The dynamics of Ellen Rodenberg (2010)


In her artwork Ellen Rodenberg gives both a differential as well as an apt dynamic picture of her progress.

Initially the artist was self-taught and subsequently she continued at the Koninklijke Academie in Den Haag to obtain her Degree in Fine Art over a two-year period.

Besides paintings she also makes three-dimensional installations and videos; which have been frequently used in music performances in the The Hague underground scene where her videos have been shown as a part of the overall programme.

This broad range of activities appears to have consistently contributed to a painterly development, which has lead to an interesting new body of work. In the paintings the previous formal characteristics continue to prevail; they have been divided in four squares. In the four forms a different approach is used, but throughout this approach in all four the same subject or motif flows.

This subject is recognizable at times, at times only partially and in a few works it disappears from sight altogether enabling the painting to become a complete abstract geometric canvas although through the transparent layers of paint it is still possible to detect a suggestion of the original subject matter. In some instances the subject matter deals with landscapes in which the spatial referential remains. For instance: in a recent canvas the landscape is divided in four sections unto which a circular design  is painted, which in itself has again been divided in four different sections and through this defracted process the displayed figure acts as a repository. If one wonders what exactly is going on here the fist thing that becomes apparent that the internally divided and at times faded landscapes are an important and informative element in her work; as memories partially faded and tinted.

On the other hand these elements have been sufficiently incorporated that the painting can be seen as an autonomous abstract work. The cross, which divides the canvas, forms an important part in the whole picture; the four approaches, separations appear as an integral part of the canvas and structure and thereby further support each other’s context. The more flat painted canvasses strongly suggest the flag motif and its suggestive countenance makes it an important theme in the artists work.

Ellen Rodenberg has also discovered a third dimension to her work; the need to investigate her concerns with other means at her disposal such as making installations out of Styrofoam and in which she employs toys, photo’s and small dolls to make these spaces dynamic. Photographs made of these installations can act again as a source of inspiration for new paintings.

In 2004 the artist began a web log ‘MULTI-MPRESSIELOG’ where she noted personal observations and experiences and in doing so positioned herself in a different manner in the art world.


In the new studio in de DCR a number of things took place in the development and progress of her work. In the paintings a concentration unto two subject matters takes place. Firstly a number of used motifs in the work are erased and in doing so these abstract elements used in the process strengthen themselves The abstract elements flowing out of the motifs are used in rhythmic patterns and again in these paintings the aforementioned characteristics emerge: the canvasses are colourful, contain depth are dynamic and contain a confrontation of different picturorial elements. Conflicting ideas move and collide in the pictorial space.

Following a residency in her Cemeti Art Centre in Djokyakarta in Indonesia organised by HEDEN in 2008 Ellen Rodenberg began to use a new discipline: besides photography and making studies she began to make videos to record her observations and noticed how important national identity is in Indonesia. This identity is confirmed in public spaces through symbols as well as the public’s behaviour. This gave Rodenberg the idea to return to her theme of flags. She began to make fictitious flags containing four equal colour fields. In the first instance the flags were sown together using textiles and displayed in various public venues. She further decided to use them as projection screens and was surprised by the result as the projected video’s appeared in a filtered coloured light. They resembled fragments of memory as they surface in our minds. Back in The Netherlands she further experimented with this subject matter and edits found synchronised sound. This leads to numerous collaborations and public performances with sound artists.

Photographs taken from the video projections emerge subsequently as a source of inspiration for work to follow. Paintings with text and in a flag pattern suggest memory; filtered, coloured and fragmented. Simultaneously the paintings are completely abstract and the flag motif adds to its autonomous identity. The way in which they are worked out refers to Modernism and even further to formalistic work. This explorative way of working is extended in the current series: the separating cross moves across the surface and in doing so it causes the divided surfaces to become asymmetrical.

