Hidden in the core

The work of Steye Felix

Dutch artist Steye Felix (Groeningen, 1990) begins his artist statement with the words "Beauty lies hidden in the core". An observation which is continuously investigated in his search for the essence in the field of painting - his main area of practice - and the field of sculpture and in the cross-section between these. He places his focus on a return to the basic building blocks of image making, a research into the very matter and material of painting itself. In his work, Felix seems constantly curious in his ongoing exploration of painterly possibilities, as if he gives himself tasks and then approaches them in an almost scientific manner.

Felix' paintings often slip in and out of representation, suggesting representational alternatives but not fully allowing the viewer to settle on any single interpretation. A painting could depict a light blue swimming pool seen from above or a water carafe on a table, and it could equally be simply an abstract study of colour and shape. Felix carefully works out each step of a painting, continually analyzing and assessing, if necessary spending weeks or months on getting the composition or colour combination right, never compromising.

Creating the right composition in his paintings is essential. To achieve this, Felix initially works with cut-out shapes in a collage-like technique to complete his composition before painting it, sketching his idea. By shifting the shapes around, he seeks for the perfect play of balance and tension within the canvas, bringing into the composition elements to focus on as well as elements of counter-focus to keep the eye intrigued and wandering around within the painting - for example by using negative spaces as objects, or reversing figure and ground.
In some works he uses the collage technique to a fuller extent as he glues cut-out shapes onto the canvas, superimposing fragments of paper, cloth or other materials to add different textures and suggest space within the picture plane. He uses pieces of reality as counterpoints to the abstract forms created through paint, making references to the external world within the structure of the painting.

Both in cut-out and in painted form, a series of shapes have become characteristic figures in Felix' painterly grammar. He explores combinations and variations of these shapes, gradually rotating them around their own axis, using them in different sizes and colours or in rhythmic repetitions. However, the repetition of shapes - even within the same canvas - does not become mechanical, it stays organic and seems to be in constant transformation. The paintings therefore seldom become static; shapes and colours create elements of optical movement on the canvas, and within the compositions, colour holds just as much importance as shape.

Felix mostly uses muted colours in his paintings, very occasionally using stronger colours to deliver more impact in chosen areas. The subdued tints of the white-washed colours contribute to a calm, almost contemplative atmosphere in the paintings, allowing for the composition itself to stand out stronger without relying on straightforward effects of bright, intensive colours.
By using different types of paint and lacquers on the canvas, he makes certain shapes and areas stand out from the rest, in this way creating tension on the picture plane. Tactile sensations are produced just by looking at these paintings, as the mind imagines how the different textures interacting with each other would feel to the touch; smooth, glossy lacquer next to ripples of dry oil paint. The colours and textures are built up through layers of paint, many of which you can only see little reminiscences of by closely studying the outer edge of the canvas - but together with the rest of the layers, they all mix into just the right hue of red or just the right shade of green.

In some works, the defined shapes turn into more diffuse patches, emerging or dissolving in cloudlike strokes, and in others only the fine outlines of shapes are left to be seen on the canvas. As if creating pictorial abbreviations, Felix at times simplifies the objects, reducing them to small areas of colour and eliminating non-essential detail. In one instance a painting is covered by a thin piece of white fabric, letting the coloured areas of the canvas shine through, ghostlike - almost as if he is testing how invisible a painting can be while still remaining a painting. This sort of investigation lies perfectly in line with his overarching project of getting closer to the essence of painting.

Recently, Felix has been working with glass - by placing shapes cut out from glass between sheets of glass, he can move even closer to some of his areas of interest: the creation of space on a flat surface, the examination of the boundary between painted space and actual space and the steps towards purity of shape.

For Felix it is unproblematic to cross over into other disciplines than painting in the development of his work. This year he has created designs for sweatshirts, hand stitched patterns based on his painterly grammar, and is currently working on his second series of shirts. Clothing is one of the most powerful communicators today, and by moving into the field of design and using it as a medium to engage with the public, Felix is able to present his work outside of galleries and exhibitions. And by doing so, perhaps reaching a different, younger, segment. The sweatshirts function on a number of levels; each shirt is made to be worn, they are functional objects, yet there is the added dimension of the artist’s ideas and practice instilled in each garment. The shirts are so to speak the artist’s work let loose in the everyday world on street level. By expanding his field of activity and branding himself as an entrepreneur as well as an artist, Felix sets a wider frame for future experiments and innovations.