Iconography I, Iconography II
Two solo exhibitions at Motive Gallery Amsterdam in 2006 and 2007
"According to the Longman dictionary, iconography refers to 'the way a particular people, religious or political group represents ideas in pictures or images.' But, how and to what extent, in their turn, do images shape the way people think about themselves and about the world? In this first part of Marjolein Rothman’s project ‘Iconography’ - to be followed next spring by a second exhibition - the Dutch young painter presents new works that prolong her previous endeavor at tackling the issue of the identity politics of perception. 'Iconography I' is constituted by a series of large format canvases representing the two famous 19th century French saints, Bernadette de Soubirous and Therese de Lisieux; here the centrality of images in the making of a collective religious identity is dramatized by the very visions that allowed these two women to become part of the official records of history.
Since she finished the Rijksakademie in 2004, Marjolein Rothman has been seeking by way of painting to deconstruct specific cultural symbols in order to provoke a reflection on the importance of images in the making of collective identities (whether these are based on religious beliefs, philosophic-political convictions or nationalistic sentiments). In Rothman’s earlier paintings one could see objects, monuments and figures that spoke about a past, the access to which has been regulated by images that have become iconic. By contrasting large blank areas with geometrically shaped and uniformly colored surfaces, Rothman creates fragmentary images that seem to be emerging from the surface of the canvas or, on the contrary, to be withdrawing from it. In this way, these fragmented visions undermine the iconic and solid nature of their models while also, paradoxically, producing powerfully suggestive works, the ghost-like appearance of which - between complete presence and absence - provide them with a new mythical dimension. They rise, as would shadows from a past still haunting the present; they make us ask ourselves: Is the past such a coherent and ultimately knowledgeable material as the images that inspire Rothman would ultimately seem to insinuate?
‘Iconography I', after an investigation of the official iconography of Bernadette de Soubirous and Therese de Lisieux, Rothman chose to work not only on the popular images of these saints, but also on lesser-known depictions. This was done in order to capture different moments of their respective lives, thus delaying the moment of recognition in the eyes of the viewer, so that the surrounding myths of the saints might not immediately outshine the images themselves.
Just as soberly as Rothman’s color palette, the young painter wavers between disbelief and the urging need to feel identified with these women who were once not only holy figures but beautiful and enigmatic young individuals. And this is why we cannot help but keep on looking at Rothman’s paintings: They both acknowledge the impasse that great stories of heroes, villains and saints have led us to experience in the past while appearing as symptoms of the challenge they still offer to us - for in fact we haven’t yet found a way to circumvent the need to believe. And perhaps one of Rothman’s ultimate answers to this issue is her faith in that, ultimately, each of us are participants in the making of history, that Therese and Bernadette were - beyond the role they were given to play in a certain myth that gave identity to a broader group - just like you and me." [Catherine Somze, 2006]
"'Iconography II' follows 'Iconography I', an exhibition that ran from November to January at Motive Gallery. For this first exhibition, Rothman had been studying the official iconography of the two 19th century French saints, Bernadette de Soubirous and Thérèse de Lisieux. This series of large canvases mirrored Rothman’s choice to work not only on the popular images of these saints, but also on lesser-known depictions. This breadth was adopted in order to capture different moments of their respective lives, thus delaying the moment of recognition in the eyes of the viewer, so that the surrounding myths of the saints might not immediately outshine the images themselves. Just as soberly as Rothman’s colour palette, the works showed how the young painter wavered between disbelief and the driving urge to identify with these women who were once not only holy figures but young, beautiful, and enigmatic individuals.
As a result of this first investigation, while working on 'Iconography II' Rothman proceeded to invert the terms of her original endeavour. Instead of creating images that critique and challenge the potential of their original to shape collective and/or personal identities, Rothman chose to portray unknown individuals – women — according to the iconography of holiness highlighted in 'Iconography I'.
On the other hand, whereas Rothman’s first series implicitly tackled the issue of history’s fundamental representational quality (history as a literary genre with specific individuals as necessary actors for its dramatic unfolding), 'Iconography II' invites us to reflect on the importance of specific formats and stereotypes in its enunciation. What makes someone holy in the eyes of the beholder? Is it her ethics? Or is it the aesthetics of her representation - the way her public presence is mediated through stories and images?
Ultimately, with this new series of portraits Rothman goes a step further in her study of the politics of perception that has been central to her artistic practice since she finished the Rijksakademie in 2004. Her portraits to be seen at Motive Gallery from 21 April to 2 June seem to tell us that, in fact, staged and depicted according to specific codes and conventions, each and every one of us can become a figurehead.[Catherine Somze, 2007]"