All of Nicky Broekhuysen’s work is binary, both literally and figuratively. The artist paints using only stamps of the numbers 1 and 0, and the work is always intended as having more than one meaning, or comprising more than just the sum total of the marks on the paper. Binary code is a language designed for information exchange – we use it daily for virtually every task imaginable; it surrounds us in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi signals – and yet it is essentially illegible to humans. Broekhuysen uses that contradiction as part of her work. By further abstracting the binary code and applying the numbers at random, she creates an image which, even if abstract, imparts information to and elicits a response from the viewer. She is thereby both using and deconstructing the language, subverting its initial message while maintaining its initial intent.
With this bravura exhibition, Broekhuysen has created a series of work that spans art history, connecting people across time, combining the conceptual with the traditional, and the theoretical with the spiritual. The work is created in the same method as her previous series – each painting is made up of thousands of marks, hand-stamped one by one to create a larger image. However, for The Channeling, Broekhuysen’s inspiration comes from a personal family history that includes equal parts art historical reference and mysticism, and more than a little bit of skepticism and blind faith.
Broekhuysen’s grandmother, Marge Hugo, claimed to be able to connect with or “channel” the Impressionist painter Claude Monet through an exercise known as automatic writing. As Marge honed this meditative practice, voices spoke through her and claimed to be spirits – for lack of a better word – of long-dead Impressionist painters. They communicated through her in writing and painting, eventually reaching out to try to speak with Marge granddaughter, Broekhuysen, and to help her in her own life.
The Impressionists were, in their naissance, iconoclasts, eschewing traditional approaches to paintings and adding subjective interpretations of light and color into every work. From Monet’s earliest Impressionist paintings to later Post-Impressionist and Pointillist styles, the group of painters who channeled through Marge were interested in the light and color and motion – depicting everyday life as well as the first inklings of the Industrial Revolution. They were visionaries or contemporary art, espousing reality over realness, and intimation over imitation.
Regardless of one’s own satisfaction or belief in the tale, it is a further use of Broekhuysen’s binary system. To find the imagery for this work, the artist took smartphone photos of details of Monet works, edited the color palette in Photoshop, and then reinterpreted the image onto paper. Interpretation of data is what language is – it is always subject to personal experience and opinion. Likewise, the factuality or scientific veracity of the story of channeling one of the most famous painters in the world is less important than how it is translated into Broekhuysen’s art.