Artist Peggy Kuiper’s impactful figurative works explore her memories and emotional landscape with striking visual intensity

Peggy Kuiper presents ‘The Conversation That Never Took Place’ at Reflex in Amsterdam, featuring over 25 new works (until 13 July)

Left: Wonderer, by Peggy Kuiper. Right: Blossom, by Peggy Kuiper
Left, Wonderer, 2023, and right, Blossom, 2024, both by Peggy Kuiper
(Image credit: Courtesy of the artist)

Dutch artist Peggy Kuiper’s first solo show at Reflex in Amsterdam, ‘The Conversation That Never Took Place’, is curated across its two galleries, the original art deco space which sits in the shadow of the Rijksmuseum, and the newer, canal-side residence. Walk into the former and you’re immediately confronted with powerful aplomb by The Bathers II, 2023, a work in acrylic and oil stick captured on linen. The four bold figures with their almost identical faces work to pull you towards them, the canvas thrilling with its layers of hot pinks and acid green, slabs of deep red. There are angular limbs and long skinny fingers, and where these figures reside seems entirely abstract.

This particular work is a fine introduction to Kuiper’s signatures: African mask-like faces, exaggerated bodies and sublime colours, all of which result in work that feels steeped in some kind of wonderful mystery.

Peggy Kuiper’s ‘The Conversation That Never Took Place’ at Reflex

Peggy Kuiper

The artist in front of one of her works

(Image credit: Courtesy of Peggy Kuiper)

There is an immersive relentlessness about Kuiper’s work that is particularly pertinent when you consider them in the show’s accompanying 300-plus-page coffee table book, created in collaboration with her gallerist Alex Daniëls.

Painting of three figures

Vibrations, 2023, by Peggy Kuiper

(Image credit: Courtesy of the artist)

Smaller paintings such as Vibrations, 2023, featuring three heads stacked one upon the other, or works featuring only one figure, Blossom, 2024, or simply a tightly cropped head, Wonderer, 2023, all give off a ferocious beauty. Kuiper’s work is intense, intimate and sometimes feels like looking at a Modigliani that has been stripped down to minimalist lines. If these figures were to be costumed, they’d be done by finding a middle ground between Rick Owens and Jil Sander.

artwork on wall above low display shelf

(Image credit: Courtesy of Peggy Kuiper)

‘They are figures I can relate to,’ Kuiper explains of her characters. ‘I prefer the word “figure” because I am not sure they are always human.’ Drawing on memories and diving into her own emotional terrain are key sources for the artist, as are nature and the seasons. ‘In nature, I always come across colour combinations that seem a bit off but somehow work,’ she says. ‘Colour is also very sentimental to me. I visit the same places because daily they are constantly changing.’

artwork of figure with two heads

Introvert, 2023, by Peggy Kuiper

(Image credit: Courtesy of the artist)

Kuiper studied graphic design at St Joost School of Art & Design, graduating in 2010, and went on to work for Anthon Beeke – a Netherlands design icon – before becoming a photographer. She had always drawn as a child – ‘mostly female figures that I could relate to, and interestingly enough the masks were already there’ – though it wasn’t until her thirties that she picked up a paintbrush again. In 2019, she returned to painting full time.

Peggy Kuiper sculpture of reclining figure, on bookshelf

(Image credit: Courtesy of Peggy Kuiper)

Despite her preference for working alone, Kuiper acknowledges Daniëls' input and influence. ‘If I don’t feel something, I swiftly paint over it, sometimes too swiftly, according to Alex,’ she smiles. ‘Though that’s why my work is often layered; there might be two paintings hidden below the top one. I don’t delete, I just add on, it only enriches the painting for me. I paint in a hurry because I try to grasp on to a moment.’

sketch of figure

Untitled, by Peggy Kuiper

(Image credit: Courtesy of the artist)

Daniels also encouraged her explorations of masks, introducing her to face coverings from the Democratic Republic of Congo. ‘They are a great inspiration, especially the wooden Bwami Lukungu masks from the Lega people,’ says Kuiper. ‘Although simple in form, the masks embody complex and multiple meanings which I think are very strong and enrich my imagination.’

abstract painting of figure with head on floor

Solid, by Peggy Kuiper

(Image credit: Courtesy of the artist)

The current show features Kuiper’s first work in bronze, Equilibrium, which captures a signature leaning figure. It took her around a year to complete, though has sparked a desire to further explore the medium.

There are also several etchings on display throughout the exhibition. ‘Colour often serves as an emotional language for me in my paintings, but I also wanted to explore what my shapes and therefore expressions would convey in a single colour with an etching,’ says Kuiper. These works showcase the artist's purity of line exquisitely; the 2023 work Mom is a ravishing highlight.

colourful painting of abstract figures

The Bathers, by Peggy Kuiper

(Image credit: Courtesy of the artist)

‘I lost my mother when I was young,’ Kuiper reveals to Katya Tylevich in an essay, ‘Ghosts in a hurry’, featured in the show’s book, that explores various topics within the artist's oeuvre, including the Mother figure in religious art. This perhaps goes some way in explaining the show’s ambiguous title – which Kuiper says is connected to a very important memory. The final line in Tylevich’s essay is a quote from Kuiper reflecting on her own figures. It reads: ‘I’ve come to realise they are self-portraits.’

Peggy Kuiper

Peggy Kuiper

(Image credit: Courtesy of Peggy Kuiper)

Peggy Kuiper's presents 'The Conversation That Never Took Place' at Reflex Gallery until 13 July 2024, reflexamsterdam.com