"Time is Movement in Space"
"Time is to place, what eternity is to time"

Joseph Joubert
(French moralist and essayist)

Classical physics tells us that a distance of one meter in space is always one meter. In quantum physics one meter is also one meter, but the elimination of distance, or the approximation or acceptance of something, changes that object or at least contains a wider spectrum of interpretative possibilities, so that the comparative of focused concretization is a well facetted ambiguity in the sense of quantum physics.

Nigel Van Wieck's works function in a similar manner. On first glance we seem to see just what we see. The realistic pictures reveal for us a view of people on a beach, or at work, or involved in recreational activities, or in their domestic surroundings, or in public places. However, as we approach them they lose their unequivocal nature and one begins to ask oneself what is it that we see, or much more if this is everything we see?

Van Wieck has been living and working in New York, USA, since 1979. The fact that the artist is actually English is not apparent, in the least not in his works. They recall too much the works of American Realist artists, with whom he came in contact with after moving to America. At first it was the American Realist paintings of the late 19th century that impressed Van Wieck, such as those of Thomas Eakins or Winslow Homer. But even stronger was his fascination with the work of Edward Hopper, whose art he thought was exemplary and in whom he perceived a kindred spirit. The comparison between the oeuvre of Hopper and Van Wieck has understandably often been drawn. In fact there are numerous parallels between Hopper's often isolated and introverted figures who are caught in an urban tristesse and the equally singular figures in Van Wieck's work. Moreover, the artists are united in their frequent depiction of empty places, in their clear compositional structure and in a fascination with sharp light and shadow effects. But Van Wieck's pictures seem more optimistic, his protagonists are, in spite of their isolation, less melancholy than Hopper's protagonists. Although figures such as the young woman who looks dreamily out to sea in Van Wieck's Here Comes Tomorrow are characterized by a strange melancholy, her momentary loneliness is voluntary and not ordained by society, nor indeed caused by herself. Characteristically, the figures in his works do not seem to be so inextricably caught up in their situation as in Hopper's, but are merely caught at a specific moment in time. Thus, the central objective of his art is not to dissect American society, but to create subtle snapshots of the "American way of Life", whose sense of distance and lack of movement make them seem all the more penetrating. What is exciting about the pictures is the indefiniteness of the narrative context, the puzzle as to what came before and after each painted moment. This lack of articulation in the holding up of time gives the works a cinematographic quality and makes their nearness to cinema more than clear. In this respect Sunday Evening is one of the most exciting pictures, as it draws our attention above all because of its viewer's perspective: the steep viewing angle through a tripartite window into a couple's apartment could almost be a "film still" from Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window.[1]

The same formal strategy of directing the view from a point on high is exploited by Van Wieck in Mulberry Street and Bellevue Avenue. While we observe a boy in the former who is about to climb the wall of a cemetery in bright sunlight, in the latter there is a night scene illuminated by a street lamp where a women with a dog on a leash enters the beam of light. As if we were located in one of the surrounding houses, we gaze down at the street scene and become secret observers of the event. But it is not as if we actually saw something we were not supposed to see - this is not a voyeuristic view of something forbidden, disreputable or perverse. On the contrary, it is ordinariness that we gaze on as viewers in Van Wieck's works: a couple sharing an evening together, a boy playing or just a woman walking her dog

However, although Van Wieck makes the seemingly arbitrary the pictorial motif of his pictures, they are nevertheless filled with a strange tension. This stems on the one hand from a lack of narrative attributes already noted, which allows space for interpretation, and on the other from the formal compositional design. With the help of interesting angles of view, their seemingly spontaneous selection and the overlapping of motifs - all of which are reminiscent of the French Impressionists - the artist introduces his subjects into the scene. As a result, what are in part central motifs are pushed aside, whilst other seemingly less significant objects are given a - in the literal sense of the word - dominant presence. In Catch the day the probably in reality rather prosaic architecture becomes a massive, monumental architectural object that launches itself with its wooden planks into the picture like a ship's bow. The strolling couple to the left of the picture - actually the picture's main subject - serves almost entirely only to make the dimensions clear, like a dimensional study, whereby the bright red dress of the woman also introduces a coloristic accent. It is in a work like this that the artist's coloristic virtuosity becomes apparent, which he employs with a multitude of iridescent color nuances to conjure up a sunny sky, bright sunlit strands or cool architecture before our eyes.

Nigel Van Wieck, who was born in the Unitied Kingdom in Bexley, Kent, in 1949 and received his training at the Hornsey College of Art in London, which alongside the Royal Academy of Arts is one of the most reputable institutes of art in the English capital and which served as a spring board for numerous other successful artists such as Richard Wentworth or Anish
Kapoor. After initial artistic works, which were in the area of figurative art, the artist soon turned to the Kinetic Art. Eventually, enlarging the mechanical movement by an aspect, he began to experiment with light, particularly neon light, which he exploited as an artistic medium. Turning from light art (in the sense of light as an artistic medium) meant, however, by no means a turning away from his intensive study of this phenomenon of light. Rather, Van Wieck began to study the compositional use of light in the works of the Old Masters and to gather inspiration for his own paintings. The artist cites the Dutch painter Jan Vermeer in particular as one of his great role models. No wonder then that Vermeer's painting not only stands out for its attention to detail but also because of its subtle use of lighting which accentuates important compositional elements and hence helps enunciate the narrative and guide interpretation.

