Wouter Nijland


At first glance you would not say, but the work of Wouter Nijland (b. 1980) depends on chance. Literally. Just like everyday life, which is his main inspiration. The artist determines only the conditions of his paintings, such as size and grid. After that he leaves it all to chance.

The slope of a line? A bucket full of marbles numbered by 1 to 360 decides. Will a patch be colored? A coin toss will answer the question with ‘yes’ or ‘no’. And if the verdict is ‘yes’, it then has to be decided whether to fill it with horizontal or vertical brush strokes. Again the coin decides.

In his use of color chance plays a decisive role as well. Wouter uses ten different colors of oil paint, all of which he mixes to black. On the eye, with daylight that enters his studio at that moment as his helper. No black is the same; it depends, for example, by its base color, the brush strokes, the thickness of the application and the weather outside. Each patch has therefore its unique color. The color black also ensures that the beholder is not distracted by emotions and associations evoked by any pronounced use of color.

Ever since 2006 Wouter is working with this system, just when he was finishing his last year at the Minerva Academy of Arts in Groningen (NL). Simply executing his own ideas wasn’t enough for the young artist. Something was missing. By adding something which was bigger than himself, like the definition of chance, which is universal and beyond his own imagination, made his work felt complete.

Artist Statement

Gott würfelt nicht (A. Einstein), I do (W. Nijland).

In my paintings I use aleatoric* systems. The use of chance as a decisive factor is centuries old. It is known that the Romans made choices by throwing dice.
In the year 1954, Werner Meyer-Eppler, a Belgian physicist and composer, interpreted the term aleatoric as: a process in which the course is broadly defined, but the details depend on chance. Aleatoric acts are small, but significant variations within a defined framework.

In music, Cage, Bowie and Mozart are examples of famous composers of aleatoric pieces. In art history, aleatoric methods were used by Dadaist and Surrealist artists in the first half of the last century. Famous examples are Arp and Duchamp. In the contemporary visual arts Morellet and Struycken are known for their use of these methods.

The reason that I work with random acts within a fairly rigid system is not directly due to a continuing fascination for an aleatoric art movement. The connection is there, but with a different twist.
My current method is created from two different angles. The first is my interest in opposing factors in philosophy (existentialism / determinism), geometry (horizontal / vertical) and painting (form/ residual form). The second approach is to investigate the potential applications of paint.

My recent paintings include concepts in which the opposite factors ‘systematic’ and ‘coincidence’ interact. The systematic part is issuing a concept in which the rules and acts are fixed.
The acts themselves are formed by aleatoric processes. For example, the degree angle of a brush stroke by the taking of a tagged marble from a bucket of 360 marbles.
The size of a shape by a cast with a dice. Or to fill in a square, yes or no, with the toss of a coin.

The final composition is an elaboration of a concept in which the two opposites have had an equally amount of influence.

* Aleatoric music (from Latin: Alea = ‘die’) where music is deliberately using random and unpredictable factors.
Aleatoric means in music, art and literature, producing artistic structures through improvisational or random combinatorial operations (source: Wikipedia)