Dutch Artist Donald Schenkel on Adopting a Chinese State of Mind

By Simon Bishop, March 12, 2019

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Dongshankou is one of Guangzhou’s most distinctive areas, and home to some of the city’s best kept secrets, from rooftop cafes to speakeasy bars. Less concealed, though still requiring a little serendipity to simply stumble upon, is Art23 Contemporary Art Gallery

Hidden among the characteristic ’20s townhouses of the district, Art23 has been host to works by cutting-edge artists from all over the world for nearly four years now, and their latest exhibition demonstrates why they should be among every art lover’s regular haunts in Guangzhou. 

Donald Schenkel’s Behaviour of Colours opened earlier this month at the gallery and will continue through to June of this year. Schenkel is an up-and-coming talent from Rotterdam and a recent graduate of the Willem de Kooning Academy there. 

His style might be best described as ‘Mark Rothko for the digital age,’ as cascades of color fill his canvases with hi-resolution luminosity and a precision that belies their oil painting medium. With that being said, you really wouldn’t want to just gawp at these canvases on a computer screen – seeing them up close in the gallery space is a truly immersive experience. 

We were fortunate enough to have a quick chat with Schenkel about the exhibition. 

Schenkel-5.jpg
Image via Art23 Contemporary Art Gallery

So what can Guangzhou art lovers expect from Behaviour of Colours?
These artworks that are now on view at Art23 belong to a new series, the next step in my artistic process. I’ve made them especially for the exhibition, and they have never been shown in a gallery in Europe.

What brought about this change in your artistic process?
My latest artworks have been influenced by my previous trips to China. And of course, when you travel to China you see only a very small part of this enormous and culturally diverse country. However, you do get a sense of the mentality of the people you meet. They act fast, very fast, and you start to notice that nothing in China stays the same for more than a month. Very big decisions seem to be made instantly, people follow their heart and intuition.

Schenkel-12.jpg
Image via Art23 Contemporary Art Gallery

How did this translate to your work?
When I went back to the Netherlands and I looked at my work, I felt I had to do the same, I had to push the artworks further then before. I started to experiment with new colors and I made artworks bigger than I have ever done before. Size does matter, your whole visual experience changes, as well as working with new colors. I started to work with lighter colors and more vibrant colors like Titanium Yellow or Schevenings Orange. This gave a whole new and different perspective to my work, and I had to investigate what would happen, how to still express depth with these lighter colors instead of the darker colors as I used before.

Schenkel-2.jpg
Image via Art23 Contemporary Art Gallery

Do you foresee this being more of a lasting change?
Looking back at the show, I’m beginning to get the feeling that I made some very important steps. I succeeded in pushing the work further, but also feel that new paths are now opened, as I’ve had a whole new bunch of experiences here. The Chinese philosophical way of thinking, their sense of abstract space, their idea of relationships between people and their surrounding world… I think these will become important elements in my works for the coming years.


Donald Schenkel’s Behaviour of Colours exhibition is currently on display at Art23 Contemporary Art Gallery.

Tue-Sun Until Jun 9, Tue-Fri: 2-6.30pm, Sat-Sun: 11am-7pm; RMB29 (free on Wednesdays). Art23 Contemporary Art Gallery. See event listing

[Cover image via Art23 Contemporary Art Gallery]

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