'Order is the key word for Jan Schoonhoven: the order that he depicts in his reliefs and drawings is a direct reflection of his existence. Since 1960 Schoonhoven has limited himself to the arrangements of horizontals and verticals. By doing so, he has come close to the dividing line between art and non-art and has thereby made it all the more distinct. It all has to do with the right feeling for rhythm, with a sublime execution of line, with a fine play of light and shadow, with subtle aesthetics based on sobriety and regularity' (J. Wesseling, Schoonhoven. Visual artist, The Hague 1990, p. 8).
With its elegant formal rhythm spanning nearly two metres in width, Jan Schoonhoven's R 73-1 is an exceptional large-scale example of the relief works for which he is best known. Defined by its regular geometric articulation, divided vertically into six segments, its distinctive elongated horizontal shape marks it out as a relatively unique structure within Schoonhoven's oeuvre. The work's title functions as a kind of identification number: 'R' indicates that the work is a relief, '73' represents the year of its creation and '1' denotes that it was the first relief work the artist produced during this year. Using materials such as corrugated cardboard and papier-maché, Schoonhoven began producing his serialized relief works in the late 1950s. Advocating the integration of light and movement into his work, Schoonhoven deployed intersecting three-dimensional planes and repetitive forms in an attempt to access new, objective forms of expression. Through his use of white in combination with stark minimal structures, a rhythm of light and shadow is set in motion, throwing the work's physical order into a state of flux. By the end of the 1960s, Schoonhoven's work had fully embraced systematic process, increasingly eliminating traces of the artist's own hand. It was within this context that he began to produce works on a much larger scale, moving away from the limiting constraints of the kitchen table upon which he had constructed his earliest works. As an artist who embraced routine and regularity in all aspects of his life, these large-scale relief structures represent the ultimate expression of his artistic aesthetic.
At around the same time that Schoonhoven first began producing his relief works, he co-founded the Dutch Nul group along with the artists Armando, Jan Henderikse and Henk Peeters. Conceived in opposition to the expressive painterly aesthetic of CoBrA, the movement's artistic aims had much in common with those of the ZERO group, initiated in Dusseldorf during this period by Otto Piene and Heinz Mack. In 1964, Schoonhoven articulated his own understanding of ZERO, and in doing so provided a window onto his own practice. As he explains, 'the geometric aspect of ZERO is created by the element of repetition, the placement in rows ("Reihungen"). This order emerges from the need to avoid preference. The absence of preference for particular places and points in the work of art is essential to ZERO and necessary to provide an isolated reality. The geometric side of ZERO is consequently geared to extreme simplicity, an organization of very simple forms, a reality derived from that which actually exists. ZERO is first and foremost a new concept of reality, in which the individual role of the artist is kept to a minimum. The ZERO artist only chooses, isolates parts of reality (materials as well as ideas taken from reality) and shows these in the most neutral manner. ZERO's primary task is to reveal the essence of reality, the true reality of materials, of localized things in isolated clarity ... Its aim is to establish reality as art in an impersonal way' (J. Schoonhoven, quoted in Armando et al., De nieuwe stijl, werk van de internationale avant-garde, deel 1, Amsterdam 1965, pp. 118-123). With its exquisite formal clarity, Schoonhoven's reliefs represent the most concise visual expression of these convictions.