Erik van Lieshout (l) with René Daniëls, video. Maureen Paley, London, 2022 Photograph: Mark Blower/Erik van Lieshout, courtesy Maureen Paley, London

Erik van Lieshout: the artist trying to reach his friend who can’t speak after a stroke

Issue no2
april - mei 2022
platteland & biënnale gids

Adrian Searle writes about Erik van Lieshout's new film about René Daniëls which is shown at Maureen Paley in London and Museum de Pont in Tilburg.

The provocative Dutchman has made a film about artist René Daniëls, who was a celebrated artist before being left aphastic and partially paralysed.

Erik van Lieshout’s films are often riotous, comic affairs. Always putting himself in the frame – along with his subjects, collaborators, antagonists and even passers-by – he’s a kind of agent provocateur. He annoys, provokes, and sometimes goes too far. How far can you go? Now 54, Van Lieshout’s latest work focuses on fellow Dutch artist René Daniëls. While retaining Van Lieshout’s talent for embedding himself in situations (often of his own making), and for all the incidental, hilarious interludes, this film, René Daniëls 2021, filmed over a year, has a largely different tenor to previous works.

In 1987 Daniëls, then an influential young Dutch painter, suffered a haemorrhagic stroke. He was 37. His career had lasted barely a decade. For a long time, Daniëls was unable to work, and still can barely speak. Slowly, he has learned to paint and draw again, using his left hand. He is now aphasic, and partially paralysed on his right side.

Communicating by way of smiles and thumbs-ups, laughter, cryptic drawings and occasionally written words, you’re never quite sure what’s going on with Daniëls. But it would be a mistake to cast Daniëls’ art in the past tense. Not only does he still sporadically paint and make drawings, his art also remains influential and is regularly shown. A prolific painter, his work always bristled with ideas, visual puns, unexpected conjunctions, an impure mix of figuration, abstraction, cryptic signs and an overriding humour and surprise. His paintings have a light, deft touch, both funny and serious at the same time. Younger painters now who don’t know Daniëls’ work might be as surprised and captivated by it as I still am.

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