Every now and then some publicity-seeker will again pop up to complain that Rob Scholte (1958) has plagiarized his work. Time and again, threats are made to take the artist to court. This is by now the predictable response from people who do not understand what Scholte is doing, what his motives are and why, in this, his passion for provocation sets the pace.
In the eighties, the history of art was outlawed and traditional interpretations of originality were thrown to the winds. The artist was free to draw on the archives of art. Quotation was (again) permitted. Rob Scholte knew how to use this freedom in an intelligent and, even though it sounds paradoxical, original way. According to his reasoning, it is not a case of everything has already been done, so why think up anything new. ”(He invents) new arrangements, introduces unexpected correlations and juggles with meanings.”
With ‘The Embroidery Show’ (2005), one of his latest projects, he hangs existing pieces of embroidery, the great cliché of petty bourgeois life, the very essence of Woman’s Own magazine, back to front on the wall. All at once, they show a soul, they suddenly become intriguing and mysterious. Something similar happens with the works he produced under the collective title ‘Blue Period’ (2004). He executes familiar logos, images or objects in blue and white and mounts them in a classical, golden frame. By this he is forcing the viewer to give them a second chance. His copy of ‘Olympia’ by Manet, ‘Utopia’ from 1988, is a copy of a masterwork that has frequently been copied, to which he adds something (socially critical) by transforming the naked woman into a wooden puppet and making the servant black. His biggest project ‘Après Nous le Deluge’ (1995), the painting of the replica of Huis ten Bosch in Nagasaki, is also more than the application of murals based on existing images from his art file. It is copying in a country that can (or must) count copying as one of its most significant features.
It would be wrong to judge Scholte on his skill as a painter. This is fairly limited. He, himself, calls his style ”wooden, awkward, stiff, verging on the ugly”. Having others execute his work not only fits in with his concept of originality, it is also sometimes for a purely practical reason. This supposed shortcoming is unimportant to him. He is not a painter who wants to push back the boundaries in this field. He has no ambitions to be the new Rembrandt. For him, it is far more interesting to give a whole new life, as it were, to works by Rembrandt that have descended into cliché because of their mass dissemination. His are the strategies, not the skills.
Rob Scholte is much closer to Andy Warhol than all the painters who threw themselves back into painting in the eighties. What they have in common is that they ‘process’ existing images in such a way that they are again uplifted into illusions, into images that have regained their glamour, into images that can be viewed and judged in a different way.
Both of them do this in an accessible, but primarily, original manner.
”I certainly do not shy away from using clichés. I enjoy manipulating them, not crudely, because my paintings do not endorse these clichés, I just use them as a receptacle. I mean, I don’t need to be forever saying ”I love you”, but that is what I want to talk about. To show that in certain situations it has a really pure, mature meaning. The cliché and originality are very close to each other.”
Rob Scholte, 1986
Galerie Witteveen, 4 juli 2006