Light Play

In Lara de Moor’s interiors, things happen that in reality are considered unusual, or even impossible. These need not be large things: they can be hidden in small details, such as the curving shadow cast by a curtain which hangs straight. Its shadow is bulging independently; it has taken on a life of its own. What is interesting is that de Moor has painted it in such a way that this is not immediately obvious. The interior looks perfectly acceptable the way it is, which is a result of the artist’s way of painting. She depicts rooms or spaces with objects and furniture in them that closely resemble the world as we see it.
In exhibitions and critiques in the Netherlands, de Moor’s work has been associated with modern or contemporary realism, as well as magic realism. These are designations that the artist isn’t keen on because, for her, they don’t express the essence of her work. Does it relate to realism at all? As this term is ambiguous, and has been used in different ways over time, it needs clarification. Realism as a movement in art history emerged in the mid-19th century. Gustave Courbet aimed to depict the reality of many different people, including workers and ‘ordinary folk’. For him, realism had a social dimension. The people he painted modelled for his work, including two stone workers in their working clothes who he invited into the studio.
The call for realism in art has come in many guises, including less obvious ones, such as 1960s American Pop Art. In the contemporary debate, a realistic representation of the population is thematised. The term ‘realism’ clearly doesn’t represent a single movement or view, or a particular way of painting. Instead, it moves with the times. It also acts a bit like a watchdog, seeking to bring art back to reality if it goes its own way too much. In most cases, realism comes with a figurative approach. The starting point of realistic paintings is something that has been observed and is recognisable as such: a human figure, an interior, a tree, a bottle, a flag, and so on. But the way this is executed, detailed or abstracted, and the motivation behind it, vary greatly. Realism is not a stylistic trait.
De Moor’s work, too, begins with something that the artist has observed or that has taken place in her life. She strives to evoke the essence of being and does so through interiors: living rooms or bedrooms, corridors, studios or stairwells. Her spaces have a particular atmosphere, are charged with the life that was lived in them, a particular incident that took place there. Not infrequently, however, the spaces are empty: most of the furniture has been cleared, the former inhabitants are absent. But it is easy to see that de Moor’s paintings are still about people as a result of the traces they left behind, their intentions being expressed by the furnishings: the wallpaper that they chose, or its discolouration, which occurred in parallel with the ageing of the former inhabitants. The few pieces of furniture or objects that are depicted have a clear presence in the otherwise empty spaces; they define both mood and space.
In Carl Jung’s psychology, the house symbolised man’s psyche. Jung dreamt of a large house and devoted himself to interpreting the different rooms he had seen, and how they connected him to the deeper layers of being. From this, he tried to develop a method of interpreting dreams. The drawing room on the first floor is where guests are received and could represent the dreamer’s current social life. One floor below, everything is slightly older; this is where the family history and the broader cultural background are anchored. In the basement, hidden from view, are even deeper layers, influences that the dreamer isn’t conscious of, but which still influence or co-determine their life. With de Moor, it is not always clear where in the house a room is located, as the rooms have lost their previous functions,
but it appears that the artist is interested in all floors of a house. In her paintings, several layers of time seem to have accumulated and settled down. There is a certain atmosphere or tension, but the reason for that is not immediately revealed, and nor is the story behind things. This makes de Moor’s paintings perfect surfaces for the viewer to project their own memories, feelings and thoughts onto.
As a child, the artist moved house frequently, with each new house providing new spaces to discover and play in. They were also places where her father created and exhibited his sculptural art, which took up a lot of space. In that sense, they were not ordinary houses: they were occupied by art. Nowadays, it is de Moor herself who decides how spaces are arranged, how much is allowed in them and how they are differentiated in terms of colour. The important thing is that they are not too full; they should trigger the imagination, not provide an overload of details. Owing to the attention given to space around the objects in de Moor’s relatively empty rooms, these objects act more like sculptures.
‘One of the greatest strengths of painting is that you can paint illusions,’ de Moor noted. ‘You only need to paint a door and it automatically suggests that there is a room behind it.’ In the dark beyond the doorframe in Softlock (2022), there is just a hint of a second room. All you see is part of a sink with a mirror above it. It is up to the viewer to imagine the size and interior of the second room.
An interesting counterpart of de Moor’s work in terms of approaching space is that of Matthias Weischer from Leipzig in Germany. Like de Moor, he mostly paints interiors, but the paint in his work has a different texture and is sometimes applied so thickly that the work looks sculptural, like a relief. He also uses a different palette. For both painters, however, colour is a tool to evoke atmosphere and refer to the period an image is set in. Also, for both painters, it is important that they have seen the scenes that they paint in real life so that they can get a feel for how these spaces work. Some of de Moor’s motifs are part of her own home; others she found in empty houses, which she viewed, if possible. Before she starts work on a new painting, she chooses a particular aspect and arranges the space she intends to paint: she stretches wires, installs a table with clothes on it, bends the light. She wants to see the image that she envisions in real life, to experience it both physically and spatially, and aims to create a visible starting point for her painting. Once the basic arrangement is in place, she can start painting and adapt things on the canvas, for many details will change. In Spiller (2021), for instance, the black cloud drifting into the room exists only in paint. But the space in which it appears is real, and it is this that grounds the work.
