Follow the Signs

Kafka, oil on canvas, 55 x 45 cm, 2020

Kafka, oil on canvas, 55 x 45 cm, 2020

Follow the signs   –   Katja Diallo

Franz Kafka is recurring companion in the work of Ton K., in his explorations of social systems of the moderns and places of oppression. Elements from the literary works function as possible signposts in the painter’s labyrinth. First there are deserted spaces, façades forming uniform patterns, and stylised office furniture. Later Franz K.’s head also comes into view. Like a dénouement for one person and a confirmation for another. The writer and the artist share a provocative secrecy in an unending game of interpretative variations. Franz K. combines a sense of reality with fantastic, uncanny passages that lend the stories his remarkable style. Things become grotesque and one senses that as a reader. Modern loneliness and the inability to have an influence on the system and one’s own life crush protagonists like Joseph K., Gregor Samsa and Karl Rossmann. They become entangled in endless nightmares. Not only the protagonist but also the reader arrives at a state of depressing oppression and disorientation. In this, Franz K.’s precise feeling for realistic details offers no guarantee at all for combining these details into a whole again.
Ton K., on the other hand, paints Kafkaesque objects in such a way that he places their loneliness at an acceptable distance. More than acceptable, they become places one goes to voluntarily. Time and again even. In his clear, graphic-novel-like compositions, the world is clean and orderly. The spaces have always just been cleaned, beeswaxed and polished with a chamois. The suitcase remains closed. The filing cabinets do not have sharp edges but smooth outlines. There is colour, reflecting light and there are no notable signs of wear and tear. Time also plays a distancing role. Ton K.’s Rolodex contains many subjects from another era and from another reality. By mutually reorganising his themes and exchanging them for stories, impressions and suggestions he gathers during his travels, Ton K. takes control. The viewer is offered clues in the form of recurring signs and logos that create a suggestion of having a grip. There may be no air in Ton K.’s world, but there is light, there is even ‘Lemon Light’, there is an opening.
Somewhere, Franz K. visits a retrospective of Ton K.’s work. In it he is surrounded by visual references to his literary works. A painterly narratology. And that is exactly where he wants to be. Maybe only briefly, to see where they have gone, to discover where the light comes from and what that light reveals. Slowly, K. repeats aloud what he sees: ‘Go Rise Fall Up’. Slowly, on and on until he can touch it. No nightmare, but a daydream in colour.

In March 1939, Franz Kafka’s close friend Max Brod leaves Prague together with his wife, fleeing the National Socialist regime. They take only one suitcase with them, which contains Kafka’s unpublished manuscripts, including Der Prozess, Das Schloss and Der Verschollene. It is the last train that is allowed to cross the border.

Katja Diallo

In: LABYRINTH, Ton Kraayeveld –  2022
JapSam Books, isbn 978-94-92852-62-5