Under the Rose” is Abu il Izz’s shop again. The eye of the rose for him will always mean “this place”, which he equates with the newly found and constructed self.