For both de Moor and Weischer, the question of whether a painting works seems to depend on the spatial order that is created. Objects that are at the back of a room are usually depicted smaller than those in front, which allows the viewer to understand the space and imagine being in it. At the same time, though, deviating from the rules of perspective is as interesting as mastering them. Whether paintings work partly depends on small changes, imperfections you could say, or even bold adjustments. This creates friction between what is plausible in an image and what is illogical or impossible but beautiful to look at; it creates a tension in the image that makes it more interesting. In False Wall (2021), the colour green is used to change the shape of a wall and flout the rules of perspective.
De Moor likes to confuse the viewer regarding what is real and what isn’t, which may result from her fascination with the power of painting and the illusions it can create. In Sidetable (2022), the table with objects on it that is depicted against a background of brown paper looks different from the rest of the space. It looks like a painting within the painting. But the table really stood there: the artist placed it there to paint a still life and, using tape, cordoned off a corner of the room to do so. The reason why it looks unreal is because both the table and the objects on it, including a candle, cup and bowl, are all covered in a layer of grey-blue. This lifts the objects out of their functional existence and serves to create an atmosphere of timelessness.
Elements in de Moor’s work that serve the spatial illusion of the image are combined with a special attention to colour: the pale pink of the windowsill, the wooden floor that features many variations of both colour and texture. In addition, the viewer’s eye is drawn by deliberately painted rougher areas in combination with smooth ones, which makes the viewer pause and think. Such material details also evoke a sense of touch: the viewer gets the impression that the scene is tangible. Thus, the way in which the illusion is created is twofold: on the one hand through perspective, on the other by evoking a sense of touch.
The meaning of de Moor’s work is often found in the emptiness that characterises her spaces and in the atmosphere created by the interplay between various objects. Her paintings are connected by the fact that there is often something invisible in them that is important. The clothes in Prop Table (after El Greco) (2018) evoke figures in yellow, blue or red robes found in El Greco’s paintings, but de Moor hasn’t depicted the figures themselves. Frame (2016) also depicts clothing that was left behind: in this case, on a lectern. In this painting, there is a second motif that demands attention, which is referred to in the title: the abstract painting in the second room, which can be seen in the background.
Just as there is someone in the control room in the theatre who highlights the actors or part of the stage, de Moor has distributed the light across the canvas with professional attention. The light determines where the viewer begins to look, where they ‘enter’ the painting, and what they notice later on because it is shrouded in semi-darkness. In many of de Moor’s paintings, light plays an important role, and is often just as important as the motif that is illuminated. Light also plays a role in setting small optical traps that attract attention. In Song (2022), the light divides the floor in two. In Untitled (2019), it hits a glass pane and creates a star shape. In Velvet (2018), it filters through a curtain onto the wall. The light guides the viewer’s gaze and colours the composition. Even when the light is briefly interrupted, as in White Line, Broken Line (2020), it still stands out. It makes and breaks the illusion. Thus, de Moor’s work embodies a theatrical experience of space.
If you still want to use the term ‘realism’, then ‘psychological realism’ would be more accurate, as each painting functions as a container holding an ambivalent mix of mood and feeling; they don’t just depict a single idea. De Moor’s work appeals to what people experience, to their inner world, dreams and memories; therein lies the work’s realism. In Osmosis (2020), the atmosphere is cool and uninviting due to the harsh backlight but, at the same time, the painting comes across as resolute and to the point, making it persuasive. In Softlock, the light shining on three transparent panels is bright and white, but the atmosphere is softened by the pink background and the fact that the interior of the dark second room seems to come from another era. In Parallels (2021), there is friction, as two experiences of space are combined under a single roof. The house is coming apart at the seams.
De Moor’s work starts with observations, but quickly moves to absorbing the space: not just through the eyes, but through a sense of what is in the air, of tension and discomfort, of wonder, of the spirit of a place. Even when they are empty, houses burst with images and have dramatic potential. The spaces appeal to nostalgia or abandonment, to fear or separation, to suspicions or desires. Those who don’t see or notice any of this can look at de Moor’s paintings that depict the artist’s focus on the peculiar in the everyday, supported by plenty of space. It is not the action itself, but the space for action that presents itself in the work. Somewhere a door opens, a beam of light hits the floor. The viewer notices it, turns their head and the painting picks up.

--Jurriaan Benschop

(From the book Still Point, Lecturis 2023)

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