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.)
Jan Schoonhoven concentrated on his famous white papier-maché compositions, only after five o'clock in the afternoon. Similar as in his art, he had a compulsory need for regularity and order in his life and out of sheer necessity he hung on to it for such a long time. He found his definitive handwriting or style at the beginning of the 1960s: the varied reliefs next to drawings filled with systematic repetitions, he produced in the evenings and during the weekends. He used a simple but effective numbering system: R stands for relief; the first number is the year that it was made and the second number indicates the sequence within the year. (For his drawings, he employed the same system with the T).
Jan Schoonhoven's work came to prominence with the formation of the Dutch-based Informal Group in 1957, later to become the NUL Group. Around the same time German artists Otto Piene, Heinz Mack founded the Group ZERO in Düsseldorf, a year later followed by Günther Uecker. Advocating the integration of light and movement into a two-dimensional painted surface, they wanted to emphasize expression by means of monolithic plane and repetitive forms. The first major exhibition of this international group, called NUL, took place in 1962 in the Stedelijke Museum in Amsterdam. Jan Schoonhoven built a wall relief of cardboard boxes for this exhibition.
In 1964 Schoonhoven wrote the article ZERO, in which he stated what ZERO meant to him. It is the most concise piece ever written by him. The following is an excerpt from this text: ' [...] 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. The avoidance of personal feelings is fundamental for ZERO. The acceptance of things as they are and not changing them for personal reasons, but making changes only when this is needed in order to show reality in a more intensive way. Modifications merely as isolations and the concentration of parts of reality [...] ZERO's primary task is to reveal the essence of reality, the true reality of materials, of localized things in isolated clarity [...] The intention of ZERO is not to create a new form. The form is determined in advance by the isolated reality. Its aim is to establish reality as art in an impersonal way.' (Armando et al., De nieuwe stijl, werk van de internationale avant-garde, deel 1, Amsterdam 1965, pp. 118-123.)
By the end of the 1960's Jan Schoonhoven's popularity was growing. Looking at works from this period, it is as though the personal element gradually withdrew and became even more dissolved by the system. The reliefs became more austere, more formal, harder and icy white.
When in 1968 in an interview, he was asked about the production by others he answered: 'I wouldn't mind trying that for the fun of it. But the actual work, no I have to make the whole work myself'. (J. Bernlef and K. Schippers, "Gesprek met J.J. Schoonhoven", De Gids, 1968, no. 2/3 p. 130-140.) But gradually Schoonhoven got used to the idea of seeking assistance with the production of the reliefs. He realized that there were several advantages of this 'studio,' not only could he increase the production, he could also work on more ideas at the same time.
The present lot R 70-72 is created by the light which is cast across it, and it owes its existence to that play of light. By using white in combination with variations of height, a rhythm of light and shadow is brought about, and this changes with a built-in modification of cast light, thus changing the look of the image as well. His grids are used for an ultimate isolation of light, and the surrounding edge emphasizes these properties.