Robbin Heyker at Galería Alegría

Artist: Robbin Heyker

Exhibition title: Birding

Venue: Galería Alegría, Madrid, Spain

Date: November 16, 2019 – January 25, 2020

Photography: all images copyright and courtesy of the artist and Galería Alegría, Madrid

It is often said that painting consists of solving problems that the painter has invented. The case of the Dutch artist Robbin Heyker, who splits his time between Beijing and The Hague, refutes this cliché, since his work seeks, above all else, the clarity of an all-encompassing gaze, and the forcefulness of sincere realisation.

In Birding, his first solo exhibition at Galería Alegría, Heyker uses the motif of bird-watching to make us aware of the fact that discovering something which so floods our field of vision with brightness can occur anywhere. He takes the world that surrounds him as a starting point for reference and, from there, he composes works that, via the language of abstraction, offer an agile, open and welcoming result. There is apparent immediacy, radiance and mystery, in paintings which use aesthetic impression as a way of bringing about a calm reflection on how form, plane and colour construct a new space, based on the real.

Robbin Heyker’s painting looks quick, easy; it has a surprisingly playful quality that draws you in immediately. Yet it is also a work of serious and methodical composition, which affords it serenity, consistency and breadth.

When speaking with Robbin Heyker, the passion with which he talks about his childhood love of birding is striking. This passion also comes across when he describes how, in China, illegal fly-posting is dealt with by just painting straight over the posters or flyers, with layers upon layers of paint. This passion for discovering the extraordinary in the everyday is evident in Birding. It is astonishing to see how these magnificent paintings, exquisite in composure and immediate in gesture, turn into a catalogue of common birds in the enchanted gaze of the spectator, if only, moments later, to settle back into their autonomous and glowing pictorial condition.

On the other hand, Heyker is passionate about revealing his tricks – this is somewhat unusual, for both magicians and painters. He does not believe in painting that is falsely heroic, self-absorbed, serious and opaque. What Heyker does is something else: there is a beautiful simplicity, a calm earnestness as he observes the passing of nature, and a generous open-mindedness. All of these elements give his language a very powerful appeal and closeness.

If the biblical birds of the meadow did not have to worry about finding food, because divine providence guaranteed they would have it, Heyker’s birds in turn are allowed to fly freely until they are birds no longer, so that, with this same lack of concern, they can live on as endless colour fields in the retina of the spectator. This might well be his best trick.

Robbin Heyker manages, in this exhibition, to make us feel indifferent about whether we are looking at a bird or an abstraction; like that child who took his eye off the scenery just when the sudden appearance of sparkling flight turned the whole view into something else. That other thing is, in this case, an exhibition with an outstanding collection of paintings.

-David M. Morán