T .L. RODNEY WILSON
No immediate evidence of Withelmus Ruifrok's recent Australian sojourn was, to be detected amongst the paintings and drawings of his first one man show since his return, held at Christchurch's C.S.A. Gallery. Indeed no substantial change in direction or development has taken place during the last couple of years.
Instead Ruifrok has modified slightly the content of his latter-day surrealist land-anatomy-scapes to accommodate a new clitoral and phallic set of motifs, motifs which one cannot help but feel have been derived from the Dutch surrealist Melle. For all that, Ruifrok assimilates them in a way which is sufficiently independent of Melle.
The landscapes, painted in a range of predominantly pastel hues (pinks, lemons, pale greens and pale blues) - brushed out to leave a smooth, at times characterless, at times beautiful, variegated, velvetish, surface - now include alongside the usual fish, fowl, beasts, dismembered figures and intestinal forms, the new sexual motifs.
Ruifrok's method of image building is essentially one of assemblage, bringing the elements together into a new relationship and overlaying them with the transparent veil of dream suggestion. It is a system of image building which can as readily fall apart as it can be assembled. It requires a strong structural organisation to hold the painting together, a willingness to subordinate detail to composition. Ruifrok is enamoured of his detail: he obviously enjoys the slow painstaking effort involved in the execution of each individual element. Yet it is entirely to his credit that in spite of this he is willing to subordinate it to a central organisation.
This he manages exceptionally well in Objects gaining and losing meaning (where he employs a tower of opaque and transparent anatomical forms merged with plantoid and landscape elements) and The life span (an extensive land-anatomy-scape where the humanoid forms rest on, whilst appearing to be integral to, the land).
At their best these works of Ruifrok, for all their use of a much-borrowed convention, are sensitively conceived and skilfully painted objects. He is a most capable painter who appears still to be feeling his way towards a personal imagery. If (the sexual forms aside) there is little change in his work at a time when one might have expected it, there is at least considerable consolidation.
Nine of the works exhibited were paintings in oil, six in watercolour. The remaining twenty were drawings, and it is here that we can see how intimately connected are the imagery and the means by which it is achieved in the oil paintings. That is, of course, how it should be: but it has meant, in the past, a problem for Ruifrok in giving form to these ideas in other media. The watercolours are still not especially successful, though a number of the drawings have a new authority.
The line drawings in pen and ink, Orgasm (in which figurative subject matter has been pushed just beyond our reach) and The household, possess a sensitivity of line new to this reviewer in Ruifrok's work. At the other end of the drawing scale The clear mind of no mind and The wonderful Human Being (sic), with their strongly plastic forms engulfing the entire surface, successfully translate the imagery of the paintings into that of drawing by the use of a soft crayon gently dragged across the surface of textured paper.