2014 article judith van beukering (english)

The sculptures of Coen Vernooij

a description of his work, its sources and relation to duality


Coen Vernooij creates two types of sculpture: wall sculptures and standing sculptures.
What these have in common are the fact that they are open constructions, made of thin metal bars. The wall sculptures are treated with iron oxide paint, the standing sculptures are white coated.

The wall sculptures never exceed forty centimeters in length and width and there is about ten centimeters of space between the sculpture and the wall. The viewer relates to these images like watching a puppet theatre; as if you were drawn into a small world that expands inside your head.

The standing sculptures are just over the average human height. The viewer relates to these sculptures with the entire body; walking around the sculptures and the changing perspective this creates are essential for the works. Within the standing sculptures there are three which change extremely in this matter, and others that do so less.

Vernooij’s sculptures are line sculptures, that is, they are three-dimensional drawings of metal bars in space. The lines define a space, “a specific fillable place”, as Vernooij puts it. When the sculpture is moved, it takes up a different space within its contours.

The artworks of Coen Vernooij seem quite fragile and vulnerable at first glance. At the same time they are very powerful sculptures because they have been brought back to their essence. The sculptures look like clear, linear constructions. This is caused by the white color – in the standing sculptures – that has a suggestion of ‘clean, simple and abstract’. This clarity is merely one pole of the work. It is also complex and raises many questions while the spectator is watching it. Is it about inside or outside? Is it a drawing of a shadow or a definition of space?


In relation to his art, Coen Vernooij regards himself as a ‘Romantic’ as well as a ‘Buddhist’. Statements which initially appear to be diametrically opposed, because in the life of the Romantic, the longing (for far away) is central, while the Buddhist tries to be free of all longing and desire. Still, these statements characterize Coen Vernooij and his work.

Sometimes people are misguided when looking at Vernooij’s sculptures. They look like abstract, constructivist works. But Vernooij never works with a strict, rational method like those used by formalistic artists. Sometimes a new artwork arises from a previous artwork, but mostly new works result from an experience in his life.

Borders of reality and illusion: sound excerpts, odor fragments, aborted conversations, light touches”. These experiences “carry in them the request to be finished”, says Vernooij. Here, indeed, a Romantic is speaking. Or rather a poet who experiences every day moments in a heightened fashion and has an eye for matters that go unnoticed by most people. Coen Vernooij wants to find a visual equivalent for these kind of experiences.

It is in the translation from experience to artwork that the Buddhist in Vernooij is at work, in practicing the art of omission. His sculptures hardly have ‘body’, that is to say: they are very fragile, light and open works.The translation from experience to sculpture could also be signified as Buddhist for the following fact. Coen Vernooij is inspired by the I Ching, or the Book of Changes. This is a book of oracles from the Taoist tradition. What appeals to Vernooij in this book, is the way that different signs and meanings are brought together. The oracle characters are constructed in a similar way as Chinese characters, which is in two parts. In Vernooij’s work, a duality is present that is related to the principle of I Ching.

The I Ching is based on the idea that nothing ever stays the same, and that it is an elementary cosmic law that things are always in motion, always on the move from one pole to the opposite pole. Vernooij tries to catch the ever-changing. He expresses this himself as: “sculptures that have been put to rest but have the tension in them to suddenly melt down, blow away, smell, break.” His sculptures seem to be situated exactly at the tipping point between two poles.

relation to duality essential

Vernooij’s sculptures require an active attitude from the spectator, to ask questions about the work, to go along with the motion or the impending event that is suggested. And to finish the sculpture in his or her head.

Due to the degree of abstraction, the artworks are certainly not easy to comprehend. It helps to know that Vernooij’s sculptures are about ‘relating to duality’. This starts with the ambiguous sources of his artworks. The Romantic perception of everyday life, which instigates the longing to create art in Vernooij. And the Buddhist translation thereof, which is about the art of omission and the desire to catch the ever-changing. In his sculptures, the results of the process of making, there are many aspects that indicate duality – two things that come together – or ambiguity – two opposite matters -. To discover what this ‘doubleness’ is in the individual works of art, is the guide for exploring the sculptures of Coen Vernooij.