Vincent Hamel & Henri Plaat at Howard Scott Gallery

Artist: Henri Plaat, Title: The Yellow Building - click for larger imageHenri Plaat, The Yellow Building (2005), collage, 10-1/2″ x 11″; courtesy Howard Scott Gallery

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How Dutch are the works on paper of Vincent Hamel and Henri Plaat, the subject of an exhibition at Howard Scott Gallery? Is it at all possible to make the Holland connection without having been clued in by the show’s title, Duet: Two Artists in Amsterdam? Neither man is a billboard for all things Netherlandish. Besides, isn’t localism an anachronism in our globalist age and abstraction a universal language?

Art shouldn’t be relegated to being a coefficient of sociology (or stereotype), but nationality can’t help but wheedle its way to the fore. The drawings of Mr. Hamel and the collages of Mr. Plaat strike me as taking a humble and homey–that is to say, typically Dutch–pride in scale. Neither man’s work is much larger than a sheet of printing paper, nor do the pieces want (or, in fact, need) to be. A palpable sense of decorum–indeed, of common sense–is inherent in their efforts. What else would you expect from artists whose forebears carved their home from out of the sea?

Both artists share a love for the density, tactility and delicacy of materials. Mr. Hamel layers acrylics, wax crayon and, most memorably, ball-point pen to give body to gently shifting fields of color and texture. Mr. Plaat aligns wrinkled, cracked and abraded surfaces within irregular architectonic armatures, making for compositions that bring to mind the whimsical vistas of Paul Klee and the errant geometry of Kasimir Malevich.

Unwilling to upset the Modernist apple cart, Mr. Plaat and Mr. Hamel prefer to uncover and, subsequently, refine a niche within it. They do so through a deliberate and bemused exploration of the methods to which they have limited themselves. Their art is far from epochal and gratifying because of it. Modesty, particularly when it is given idiosyncratic form, can’t help but be becoming. That’s what Mr. Plaat and Mr. Hamel embrace and provide.

© 2005 Mario Naves

Originally published in the March 6, 2005 edition of The New York Observer.

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