Timeless, atmospheric, and deeply mysterious, the paintings of Johan Abeling are sure to evoke contemplation among his viewership.
Translated from the Italian as “smoky,” sfumato is a painterly technique that was mastered in — and coined through — the works of Leonardo da Vinci. The process involves the tedious layering of transparent paint so as to virtually eliminate the contours of objects and figures. Done skillfully, the results can be outstanding, with subjects that appear to radiate their own light source and compositions that have a soft, diffused, and atmospheric aura.
All of the above could easily be ascribed to the work of Dutch painter Johan Abeling, whose landscape paintings are captivating in their light, and their emptiness. “I am fascinated by the emptiness and silence of Dutch northern landscapes,” he says. “I try to create, with a minimum of objects, an enigmatic mood. All the elements are derived from reality, but not in the combination seen in the paintings. In this way, I create private worlds that only exist in my imagination.”
“Silence II” (below) is almost haunting in its portrayal of an isolated — presumably abandoned — home. From a low point of view, an old, unkempt fence projects from the distance toward the viewer. Resting just beyond, and centrally located, is the home. Abeling’s description of the piece only enhances the initial perception. He writes, “The building in ‘Silence II’ is an actual structure in the middle of our town, it is completely neglected. I painted it about a dozen times because I was attracted to the white woodwork against a dark sky and the harmony within the horizontals and verticals. Nobody was living there, it is a house with a question in it.”
Outstanding is Abeling’s “Sunday Morning,” (below) a landscape with a more comforting subject. The painting truly displays Abeling’s exquisite touch and skillful use of light. Within a blanketing haze, a small group of tall, looming trees line an unseen stream as it winds through a field. Barely detectible is the distant tree line along the low horizon. Particularly beautiful is how the central trees sparkle in their diffused light, each leaf indicated with extreme clarity and care. The softness of the sfumato and calm quietness of the piece are eerily soothing.
Abeling continues, “I try to create a moment of respite in a turbulent world by playing with the composition and light, to create a mysterious mood. Everything looks peaceful at first sight, but there is always an uneasy feeling in the painting, nobody knows what’s going to happen, and everybody can finish the story in their own unique way.”
Abeling continues to ascend in his career, as he was just added to the talented stable of artists at CK Contemporary in San Francisco, California. Of the future, Abeling says, “I do know where I am in five years, but I believe that art grows in a natural way. I hope to continue to surprise people with mildly critical, contemporary, and open-ended stories.”
To learn more, visit Johan Abeling.
This article by Andrew Webster was featured in Fine Art Today, a weekly e-newsletter from Fine Art Connoisseur magazine. To start receiving Fine Art Today for free, click here.