Vanriet is an oeuvre builder, in the fullest sense of the term—this can also be understood in a literary manner. Typical of the oeuvre builder is the tendency to construct a personal world in which many other worlds emerge, are soaked up and digested, and metamorphosed into something inalienably personal. Vanriet is automatically tributary to a whole range of historically suffused iconographic themes. He handles visual elements literally like a poet handles words: He arranges them, rearranges them, deletes, adds, revises, starts his pictorial phrase anew, tastes it, takes up themes at large intervals, interweaves motifs and metaphors, and relies, when push comes to shove, on the strength of intuition. Like a poet, he is in pursuit of an ambiguous whole that carries an impression of transparency while simultaneously eluding simple analysis. He is aware that the image itself, if it has been constructed carefully, always evokes more complex associations than schematic intentions. As one delves deeper, the connections become more impressive. Jan Vanriet is something of a contemporary Symbolist, a semiotician in paint, for whom each reference fits into a hermetical system, behind which he frequently attempts to secrete emotion and memory.
One might wonder what generations in a distant future will read into Vanriet’s paintings... These riddle-like works, in which our own actuality and the recent past have been so encoded, in which we must, every time, search for something that will break the code—a smudge on a watercolor, a meticulously copied stencil, a graphite drawing on an alkyd painting, or an ironic point in the title. Many of Vanriet’s paintings can make not only the future viewer, but also the contemporary one feel like a fool, unable to put the cryptic symbols in their rightful place. Yet his work presents itself initially as an inviting, visual play—now sensory and loose; now geometrical and abstract; now like a transparent historical reference; now like a pictorial riddle that releases its meaning in driblets to the viewer. Vanriet’s plastic strategies are very similar to text strategies, and the standard way to break open such systems of symbols is a kind of exegesis, a comparative textual study of the material.
Stefan Hertmans, 2000
Bathers, Day’s End, 2015, oil on canvas, 180 x 150 cm
The Refuge, 2015, oil on canvas, 203 x 182 cm
Women in the Forest Red, 2015, oil on canvas, 130 x 150 cm