Influenced by these past masters, the contrasting play of light and shade plays a leading role in many of Van Wieck's pictures. Here it does not matter whether its is a night piece like Bellevue Avenue or Summer Song, or where the scenes depicted on the basis of back light allow for strong chiaroscuro contrasts such as in the case of The Leaf Blower or Sunday Call. Light is used as a gleaming carpet especially often - as in Places - that spreads over the entire picture. A fine example of this can be found in Escape, South Beach, and the already mentioned Catch the Day or A Hot Day.

The shining bright sunlight in the works contributes to our positive and pleasant impression of the pictures. Nevertheless, because of this at first glance so undetermined atmosphere it also leaves an indefinite feeling of restlessness and evokes perplexity particularly through the representation of a seemingly perfect world. This ambivalence is what gives these pictures their added tension and lifts them above their trivial ordinariness.

As in his earlier works, Van Wieck also swings in Places between a merely hinted at representation of people, in which the features and body form of his figures are summarily indicated, and concrete physiognomic description. However, neither are Van Wieck's figures conceived as portraits, nor are they interchangeable stereotypes. The protagonists who are not clearly indicated in their physiognomic presence rather offer a surface of identification for the viewers themselves. Two pictures shall be named as examples of a strong portrait-like approach: Between Dreams and Eyes Open. In both works a direct look at the naked female body is offered, whereby anonymity and indefiniteness of the physiognomic description have now given way to an individual identity. While in Eyes Open a young woman presents her body to the viewer in a casual pose on a sofa and even invites direct eye contact, the woman in Between Dreams is more reserved. She is sitting naked in front of a large mirror, her legs stretched out, supporting her torso with her arms and turning towards the mirror standing on the ground. Those parts of her body that are hidden from the viewer by her posture are revealed by her reflection in the mirror. And also the room in which she finds herself is hinted at least rudimentarily in the reflections in the mirror. The woman stares thoughtfully at her reflection. What is she thinking? Why is she sitting there? Is she posing for a painter and has she used a lull period to allow her thoughts to wander? Is she thinking about her situation, her dreams perhaps as the title suggests? As always with Van Wieck there are no answers, but as is well known, it is the questions that count and not the answers.

A direct interaction with the viewer such as in Eyes Open remains an exception in Van Wieck's oeuvre. One of the leitmotifs in the pictures of Places is far more a cocooning, an introversion, withdrawal, in an inner sense of being. The artist turns not to the overpopulated beaches or the busy districts of the city, but to motifs and places where one has the opportunity to be alone. These are "resting places" were people tend to linger, where they have time to themselves and to enjoy, in part oblivious of the presence of others. The pictorial titles evoke again and again a confrontation with oneself or seem in part like a positive self-affirmation (Catch the Day, There is Only Now, Here Comes Tomorrow).

For the works of his series Places, moreover, the artist has moved outside to find his pictorial motifs, just as he did in his most recent works that were shown under the title Labor Day [2]. Photographs or rapidly drawn sketches of certain places serve him here as aids for the compositions he later completed. The title Places - in other words locations, spots, localities - recurs, however, not just in the actual tangible spatial situations. Places also refer, seen from a lexicographical-geographical point of view, to a collection of points that are characterized by specific geometrical attributes and whose positions relative to one another are determined by a system of reference set in context, whereby the system of coordinates serves as an established means to present location in pictorial form. Van Wieck's works are almost painterly systems of reference, however with the difference that they not only allow for a spatial dimension, but also a temporal as well as a metaphorical one. As if in a system of coordinates, Van Wieck determines his protagonists in spatially verifiable urban locations, but also binds them into of temporal reference system that captures a specific moment, that predetermines a chronological location of the individual. In the third instance he lays a system of coordinates over the individual itself, by mapping out its interior in a metaphorical sense: the inner places of the human soul, the heights and depths, the mountains and valleys, its plains as well as its abysses. In this sense the exhibition title Places undoubtedly refers to the spatial realities but it also signifies those psychological locations that we find ourselves in, which we enter and leave once more.

Nigel van Wieck's pictures are, in spite of - or indeed because of - their realistic form of representation, an unending source of fantasy. Animating stimuli also call for us to discover formal design principles, to create narrative links, to play through different possibilities and at the same time to always to shift our perspectives "Reality is much better when it is imagined", the artist opined on his artistic intentions. But it is only through the elimination of distance, and opening oneself to the works that this new reality is unveiled and begins its delightful play of ambiguities and multiples meanings. For this reason: step a little closer!

Sylvia Mraz

[1] Here the links to Hopper are at their strongest, because Hopper's work also manifests a "filmic" quality that in turn was of great influence on many in the film industry. It is know that reputable directors like Alfred Hitchcock, Dario Argento or Wim Wenders gathered inspiration for their films from Edward Hopper's oeuvre.

[2] Labor Day - Exhibition in Galerie Elisabeth Michitsch from 10 September to 14 October 2004.