“Over the years I have worked on many black and white pictures taken in The Netherlands . They look like they could have been taken 400 years ago, since Holland did not change that much in parts. When I see paintings of 17th century Holland in museums, I look at them more as pictures from home than from a long time ago.”— Sebastiaan Bremer
I Am New Here
For his solo exhibition I Am New Here, Sebastiaan Bremer (NL, 1970) presents two new series of works. The first series of black and white portraits, as well as a large diptych, are inspired by art from the seventeenth century. The second series consists of works that are made on photographs of the Iguaçu waterfalls in the south of Brazil.
Sebastiaan Bremer’s artistic career spans across disciplines and media, but he has become particularly renowned for his ability to transform pre-existing images into ornate, dreamlike tableaux through a careful process of enlargement and intricate hand painting that results in completely unique works.
Whether starting from the work of an iconic artist or revisiting his own family albums, Bremer’s choice of visual documents is rooted in his biography. Hints of his native Holland permeate his work, from his appreciation of the way light falls across a room reminiscent of a Vermeer interior to the exquisitely painted addition of a pointillist feather or flowers to a contemporary photograph that transports the viewer to the world of Dutch Old Master paintings.
I Am New Here
This year, Bremer started making character studies, rendered by hand with ink and paint, working from portraits by Rembrandt and his peers. Bremer especially admires Rembrandt for the panoply of facial expressions he captured so brilliantly and with such honesty. With a subtle sense of humor, Rembrandt meticulously depicts the wear and tear that human existence takes on a person’s face, regardless of their social standing, age, or gender. The portraits function as studies for Bremer’s large diptych This Was Always, which continues his ongoing project of multi-paneled works depicting our times, seen through the lens of the past.
This Was Always
In This Was Always we see people stuck forever in their moment whilst we watch from the outside, where a range of possibilities, and hope, are very much alive. Rays of light are breaking through the clouds, and the clouds of confusion are dissolving, though in the world of the painting, the eyes of most, but not all, are closed and turned away from this hopeful vision. Rendering their faces up close, dot by dot, Bremer offers the onlooker a glimpse of freedom — the chance to jump out of the present, not into the future, but into the past.
This Was Always (Diptych), 2020 | Ink and acrylic on fadeless premium gloss paper | 190,5 x 238,75 cm
Sebastiaan Bremer€ 75.000,- (Excl. tax)
The ink covering Bremer’s photographs represents a slow, gradual accrual of time, with dots standing in for the movements of a timepiece. In 2009, while making a commission for Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the artist found he could do away with existing photographic images he shot or found himself. Instead, he branched out to make “a whole set of works on black paper…which felt incredibly liberating: apparently I didn’t need a camera to make a photograph… I could time travel.” – Sebastiaan Bremer
Drawing each dot by hand as a shaft of light would on photographic emulsion, Bremer gets closer to the subject, bypassing the marks of the original paintings and drawings. “With this method of working, I discovered the essence of each person who posed for the pictures” says Bremer. “Seeing the people in these portraits come alive by my own hand releases the bonds of time and relieves the pain of being stuck in this moment, whilst at the same time connecting to events of the past. In hindsight, we sometimes interpret historical events assuming that the people living through them knew what the outcome would be — while of course they did not. The characters in the work are all hoping for a good outcome in the confusion of the lived present—just as we are.”
Leo, 2020 | Ink and acrylic on fadeless premium gloss paper | 35 x 45 cm
Sebastiaan Bremer€ 6.800,- (Excl. tax)
Frank, 2020 | Ink and acrylic on fadeless premium gloss paper | 35 x 40 cm
Sebastiaan Bremer€ 6.800,- (Excl. tax)
In Bremer’s view, the artwork from the 16th and 17th century is a pertinent resource to depict our current time, a time when our societies are beginning to recognize that present global conditions are a consequence of what the white marauders from Europe did to humanity and to the earth. Paradoxically—and tragically—those same centuries in which conquest and slavery dominated the globe are known in the Netherlands as the Golden Age.
