14. 12 Mandalas Bertus Jonkers

Cardboard, plaster, newspaper, glass. Paint, metallic ink, concrete Courtesy of Collection Foundation De Stadshof, Museum Dr. Guislain, Ghent Photo: Aad Hoogendoorn

A series of irregular orb-like forms appear to float across twelve small, roughly square surfaces with handmade frames. Each one presents a buzzing circular pattern, with clusters of tiny painted dots or concentric arcs, dense discs of vibrating matter in a limited range of hues: blue, red, gold. Traces of printed text can be seen behind the paint, revealing the humble materials of their construction: cardboard, papier-mâché, newspaper. These mysterious creations are the work of Bertus Jonkers (1920–2001), a Utrecht-born artist and house painter influenced by Eastern philosophy, teachings which inspired him both spiritually and artistically, and from which he derived this ‘mandala’ motif.

Well-known in the artistic circles of his hometown, Jonkers’ output was varied, encompassing painting, etching, textile works, handmade books and, perhaps most prolifically, miniature buildings made from scrap materials. Jonkers made entire cities from these handmade models, filling the rooms of his house and even spilling out into the garden. Rather than accurate reconstructions of existing cities, they feel utopian and generative in spirit, visions of alternative modes of living. In their ethereality and abstraction, then, these mandalas might feel like a departure from Jonkers’ more concrete and spatial preoccupations—yet their handmade cardboard frames have an idiosyncratic and ‘handled’ sculptural property that feels completely consistent with his model-making work.

Typically used as a guidance tool in spiritual practices such as Buddhism, mandalas are geometric configurations of symbols sometimes used as an aid to meditation. They are usually radial in form, with pathways to the centre symbolising a spiritual journey from the outer edges to the inner core. Jonkers’ approach to the mandala feels looser, softer, less formally rigorous and symmetrical than traditional examples. More akin to a cosmic whisper than a clear-cut path to enlightenment, there’s a lightness and mutability to these works: instead of leading us to centre point, they feel as though they radiate outwards. Nevertheless, with their airy arrangements of circular forms and intimate scale, these twelve mandalas feel like objects of contemplation, devotion, and humility.

Text by Rosa Abbott

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