Burn Hole 1961 is an example of Peeters’s series of ‘pyrographies’, works in which he burned holes in a layer of monochrome, often white, plastic stretched tightly over a stretcher frame. The work is signed and dated on the reverse. The scorching process has left behind traces of black soot from the smoke produced. For this work the artist has burned the white plastic in a vertical line extending from the top to the bottom in the centre of the composition. The process has created an uneven series of scorchmarks and burn holes in a line that bisects the work. The pyrographies are related to the Zero and Nul movements with which Peeters was associated in the 1960s, and have affinities with the concerns and practices of the nouveau réalisme group in France, particularly the work of Yves Klein.

Peeters was a founder member of the Dutch group Nul (that lasted from 1960 to 1965), which was affiliated with the German Zero group, along with other Dutch artists including Jan Henderikse, Armando and Jan Schoonhoven. He was arguably its most active member, and was instrumental in organising the international Zero/Nul exhibitions staged at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam in 1962 and 1965. He was also a theorist of the group. The Nul group set themselves in opposition to the CoBrA movement in wanting an objective art that was divorced from any emotional value.

The colour white was highly significant for the Nul and Zero artists since for them it could best represent infinity (the infinity of space) as well as light. It thus characterises much of the work they produced. In this respect they were also influenced by Italian artist Lucio Fontana’s (1899–1968) ‘Manifesto Blanco’ of 1946. The formation of the Nul group was in part a response to the exhibition Monochrome Malerei (Monochrome Paintings) held in 1960 at the Schloss Morsbroich in Leverkusen, Germany, as well as a reaction against the abstract expressionism of the preceding decade. Their focus was on the work of art as a reality in itself, embodying rationality, and not as an illusionistic representation or a painterly rendition of emotion or existential angst.

The Nul group was relatively short-lived, coming to an end in the mid-1960s when other affiliated artists – Piero Manzoni and Klein – had died and after two exhibitions at the Stedelijk in Amsterdam seemed to encapsulate the group’s activities and bring them to a conclusion. Peeters withdrew from the art world for a time from 1965. Thus, his most significant early practice encompasses a five year period between 1960 and 1965, exemplified by the pyrographies. He also made works using scorched linen, and others in which he placed cotton wool between layers of synthetic fabric. All these works stress the found and industrial nature of the materials and processes he employed.

Further reading
Nul negentienhonderd vijf en zestig, exhibition catalogue, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam 1965.
Zero: Internationale Künstler-Avantgarde der 50er/60er Jahre: Japan, Frankreich, Italien, Deutschland, Niederlande/Belgien, die Welt, exhibition catalogue, Museum Kunst Palast, Düsseldorf 2006.

Tanya Barson
March 2011