New release: Roel Meelkop’s “Viva in Pace”

In 1967 American abstract painter Ad Rheinhardt wrote a standard-issue postcard to the “War Chief” of the United States. On the postcard he had written a list of negations, such as “no napalm”, “no bombing”, “no injustice” and “no art in war”, “no art as war”, “no art about war”. In retrospect, this has become quite a contradiction, since the postcard itself is now considered to be an artwork. The negations leave no room for ambiguity, but the card itself creates the opposite of its intended content. I have a similar feeling towards activist art. I can see its purpose and will support this, yet cannot find myself producing work with such clear definitions. Still, when asked by Attenuation Circuit’s Sascha Stadlmeier in the beginning of 2022 to contribute to the ever growing music compilation Stop all Wars, I agreed. The track I created was pretty fierce and contained some of the fury I felt at that time towards war. It also made me think about the probable futility of doing something like this and I felt quite powerless. Still, this mixed bag of emotions and thoughts urged me to continue with the work, leading to this piece, divided in four parts. While working on it I felt a certain hopelessness about its initial purpose, which directed me to Rheinhardt’s work.

I’ve always had an ambivalent relation to Reinhardt’s work. His self proclaimed end-of-painting works were a painful step in the progression of the avant-garde, because they surmised nothing could follow this last step, except maybe repetition (although Rheinhardt himself was convinced that his paintings might look alike, but were certainly different from each other). The radicality of this thought highly appeals to me and at the same time highly demotivates me. Reinhardt’s thinking was only following its own internal logic. His development as a painter forced him there and he clearly embraced it. This kind of thinking appeals to me because it directs towards a clear and finite goal, to be achieved by meticulously executing one step after another. The end is visible on the horizon. At the same time it scares the living daylights out of me: what when we’ve reached this goal? Will we stop doing everything we love because we’re there? Will we just lay down and stop creating for the rest of our lives? I really wouldn’t know. Rheinhardt’s concept of negation leads to the purest form of art in his view, whereas I have taken many detours in my work and diversions in my thinking, steps leading away from the goal in sight. Some of them were silly and should be avoided in the future, but most are giving me comfort, enabling me to keep on working with sound. Total negation does not seem to be my favoured route. Am I failing a higher goal in doing so? I don’t think so, but I nevertheless cherish Reinhardt’s paintings.

Will this work of mine end wars? Of course not. It will not even contribute seriously to stopping them or supporting those that suffer from them. This work is the result of my personal frustration, my inability to have direct influence on the course of global events, other than being able to vote for some people that possibly do. That’s some relief, at last. But not a lot. So you may detect rage and despair in these tracks, but also hope and possibly a goal on the horizon: my determination to keep doing this, no matter what. So maybe that’s where Rheinhardt and I meet, somewhere in the middle, as usual. 

Many thanks to Ad Rheinhardt for his controversial, but ongoing inspiration. Thanks to Sascha Stadlmeier and Miguel Carvalhais for their ongoing work and support.

Roel Meelkop, Rotterdam, 2022

Viva in Pace” is now available as a limited-release CD or as a download or stream.