The work of painter Cornelis Vink is a fascinating contribution to current hard-edge painting, because while for decades artists have been trying to achieve a crispness in art (often, in the last fifty years, through industrial processes ala Donald Judd) that engages in a human/non-human race against the rise of digital technology, and while this or that algorithm in Photoshop and Illustrator have give rise to “at the touch of a button” images that resemble abstract painting, Vink instead chooses to put the two into a head-on collision in a primary body of work that pulls hard-edge abstraction away from the computer screen and onto the canvas.
This might not seem so remarkable at first because it would just seem to be using a little fussing around on a computer to search for ideas that could then be executed, but what’s notable is that Vink’s work doesn’t just seem somehow related to digital abstraction, it’s actually a form of photorealism, a mimetic representation of digital images we’ve seen so often we’ve mostly more or less stopped even taking note of. That’s not the only kind of work that Vink has done, but his Prism series is possibly his most breathtaking work for the simple reason I just gave; mimesis in painting is now no longer limited to figurative painting but abstraction can now, emphatically, be both a fulfillment and a refusal of the art of painting as mimesis. By choosing to (seemingly) replicate the parts of our world that are already abstract, Vink brings to our attention that in the screen-filled world in which we live, a flat blur is just as “real” a person holding a small screen that displays some kind of flat blur. In work like Connected and Prism Vink rewires what we can think of as figurative and abstract, and he does so in beautifully saturated paintings that seem lush despite strictly adhering to hard edges, simple shapes, and the kind of step-wise transition of color that is ubiquitous on the screens at which we spend much of our day staring.
This is not to imply simply that Vink is a good painter with one great idea; the interaction between abstraction and mimesis extends beyond the Prism series. In Red Always Stands Out, for example, a hard-edge rectangular color gradient returns, but it does so in somewhat hesitant form and structure against a not-quite-flat off-white background that, albeit spun, recalls nothing as strongly as a bar graph, another “real thing” of the 20th and 21st centuries that remains of great importance (trust me: as a pre-med student, I’ve had entire science-class lectures devoted to how to design the “correct” kind of bar graph) but that is often thought of as a representation of something else (data that may be hard to visualize) at the expense of being a thing in and of itself. The useless but alluring bar graph in the painting doesn’t stand calmly with implications of verticality meaning success, though, because instead the rotated painting intrudes into an otherwise unbothered and casual white pictorial field, so not only is the bar graph being abused but it’s also used as a kind of cudgel against the pristine “end of painting” kind of paint that an all white canvas may once, at a more innocent time in the 20th century, have suggested.
Whether Vink is playing around with mimesis of the “abstract real” on purpose or not doesn’t take away from the brilliance with which that idea is brought to us, or with Vink’s skill with both color and technique, as in City Lights, which resembles a sort of hybrid of Prism and Red Always Stands Out but in place of easy mimesis we get another real thing possibly native mostly to the 21st century, namely a sense of constant motion.
Regardless of why Vink has chosen these forms or what he thinks of them, though, his execution of the paintings gives those of us heavily invested in exploring abstract painting a lot to think about in terms of whether there really is, in 2016, such a thing as truly abstract painting.