Eleven – Noah and Liam
Horror vacui hits us all. We operate in a world where fullness makes us feel safe and satisfied. A well-stocked fridge, a bulging online shopping cart, a face with fillers, a significant other, a full tank, a packed social diary, an overflowing inbox, a full and filling life. Fear of empty space is rife. But instead of rushing to fill in free time, wrinkles and gaps in conversation we’d do well to pause and leave things undone occasionally. Watch and wait. The space between us is where our quirks are found, the things that make us different from each other, and they bear reflection because they lead to new ideas – observation leads to creativity. But the longer you dwell the more you see that the only thing separating us is quarks. That is, we are all made up of the same matter, and through the energy between us, we are all connected. Agree or not with quantum physics, but it’s important to understand the role that meditating on such things has in informing artistic output, particularly the abstract kind. That is, if artists are ruminating on meaning and messages to share with us, perhaps the art is more in connecting with the motivation behind it and less about what we can see. This is what Eleven, an art duo made up of brothers Liam and Noah, are attempting to explore through their thought-provoking visual art. Don’t get us wrong, their output is mesmerising, but it’s how they’ve arrived at saying it that is sublime. “We’ve been on a long journey to live without limitations. Finally, we’ve stumbled upon the divinity inside us. What we refer to as the great sky within. We still live in the same world but we feel more clearly, hear the silence and see the beauty of existence. And we are learning to be in that state for longer – a living meditation. We just want to make art and show that to people.” The inspirational brothers from The Netherlands are going places most of us have never been but they’d be happy to take you there if you wanna go. Wanna go?
“When The Heavens Burst” by Eleven, acrylic on canvas, 2018
“When we made our first monochrome painting everything became quiet. It was like our whole life had been building up to this moment. Always searching, restless for truth. And there it was; the perfect painting—The Holy Grail. When you take away everything that is unnecessary, when you strip away all that is not real, what you are left with is truth. You discover what was there from the beginning; divinity, hiding in plain sight. There it was, an artwork, so simple, so pure; illuminating the room—transcending. There was this presence, a sense of mystery to it, like time stood still for a moment, and we were staring right into infinity.” ~ Eleven
The first thing that springs to mind when trying to wrap your head around the concepts that Noah and Liam are elucidating, are a couple of exchanges from Steven Soderbergh’s masterpiece, Sex Lies and Videotape. When emotionally stunted Graham shows up in his hometown after 9 years living like a nomad, he responds to conservative John’s challenge about settling down like this: “Well, see, right now I have this one key, and I really like that. Everything I own is in my car. If I get an apartment, that’s two keys. If I get a job, maybe I have to open and close once in a while, that’s more keys. Or I buy some stuff and I’m worried about getting ripped off, so I get some locks, and that’s more keys. I just really like having the one key. It’s clean, you know?” John says, “Get rid of the car when you get your apartment, then you’ll still have one key.” Later in the film, at the end of the affair, John says to Cynthia, “Things are gettin’ complicated,” and Cynthia responds caustically, “No, they’re gettin’ real simple.” In other words, we don’t all have Sex, Lies and Videotape quotes in the back of our mind to reference, but we can all glean the agonising discovery that life is much clearer than we think, even if we can’t quite see it yet. Refracted through the prism of art, little by little, we can get to grips with this, and with any luck we see it in plain view before we die.
“The Dark Side Of The Moon” by Eleven, acrylic on canvas, 2018
“There is no such thing as a plain black painting. Or a plain any-thing for that matter. Beneath the surface of what we see and call “reality” there is another world, a hidden world. That’s the secret. Whatever it is you are looking at, there is more to it than what meets the eye. Mystery is hiding in everything.” ~ Eleven
Till then, we might get a sense of it - taste it, smell it, touch it – but the simplicity and oneness of life seems to be something impossible to grasp without going through it, just like the We’re Going on a Bear Hunt book says. It’s both so big and so tiny that it’s just unfathomable. Like an answer staring you in the face that won’t make sense unless you’ve accumulated the experience to recognise it. Dedicating themselves to going further and deeper than most of us can (because jobs, kids, mortgage etc), the duo that make up the life-illuminating Eleven, have been on quite the journey. “From a young age we observed how life can impose these layers until you become a bundle of rules. It can be necessary but limiting. We decided we wanted to try living a different way. And it has led to life becoming much simpler and unified. We’re not containers living separately. We have the power to connect with each other until we have the power to bit by bit influence everything around us.” Without high brows, arrogance or artifice, these guys are devoted to documenting their learnings – meaty morsels that we should be glad they’re taking a hit on for us other mere mortals, such as, if the centre of the universe is both within us and the sum of our parts, how do we convey that? Their beautiful canvasses are full of emotion and completely pared back at the same time, reduced down to their bare elements in monochromes and metallics that are a textural and layered study in revealing the unity of the human experience. In other words, they are really cool!
Eleven have been through many stages and styles over the years since eschewing a conventional path, smack bang in the middle of university degrees. Independent of one another, yet simultaneously, they found themselves unable to continue the life they saw mapped out for them and surrendered to a compulsion to question and make, probe and comment, poke and retaliate. “We have always been interested in spirituality and philosophy. We’ve always had a desire for more wisdom. But the decision to drop out was an act of rebellion for both of us. Ironically, we’re both very ambitious, just not in a conventional way. It’s more like a quest. We experience things and make decisions independently, but we’ve also always been a catalyst for each other.”
Together, they’ve created complex pop art, pristine renditions of pop icons in unlikely juxtapositions, and basically technically accomplished work with provocative messages. But over the last few years, as their practice has developed alongside their belief system, or evolved to question belief systems, they’ve not only mellowed but metamorphosed from their former life as The Tinker Brothers, to become Eleven. Now, they are motivated by a desire to express their discoveries in truth, but also simply to enjoy the act of creation, feeling the flow that comes from having an idea working through them and resulting in an experience that is tangible. “To experience that moment of reaching out into the spaces between us and harnessing collective energy and having it work through you, that is why we make art. It is complete detachment. Hopefully other people can connect with that and feel it too.” You can take it or leave it. But we say, take it.
“LOVE” by Eleven, acrylic on canvas, 2019
With so many things to look at in the world, why would we arrest our staring at nature and society and family (or Netflix), to review art and allow it to form any gravity within our soul. The answer is cyanobacteria. Bit by bit over millions of years, the accumulation of oxygen by this organism capable of photosynthesis, when nothing else was, gave us an ozone layer and allowed life to flourish. That is how we have a living world today. And from one tiny micro-organism that spread we now have beings of consciousness that have the ability to shape society. When you look at the canvasses created by Liam and Noah perhaps you can spot this. Pared back and reduced down to the purest elements, they ask you to tap into your power. Even if you don’t they will continue on. “If this was our last year on our earth this is what we would do. We are compelled to make art and reflect what we discover; to get rid of all the things that are meaningless.”
“Art is a way for us to remind ourselves to sing, to dance, to laugh, to be ecstatic, to be drunk with the divine. The effort of every great artist and the purpose of true art is to get a glimpse of blissfulness, a taste of infinity, it is a portal into the sacred. If the purpose of life is to awaken, the purpose of an artist is be a catalyst for the awakening of others.” ~ Eleven
Written by Skye Wellington