Daan Botlek's diaspora of people are ambiguous in every way. They are unquestionably humanoid, yet they're devoid of the essential traits that make us human. Instead, Botlek allows us to understand their plight more acutely through the world they inhibit and the principles that guide their creation.
Botlek's repertoire is built on the eternal phrase from Greek sophist Protagoras, 'Man is the measure of all things'. The artist elaborates on the significance of this phrase to his work, "The original concept of the statement is about relativism; the notion that judgments and knowledge are in some way relative to the person judging or knowing. Each individual person is the standard of what is true to himself."
It boils down to the idea that the person is the ultimate source of value rather than a God or equivalent higher power or abstract notion. It is, at its core, a very humanistic approach. Botlek has then based all of his work on a recurring character. His outlined figure is a no-man/ everyman, it's you and me, yet neither of us.
His pieces examine the idea that knowing is done by a knower. That it is us, and only us, that is able to interpret their situation in the world. We cannot help but see things this way, according to Protagoras' relativism. We imagine everything from our proportions, with our vision and in our own human terms. When he then surrounds his figures with intricate geometrical shapes and organic matter, we are left questioning the value, meaning and relationship between shapes, colours, formations and mathematical entities. Beyond the thoughts, his pieces are also very aesthetically pleasing.
It stands to reason that Botlek is a philosopher-artist, just as Plato envisaged his philosopher-king to be a figure with as much reverence for knowledge and intelligence as he does the will to rule. Likewise, Botlek assures us of his willingness to create alongside his deep and intricate artistic exploration through the realms of thought and being. He is, in many ways, the quintessential contemporary existentialist street artist.
His 'man', or person is an evolution and abstraction of Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man and the figure's relationship with architect Vitruvius' ideas of proportion. The nameless character motif present throughout the Dutch artists work is his way of seeking understanding in a contemporary world, in a place that has changed greatly both physically and ideologically from the world known by his philosophical forebears. Since Leonardo da Vinci, our understanding of our place has shifted greatly, yet some things remain eternal. It is this quest, centred around the humanist spirit, that lead Renaissance thinkers to feel free to engage and criticise.
A major thought that echoes throughout our news and social media is that blind faith and allegiances cause bad things to happen. Botlek, like the Renaissance thinkers, agrees with this. His working principles suggest that we should always situate ourselves within an environment that celebrates free-thinking and freedom to criticise. The everyman figures seem to float in a purgatory environment that, if nothing else, exudes this sense of freedom. Despite the centuries old roots, his work is very much of the now.
Explaining his principles, Botlek says, "The main characters, the concepts and the environments are constructed by and at play with the laws of geometry and physics (proportion). The meaning of the works is never clear or explained. There are an infinite number of interpretations for the images, any one of which may be considered valid (relativism)"
In-keeping with the philosophical cornerstones of his work, the artist puts relativism at the fore, always building from the Protagoras quote that defines the school. Botlek's work features both as illustration and as street art, adding another dimension of consideration - if it's outside, we can be certain that the wall wasn't chosen for just any reason.
His figures are blank-canvases for our ideas, yet beyond being a person like us, they are a physical embodiment of perspective. Through his characters, we realise that we see and interact with the world around us according only to what we know (For relativists, this is the only way). The most interesting aspect is when we consider why Botlek is posing such questions. Is it because we are not looking closely enough from our human perspective, or because he's challenging us to try to see something altogether different? Like a bird, a ball or a bungee rope - the world is extremely different, yet we very rarely stop to think of it that way.
If we considered such various vantage points - would the world be better or should we continue with what we are doing? Botlek never makes it clear, and he never will. That's the point - it's always down to us. He's giving us all the tools to realise our own vision of the universe and now its up to us to use them.
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