JTF (just the facts): Published in 2022 by Libraryman (here). Clothbound hardcover (23.8 x 30.5 cm), linen threadbound, 48 pages, with 29 color plates. Authentic tipped-in image on front cover, with typography on spine and back cover in beige foil. In an edition of 500 copies, including a special edition of 25 copies with signed and hand-painted print by the artists. (Cover and spread shots below.)
Comments/Context: As we settle in for the dog days of summer, thoughts drift to exotic destinations and vacation possibilities. Few spots are more idyllic than Hydra, the Greek isle just off the Peloponnesian coast. Its eponymous springs are long exhausted but the allure remains, drawing a regular pipeline of artists, wanderers, and ex-pats since the 1930s. This is where Leonard Cohen escaped with Marianne Ihlen to craft some of his best songs, and where Alex Jensen and George Johnston penned celebrated novels. Henry Miller, Polly Samson, Roger Green, and Charmian Clift found their muses in Hydra. The list goes on.
In early 2020 the island attracted photographer Annemarieke van Drimmelen, painter Jasper Krabbé, and their 2-year old daughter June. It was a nice winter retreat, with no automobiles to get in the way of daily walks. But their getaway transitioned into something quite different when the coronavirus pandemic hit. Much of public society shut down, and the young family found themselves unexpectedly trapped. It was a glum situation, but sheltering-in-place had its upside. After all there are worse places to be stuck than a beautiful Greek island. Better yet, young June channeled artistic fruition in her parents. As van Drimmelen described the dynamic in a later Instagram post, “June showed us the miracle of just being present and seeing the wonder without having to create anything.”
Nevertheless create things they did, with new works settling into a regular collaboration—their first to date, not counting June. Van Drimmelen wandered the island shooting monochrome photographs, then turned her prints over to Krabbé, who added his own gently hued abstractions to their surfaces. “Because we worked together on this we had to ‘open up’ our way of working and just let the work evolve,” they told the Wall Street Journal. “We had to let go of any preconceived idea of what the work would look like. We hope we did some justice to June’s uninhibited and wondrous world.”
Their recent monograph June collects twenty-nine of the resulting works. “Wondrous” is a fitting label. Most originated on Hydra in 2021, but they stretch into early 2022 and to other locales: Taos, Santa Fe, New York, and Tulum. These places may not have much in common geographically, and their vernacular features are subsumed by abstraction and difficult to identify in the book. But it’s fair to say they share a spirit of escape and renewal, powerful tonics during lockdown. At the center of it all is June, who earns a heartfelt shoutout from her parents in the colophon: “Thanks for making us see the world in its purest form.”
Despite being the book’s thematic focus, June herself only appears in a handful of images. She is shown on white mortared paving stones in an early photograph, her figure over-exposed and obscured behind loose wiring. If the depiction is rather vacant, Krabbé has filled in the blanks with his own overpainting. But instead of adding information, he negates it with white-washed strokes. The child’s figure is fleshed out a bit more in two succeeding images. Her lone hand on a windowsill signals juvenile curiosity and the bored turmoil of an Aegean vacation trapped indoors. On the next page, a beautifully lit nude hints at an unhurried toddlerdom and the syrupy pace of summer. Sigh…just another day becalmed in pandemic paradise. One last image of June playing with a woven basket, highlighted by a subtle slab of green paint, and that’s it for her.
She may not appear beyond these four images, but June’s spirit runs throughout the book. On the most overt level, it takes the form of infantile forms. Van Drimmelen anthropomorphizes found objects into happy faces and animals, while spiky sun figures join the fray here and there. Krabbé’s occasional text-pieces fit right in, handwritten in loose, childish script. Whether painting cursive or color fields, his brush strokes have an impish vitality, refusing to stay within the lines. A two-page diptych toward the end gushes with whimsical exuberance. The same photograph is over-painted twice. It shows a man seated on a bench, decorated variously in splotches of orange, green, pink, and poetic phrasing: “People had left, streets were empty, just the wind of the island and us…” A photo of a weedy yard beckons, as does a cat sunning itself in a window. It’s the doldrums of lockdown viewed through a toddler’s eyes.
There’s a natural tension in all overpainted photos between the fantastical and the so-called real world. Paintings can pull away in any direction at a heartbeat, while photographs are generally limited to what was in front of a camera. Anyone who experiments in this realm—and there have been many, including Gerhard Richter, Asli Özcelik, Viviane Sassen, and Nobuyoshi Araki— is bound by these principles and precipices, and van Drimmelen and Krabbé are no different. But in the prism of childhood they may have found a workaround. Amongst the two-year old set, observation has not yet divorced from imagination. The images in June are primordial and dreamlike, floating above the weighty burdens of documentary.
This might have been the thinking behind a Warholian grid showing 15 coffee cup prints, viewed top down, each rectangle in a unique charcoal wash. A play on seriality and shifting perspectives, it finds a counterpart a few pages later in a gridded portrait of a woman (van Drimmelen perhaps?) bordered with strange chemical artifacts. Meanwhile, a painted photo of a doorframe could not be more different. Hidden behind swirling lines in a sea of green, it resembles a solar retinopathy, and is just as distracting. It takes a few moments of study to determine that, yes indeed, there is a photo buried beneath the oils.
As a book, June’s production is quite handsome. With cloth-bound binding and tipped in front cover, it’s a lean and elegant creation, one probably best kept out of children’s reach. The pace of images is relaxed, with one or occasionally two per spread, sequenced in a variety of sizes to keep the reader guessing. Van Drimmelen’s photographs are reproduced uncropped as prints including their white borders to lend them tangible punch. Krabbé’s paintings have a physicality to match, kicking off the whole thing with a bold stroke of red paint across the title page (spilling slightly beyond, as paints sometimes do).
It’s not immediately obvious why green is so dominant but it’s here in force, occasionally complemented with orange. Throw in a few crimson and burnt umber variations and that covers most of the coloring. Perhaps Krabbé was merely in a verdant phase? Or his choices may reflect the Mediterranean, the scant vegetation of Hydra, or the renewal of young kids. It’s hard to know, but in this book both he and van Drimmelen have strayed from earlier currents. Annemarieke van Drimmelen has been best known until now as a fashion photographer (and before that, a model). Krabbé is primarily a figurative portraitist. At least that described their previous lives in Amsterdam. But the pandemic seems to have triggered their reset buttons, just as it has done for many artists and all of society. Hydra and June were the catalysts.
As we gradually emerge from the pandemic into whatever comes next, its dynamics and ordering are still unclear. This might prove discomfiting for adults. But as anyone can attest who’s followed a toddler around, novelty is the default worldview for children, They adapt and adjust, even to oddities like face masks and social distancing. “All is new to [June],” her parents declare, “and so through her way of seeing the world the smallest things can be new to us again. In a way that amazement is the essence of this book.” June is a twofer: a pandemic memento, and a glimpse of potential paths forward.
Collector’s POV: Annemarieke van Drimmelen’s commercial work is represented by MA Talent (here). Jasper Krabbé does not appear to have consistent gallery representation at this time. Those collectors interested in following up should likely connect directly with the artists via their websites (linked in the sidebar).