Four Diverse Talents
Showcased at Montserrat Gallery

New York, Spring/Summer 2000
by Andrew Margolis

As last year's Bob Thompson retrospective at the Whitney Museum indicated, the postmodern climate is particularly hospitable to artists who reinvigorate classical themes. This bodes well for the work of Maryleen Schiltkamp, an artist from the Netherlands who is already quite well known in her own country. In her recent exhibition at the Montserrat Gallery, 584 Broadway, Schiltkamp demonstrated why, revealing a commitment to reviving the multifigure classical composition that was impressive indeed.

In terms of style, one could compare Schiltkamp to painters such as Eric Fischl, for she employs traditional realism with a unique personal twist. Schiltkamp, however, has a less sleazoid, more mystical approach to the subject matter. Indeed, she invariably chooses mythic subjects, which she then proceeds to infuse with contemporary immediacy through her energetic paint handling and subtly heightened sense of color. Her way of unifying figural and landscape elements is also markedly modern, for she treats the entire composition as a unified whole in the manner of an abstract painter, employing a uniquely restrained mode of expressionism to knit the various elements harmoniously.

Another way in which Schiltkamp makes her paintings resonate as simultaneously classical and contemporary is by giving her figures an intriguing combination of ideal and non-ideal qualities, as well as by introducing a metaphysical sense of space into an ostensibly naturalistic context. In this regard, Schiltkamp is very different from neoclassicists such as David Ligare and Steve Hawley who either cast allegorical subjects in modern dress or create Arcadian scenes that have the mundane quality of suburban malls.

Schiltkamp, by contrast, infuses her pictures with a sense of real magic. Hers is a realm in which extraordinary events unfold in a bravura style to rival that of Paul Georges, with lots of gravy-brown hues vigorously brushed to evoke the drama and depth of the Old Masters, yet with occasional bursts of more strident hues to enliven her scenes with a more contemporary mood and energy.

This approach is especially dynamic in paintings such as “Ab Urbe Condita”, where several human and animal figures are combined in a dramatic and tumultuous composition. Here, two soldiers, one nude but for an elaborate gold helmet, battle with spears and shields, while two other figures struggle to calm rearing horses against a backdrop of ancient architecture and stormy skies, as two cat-like creatures prowl nearby. The scene has a “staged” quality, but is by no means campy; these figures appear earnestly engaged in their struggles by virtue of the artist’s ability to evoke them convincingly and make her vigorous painting style contribute to the sense of high action that animates the entire composition.

A slightly more pastoral mood, reminiscent of the aforementioned Bob Thompson, is conveyed in “Falconry”, a strong painting of a figure with birds in a landscape, while “Outbreak of Horses” is another action packed canvas in which equine figures and their handlers create surging pictorial tensions.

Equally exciting in another manner is “Palazzo Ducale”, in which rearing horses, straining human figures, architecture, and landscape create a complex sense of movement.

In each of her paintings, including “Snow Geisha”, a stately procession of three elaborately costumed Oriental figures, and “Samurai”, an intense composition centering on Japanese warriors in battle, Maryleen Schiltkamp transports the viewer to exotic times and places, yet retains the sense of immediacy that we demand of relevant contemporary painting.