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Timothy van Laar: Always Sometimes Never

January 11 – February 22, 2020

Timothy van Laar:

Always Sometimes Never

January 11 – February 22, 2020

Matéria is pleased to present “Always Sometimes Never,” a solo exhibition of paintings by Timothy van Laar comprising new works alongside selected works from the 1990s.

In Always Sometimes Never, Timothy van Laar combines his recent paintings with a group of paintings done 24 years ago. The two bodies of work show a long-term commitment to painting that embraces its materiality, rummages through cultural history, and merges anxiety with pleasure. On a very basic level, they are always paintings about painting.

The older works, a series titled Natural History (Blossfeldt) from 1996, were motivated by the late 19th and early 20th century botanical photographs of Karl Blossfeldt who made the images for his students to use as sources for drawings and metal work. Although they have become important images in the history of photography, Van Laar decided to put them to their original purpose, referencing them in a series of paintings. At the time, Van Laar was interested in the relationship between scientific information and art, a drive for precision versus an acceptance of interpretative diversity. These are paintings about the relationship of painting and information.

The new paintings continue this interest in cultural citation and reference the artwork of Dürer, Matisse, Lichtenstein, Girard, and Heade. The paintings originate in the decontextualized signs and spaces of collage and allude to a range of utopian ideas—Eden, comfort, new worlds, prediction. But in their combination of signs, the works remain open-ended. Like the Blossfeldt paintings, they ask questions and demand interpretive choices rather than represent precisely prescribed information. They offer an experiential framework, at times unsystematic and eccentric, with ambiguous ironies, allusions to art history, elusive stories, and unstable shifts of materiality.


Timothy van Laar is a mixed-media artist working in painting, collage, installation, drawing and more, as well as a distinguished scholar and art critic. A native of Ann Arbor, Michigan, Van Laar has a BA from Calvin College and an MFA from Wayne State University. He has been a visiting artist, panelist and guest lecturer at numerous conferences, colleges, universities and museums in the U.S. and Europe. His work has been featured in many publications, including Who’s Who in American Art, Die Welt (Germany), Chicago Tribune, ARTnews and The Detroit News.

Van Laar has shown his paintings, art installations and works on paper widely in nearly 200 solo and group exhibitions across the United States, Europe and China. He has received numerous awards, grants and honors, including the Pew Charitable Trusts Scholars Grant, Fulbright Fellowship, Yaddo Residency and Arts America Grant.  Timothy van Laar was Chair of Fine Arts at College for Creative Studies (CCS) in Detroit from 2013-2018, and also taught studio art, criticism and art theory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). In addition, he served in various administrative capacities at UIUC, including Chair of Painting and Sculpture, Studio Division Chair, Assistant Director of the School of Art and Design, and Director of Graduate Studies. He additionally coordinated the UIUC international program.

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