The people inside your head — what do they look like? I don’t mean the real ones — although I know that the real people inside your head don’t look exactly like the real people outside of it, which means they’re made up too, at least a little — I mean the ones that aren’t real, but that you’ve seen since childhood. Well, perhaps not seen, not recently anyway, so much as lived alongside; as busy adults, we no longer ponder our own minds, but this fact doesn’t drive these other residents out or make them vanish. It simply means we’re no longer looking at them. Yet stop for a moment and try to recall them to mind. Are they people? A pretty girl, perhaps, who you’ve never met (and never will), but who somehow represents your perfect match? Are they animals? A friendly wolf striding through the forest, watching over you? A cat? A hawk? Are they things? An old teddy bear, still in its chair, waiting for you to come back and snuggle to sleep with it? A windswept valley in Scotland that you’ve never visited, and that probably doesn’t exist?
Perhaps you’ve come up with a handful of images that have appeared in your mind at different times in your life. Dutch artist Chris Berens has identified hundreds of his own, and he’s trying to paint them all.
What I make is not a distortion or reshaping of the reality which everyone sees around them or of events which actually happen. That is not what my work is about. I simply try to paint the world inside my head. This world has been with me since I was a child. It is populated by people and animals and is filled with landscapes, villages, cities and scenes. All kinds of things happen in this world and various stories unfold. But it’s not the ‘normal’ world, and they are not the things that happen in the regular world. I take very good care of this world inside my head, and it provides me with an endless source of inspiration. Just as I develop in the regular world, so does this private world of mine develop on its own as well. In many ways, it’s similar to the regular world but at the same time looks and feels quite different. So what I paint is not an artistic representation or adaptation of animal or human figures or landscapes from the regular world. For me, it’s an actual representation of what I see, no more and no less.
This last line is fascinating. The characters in many of Berens’ paintings are depicted as if seen through a broken glass — though one cannot see the glass itself, nor its cracks, and indeed the parts of the painting defined by the (implied) shards look different from each other, as if seen at different distances, or through different filters. In this Berens accurately represents the mind’s difficulty in imagining an object in the round and in detail; his paintings are collages, perhaps, of a series of moments and areas of attention — a girl’s hair, from middle distance; then her eyes, up close; then her hand, but only vaguely and in motion — resulting in an eerie mishmash of clarity and elusiveness.
Berens’ website is worth a visit, for his work is various and always compelling. What’s more, it just might stimulate you to get re-acquainted with the next-door neighbours in your own mind.