Peter Royen, born in Amsterdam, died in 2013 at the age of 90 in Düsseldorf, known for his white silent paintings and his great commitment to his fellow artists. The Federal Cross of Merit 1984 and the Artist Award of the Düsseldorf Artists 2013 are an expression of how highly he was esteemed.
Known by the name “painter of silence” by Werner Schmalenbach, he worked with geometry and structure, but his paintings are neither strict nor programmatic. His aim was to explore the spatial effect of colour, so the non-colours white and black were perfect for this. He encourages the viewer to spend a lot of time with his work, to read into the paintings. Then one discovers the haptic properties of the material and the subtle spatial effect.
After studying with Pankok, Royen remained in Dusseldorf. He had countless exhibitions in Germany, the Netherlands, as well as in Brazil and Japan. Many important international collectors, such as Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, owns works by him.
Peter Royen, born in Amsterdam in 1923, died at 90 in 2013. He was a real character. Not only because he has been dedicated for almost 60 years to making art with exceptionally great energy and sensitivity. Already in his early life he stood for ‘freedom of art’ and for ‘respect for the artist‘. At 23, he moved to the Dusseldorf Art Academy to study with Pankok. He initiated the networking and support for regional, but also international artists, in the course of which he helped to found the Cultural Office of Dusseldorf, and the ‘Gruppe 53’ . Besides the unique paintings for which he is known, he previously also did wood printing and plastics.
The woodcuts of 1950 are of high-quality and timeless. All the female figures are paintings of his wife, Christine, who greatly inspired him through everyday situations. Christine had never sat as a model. One can feel the intimate connection of the couple and the worship that he showed her, which suggests that she was his muse. To be able to work he needed her in his closest environment, and since a one-time attempt failed to work in an external studio, he always worked at home.
The handmade prints of woodcuts are balanced in their composition and in the interlocking patterns on the surface – he succeeded in conveying different moods. He learnt wood engraving from 1946-49, at the Dusseldorf Art Academy under Pankok, whom he admired very much.
The Peter Royen sculptures from the early sixties were used as models to adapt them into metal casts. In 2011 the Flow Fine Art Gallery decided to exhibit the plaster models for the first time. With the texture and color of the original casts, the models correspond to his main work, the white paintings. The organic forms of the sculptures offer a wide field of association, they are reminiscent of plant seeds and fruits and also of female nudes. Because of their simplicity they may also recall traditional art of ancient peoples. This impression may be reinforced by the material and color of the sculptures, because the finished sculptures are cast from aluminum-steel composite, which is silver-colored and dull.
Almost 20 years ago, Peter Royen discovered his unique style of painting and has kept it ever since. When asked what he felt when he first painted in this way, in white, he said: ‘I was surprised, surprised by the effect, and I’ve stayed with it ever since.’
White was not the only color of choice from the beginning: the images of his first exhibition came along with red. But because art critics were talking more about the intense red than the essential forms, something had to be done. He said: ‘The Red had to go! So then my forms could be better heard. Nothing should distract from the essentials!’ The paintings in white accordingly became his trademark. Only in 2008, after 50 years, he included red as an essential part of a series, inspired by a conversation with Professor Werner Schmalenbach. Then, when the gallery owner saw these works in his studio, the spontaneous idea came for the exhibition title: ‘Royen sieht Rot’ (‘Royen sees red’).
And still he kept coming back to white, as it is the color, according to him, that lets everything open up to the outside, as it is not presumptuous. By opting for white, the forms stay in the foreground.
If you look at a typical Royen painting, in its simplicity and its angular shapes, it may appear at first glance cold and austere. However, vitality and warmth in his art is soon revealed. He encourages the viewer to spend time in front of his work, to read into the images. Then we discover the haptic quality of the materials and the subtle spatial effect. He is interested in exploring the spatial effect of colors, and for that the non-colors white and black are perfectly suited. He uses the following technique: he applies seven layers of color – already as a child his lucky number was seven. The first layer is always a shade of yellow, which dissolves the rough underground sketch. He also uses wax, dammar resin and turpentine. The paintings he calls ‘picture objects’ are by no means planned, but rather the position of the lines and squares arise in the course of a long development process. The other layers he edits with spatula, brush and brush point, so that the shapes and patterns arise. Partly he again grinds away elevations of color. The actual monochrome colors of titanium white and iron-oxide black gives them a subtle depth and haptic quality. Spatial emphasis, heights and depths give a balanced composition, inviting you to a meditative contemplation, because in his work the focus is on the now, on the being. The stillness in the paintings was also recognised by museums in Japan, where he exhibited in a Zen center. It is for this reason that Professor Werner Schmalenbach called him ‘a poet of painting, a painter of silence’ .