You could surmise and say that Ellen Rodenberg would like to be called a painter whose idea’s are formulated and executed in multiple and dynamic ways. She develops her ideas and themes in a constant state of flux and motion and through experimenting with all sorts of different media and techniques. The confrontation of her work with work done by others and her own by form a continuous challenge in her work practise. The paintings which emerge out of this process balance on the edge of figuration and abstraction which equally occurred at the time of the transitional stage of Modernism: the tension found in the opposites and the energetic research by the artist are visible in the strength of the paintings by Ellen Rodenberg.


Adaptation Ineke Van der Wal

Taken from the original text by Kees Koomen of October 2010.



Het werk van Ellen Rodenberg is gebaseerd op de herinnering. Speelde deze aanvankelijk een hoofdrol bij de tot standkoming van het schilderij, later verschuift het accent meer naar de vraagstelling, het hoe en waarom van het schilderen zelf.
Uit talrijke tekeningen en gouaches komen vanaf het jaar 2001 min of meer terloops diverse motieven bovendrijven. Rodenberg rubriceert deze van de herinnering afgeleide beelden onder de nummers 0 tot en met 13. Zij hanteert nu een lijst van 14 motieven. Elk motief heeft zijn eigen icoon. Deze tekens worden niet op zichzelf staand weergegeven, maar door elkaar heen. Het ene motief kan het andere beïnvloeden en transformeren tot nieuwe vormen en kleuren. Tesamen zijn het op elkaar reagerende vormmodellen die toegepast kunnen worden in nieuwe schilderijen of zelfs letterlijk tastbaar worden in een driedimensionale opstelling als een onderzoek naar nieuwe elementen die weer in de schilderijen gebruikt kunnen worden.


Tekst: Will Lutz,




Landing Soon#7  2008

Artist in residence in Yogyakarta, Indonesia 2008

Ellen Rodenberg, born in Amsterdam in 1955, studied education at Koninklijke Academie van Beeldende Kunsten in Den Haag.
Ellen Rodenberg is a painter who focuses her attention on concepts of construction and deconstruction of symbols and meanings. Toys are one source of inspiration and icons that are used to paint ideas about human culture. Throughout this residency, this artist, with an interest in history, religiosity and education, has wrestled with ‘kitschy’ plastic toys while pondering questions about the culture of imitating that she often encountered in Yogya. Imitating, at a certain level is actually one of the oldest human traits and part of creativity it self. However, how far this can be carried into the creative processes of an individual is a question that must eventually be asked. Ellen Rodenberg’s installation is a search for an answer at the same time as it is an collection of impressions of human behavior in Yogyakarta, her home country, the Netherlands, and in every part of the world.


Text in catalogue: Landing Soon #7

Following a Trail, Creating Texture

I don’t think Ellen Rodenberg is just

playing with the dozens of objects she

collected during her residency in Jogja,

after I observed the way how she arranges

the various plastic toys, such as toy soldiers,

tanks, cars, motorcycles, trees, flags, etc.,

on her worktable. Her methods recall the

joys of a child in selecting whatever she

likes and placing them into positions. This,

collecting various objects that caught her

fancy, was the first thing Ellen did upon

arriving in Jogja.

It was interesting when Ellen, an artist

born in Amsterdam in 1955, shared her

worktable with her children. It is probable

that we, adults, would be annoyed with

sharing the space, because the objects

Ellen collected were similar to her children’s

toys. However, Ellen partitioned the table,

drawing a clear boundary between her

children’s playing area and her own art

space. This proves she was not just playing,

as she was busy arranging and rearranging,

repositioning the various objects, while

trying to identify them and understand

their symbols and meanings. Ellen is

currently conducting historical research on

these objects that she will present as



There is a deep conviction to follow the

history of these objects. For instance,

the swastika is a Nazi symbol associated

with the terrifying and oppressive Hitler

regime. However, this is not the symbol’s

meaning for which Ellen is searching;

rather, she is focusing on the other meanings

and relevancies that developed and are

used in other contexts. The swastika is also

a devotional symbol for the Hindus. These

contrasting and contradictory meanings

Following a Trail, Creating Texture

become the base for Ellen’s research. She

focuses her attention on the diverse

perspectives of a symbol. In essence, she

wants to prove that any one symbol does

not belong to any specific group, language,

or discourse, but rather a symbol can have

different meanings, uses and rites in

different contexts.