“The works in this exhibition were completed during 2020 in New York City, where the realities of the lockdown and social upheaval caused by fear of a lethal virus—a fear familiar to Rembrandt and his sitters—forced everyone to look within. The past, as they say, lives in the present. . .”— Sebastiaan Bremer
“I wonder why I’d keep on using pictures of my family… I think moving away from the place where I was raised makes me a little bit stuck in time, makes everything from before I left very precious.”— Sebastiaan Bremer
The Waterfall Below
The Brazilian works by Sebastiaan Bremer included in the Brazilian group exhibition Já estava assim quando eu cheguei were started when Bremer found some old slides in his father-in-law’s office. They showed the Seven Falls of Guaíra, or Sete Quedas – a submerged waterfall, which was destroyed by the construction of the largest hydroelectric dam in the world in 1982. The only color of the slides which remained was orange, all other colors of the slide emulsion having been erased by time, not unlike the waterfalls themselves.
Chororo Yguasu, 2020 | Acrylic and inks on digital pigment print | 40,5 x 27 cm
Sebastiaan Bremer€ 6.000,- (Excl. tax)
“When working on the old sepia works I was alerted of a documentary work by Heloisa Passos, in which she incorporates 8mm footage of the Seite Quedas into a personal film about Passos, her father, and the work he did on large infrastructure projects in Brazil during the dictatorship, when the Itaipu dam was built. The film was degraded into the same hue as the slides from my father-in-law’. The serendipitous discovery of these colored films propelled itself into my thinking, especially as I was in the process of curating a group show with Frederik Schampers. The obvious dialogue between my work and thinking about Brazil and Heloisa’s work was too clear to ignore.” – Sebastiaan Bremer
The contradictions inherent in the dam project mirror the contradictions of civilization, in Bremer’s view; in harnessing energy to provide for their homes and their industries, human beings dissipate the very nurturing qualities this earth has to offer. Thus, per Bremer, the solutions of today can become the problems of tomorrow. In his work based on these photographic images, the artist brings the falls back to life with small marks of paint and ink, to reverse history.
Salto de Guaira, 2020 | Acrylic and inks on digital pigment print | 40,5 x 27 cm
Sebastiaan Bremer€ 6.000,- (Excl. tax)
“The title of my show, I Am New Here, is a play on the title of the Brazilian group exhibition Já estava assim quando wu cheguei, which translates to It was like this when I got here. This body of work was made especially in relation to my experiences in Brazil, and the group show Frederik Schampers and I curated together comes from the same source. Brazil has figured large in my life, and the experiences of the country and its people and its nature continue to fascinate me. Nature there is enormous and seemingly endless in its size and power, but projects like the Itaipu dam prove that assumption wrong. Humans can destroy anything, of any size, even if it is for the seemingly right reasons. Now the waterfalls are gone forever. Eventually the enormous dam will become obsolete, but the damage is done. These paintings I made are like the picture of our grandmother which sits on the piano—an image of one who is lost but not forgotten, still loved.” – Sebastiaan Bremer
“Brazil has figured large in my life, and the experiences of the country and its people and its nature continue to fascinate me. Nature there is enormous and seemingly endless in its size and power, but projects like the Itaipu dam prove that assumption wrong. Humans can destroy anything, of any size, even if it is for the seemingly right reasons.”— Sebastiaan Bremer
Eu Já Estava Lá, 2020 | Acrylic and inks on chromogenic print | 38,5 x 58,5 cm
Sebastiaan Bremer€ 10.500,- (Excl. tax)
About the artist
Sebastiaan Bremer studied at the Vrije Academie, The Hague and Skowhegan School of Art and Sculpture, Maine. The artist currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. His work has been the subject of three major catalogs: Monkey Brain (2003), Avila (2006), and To Joy (2015), and has been exhibited in such venues as the Tate Gallery, London; the Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York; The Gemeentemuseum, The Hague; and the Aldrich Museum, Connecticut. Bremer’s work is in the permanent collections of institutions including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.