'I feel closer to American Minimalism than to the Nouveau Realisme of Yves Klein. For me, minimal art is the American variant of Zero art'
(J. Schoonhoven, quoted in R. Damsch-Wiehager, Nul: die Wirklichkeit als Kunst fundieren, die niederländische Gruppe Nul, 1960-1965, und heute, Stuttgart 1993, p.117).
Jan Schoonhoven's powerful, white geometric works were created out of the destruction of World War II. The Dutch artist's response was to develop a body of work that featured a series of grids with a clear commitment to egalitarian order; the strict lines of the relief are enhanced by the purity of its composition, where no particular colour, material or individual element is dominant.
Schoonhoven's work came to prominence with the formation of the Dutch-based Informele Groep, later to become the Nul Groep (Zero Group) in 1957. Around the same time German artists Otto Piene and Heinz Mack founded the Gruppe Zero in Düsseldorf. Günter Uecker joined a year later. The first major exhibition of Zero NUL took place in 1962 in the Stedelijke Museum in Amsterdam. The preparation for this exposition took place in the spring of 1961 in the studio of Günther Uecker himself and gathered Heinz Mack, Otto Piene, Yves Klein and the Dutch group NUL, consisting of Henk Peeters, Jan Schoonhoven, Armando and Jan Henderikse. Jan Schoonhoven built for this exhibition a wall relief of cardboard boxes.
It was also during this time that Schoonhoven had begun developing his characteristic relief works, produced using papier maché. Initially these were coloured and irregular, but in 1960 he commenced producing his pure white and symmetrically geometric reliefs. It was never Jan Schoonhoven's goal to create new kinds of visual forms. His reliefs can for example consist of deductions from wall grills or Venetian blinds. In the spirit of Zero he wished to show us the beauties of modern life.
Schoonhoven believed the viewer was necessary to complete the work. In his work the effect of light falling on the deep recesses of his grids creates shadows which fluctuate and move with the changing levels of daylight and the shifting position of the viewer.
Schoonhoven was famous for his meticulous ordered titles, with all three-dimensional works starting with the R for relief and then the year and number.