Ellen’s background in painting explains

how she views these objects in two and

three dimensions. At this point, I see

Ellen’s unique artistic language. I think her

experience in conducting this unusual

exploration provides a valuable opportunity

to witness the process behind a final

product. The stability of painting

conventions that represent two dimensions

on a canvas seem to be shattered by Ellen’s

exploration process. For her, process

represents the basic foundation of the

final product. She demonstrates how a

miniature landscape of flags must be seen

from two visual aspects, i.e., flat and



Ellen’s artworks are explorations of

thought and intuition, a balance

between mind and soul. Sometimes, she

intuitively seizes objects she finds

without needing any previous intense

contemplation. The final result of this

process is an installation in the Cemeti Art

House exhibition space. This is Ellen’s

painting. Not a two-dimensional painting,

but one with volume that fills the space.

Various compositions of objects are spread

out; some in miniature form, others that

have been magnified. Dragon Ball, as a

hero from a Japanese comic series, is

present in life-size form, in the four corners

of the simulation arena. The Dragon Ball

character and a number of other objects

were chosen because they are cartoon

figures and are associated with strength

or can be perceived as metaphors of



This Landing Soon #7 project has

enticed Ellen to become familiar with,

understand, or, to be more specific, play,

with the similarities and differences of

cultural symbols. Three months is too short

to understand the cultural milieu of

Yogyakarta, as the heart of the Mataram

kingdom, which has a long history in the

crossroads of Javanese traditions, diverse

religions and the formation of a modern

society. Of course, one of the unique

features is how the colonial Dutch presence

in the past remains in buildings, language

and various cultural practices. Ellen is

aware of this past from the Netherlands, a

European country that has complex

history. Differences, similarities and

various relationships in the past form a

kind of collective memory that can be

recalled, forgotten, or become a symbol

ready to be deconstructed. These symbols

may at one time have been sacred signs of

reverence and nobility, but now have

assumed totally opposite meanings.


Symbols are the most articulate signs of

a perspective or ideology. The use of

symbols in society represents a kind of

undivided bond. The presence of these

symbols is a way of identifying and marking

an existence. The need for the presence of

these symbols is as old as humanity, homo

symbolicum. During the period of her

residency in Jogja, Ellen became aware

that following the trails of symbols was

one way to get to know a new place, space

and culture – both universal symbols, such

as the popular Dragon Ball, who everyone

knows, regardless of territorial boundaries

and national ideologies, as well as symbols

used actively in local contexts in Yogyakarta.

This can be seen in the documentary

photos and videos Ellen recorded of various

monuments, landscapes, plants, animals,

and people that she felt were potentially

both similar and different. This recording

process took place not only in Yogyakarta,

but also when she visited and made

presentations in Solo and Semarang.


Symbols, in the context of Ellen’s search,

are like a spider’s web. The symbols

exist in a structure and are experienced

culturally. One symbol is like a footnote

for a supra-structure. I think Ellen stops

here. She guides us to the face of this

symbolic structure. Perhaps “symbolic

texture” is more accurate. As texture, it

becomes a composition. We can see this in

a number of two-dimensional painting

fields, where colors and lines form specific

symbolic contours.

What is Ellen searching for through

this long process that involves

interpretation and duplication of various

signs? I think Ellen is one who ponders.

Beneath her methods in learning about a

new place and culture, there is another

underlying process, as if she wants to

redefine herself as a “new symbol” in

various forms of language play that are

constantly in the process of evolving.


Tekst from the catalogue: Landing Soon #7 Ellen Rodenberg

Tekst, A.Sudjud Dartanto, Yogyakarta  2008

Uitgave, Cemeti Art House, Yogyakarta