Although most of us claim that we are constantly looking for excitement and discoveries – for a break from our daily lives – reality seems to show otherwise. We need patterns and routines to feel safe and secure, says artist Paul Brouns. The Dutchman makes so-called Urban Tapestries: photos of buildings that revolve, not around architectural uniqueness or decoration, but mainly around order. Repetition is central in Brouns’ images: viewers are attracted by series of virtually identical windows, colonnades, perfectly aligned balconies, brightly coloured panels mounted at an equal distance from each other on the façade of a modern concrete building. To emphasize patterns, Brouns hardly uses perspective in his compositions: in his photos, light and shadow play almost no role. Sky and surroundings are often cut away. 

In the use of colours, forms and lines, his work resembles that of Paul Klee, Mondrian, David Hockney and Mark Tobey. Also the graphical work of Escher is an important influence because of the use of intense patterns and perspective.

Brouns: ‘More than just the realistic constructions, for me the buildings are about the abstract geometric compositions that can be discovered in them. To better understand, I prefer to compare art to music; you can pay attention to the structure of a piece and the rhythm and the melody, but you can also listen differently: all parts together can instantly change your mood and maybe even give you goosebumps.’ 

Brouns creates his work all over the world while travelling, but predominantly on bicycle tours through the Netherlands looking for modern ‘gems’ in growing cities: grand stone theatres, residential towers that have recently been built and glass office buildings without too much decoration. There is beauty in what so many people regard as the post-modernist building craze. 

Of his most recent work, Like A Cool Breeze stands out: a photograph of a white apartment complex fringed by continuous balconies with occasional bright blue doors behind them; a picture that seems to have been cut straight from a sunny destination in a holiday brochure, except that Brouns disregards the sky and sun as well as trees or the environment. ‘Babylon Boogie’ is also impressive: a shiny black window facade on which red, blue and yellow trespa plates seem to be randomly placed. If you look closely, you can see the reflection of a flat building on the other side in every window. The reflection repeats itself, but from a slightly different angle in every window. ‘Corridors of Insomnia’ at first glance looks like a collage of photos on a dark background, but actually it is an existing apartment building in The Hague with scattered windows, seen at night. The illuminated corridors behind the dark outside wall have brightly coloured doors and you can see a few people walking to and from their apartments behind. The great multitude of repeated elements is enchanting and it makes you wonder what you are looking at.

Brouns’ view is catching on. This year, he won first prize in the American International Color Awards; last year he took home several honorary prizes at the Paris photo competition PX3 was awarded the highest rating in Barcelona at the art event called Fira. His work has recently been exhibited and sold to collectors in cities like London, Paris, Barcelona, New York, LA, Tel Aviv, Japan, New Delhi, and Moscow. 

When we approached him at the end of the summer, Brouns had just had a solo exhibition in the South Korean capital, Seoul. Shortly before that, he was one of the exhibitors at the NockNock Art Fair at the Amsterdam complex De Hallen that was made possible in part by NUMÉRO Netherlands. He receives requests from all over the world to exhibit, while operating from his studio in Almere, a new city just outside Amsterdam. 

‘Whereas other artists are concerned with eliciting an emotion by striking or shocking, I think my photos mainly have a meditative effect in the interior of a house, office or public building,’ says Brouns. ‘My photographic compositions invite you to sit down in your chair and just look and wonder what makes them so appealing and enigmatic.’

Paul Brouns graduated from the Academy of Visual Arts in Tilburg in the early 1990s, specializing in photography, painting and drawing. Although he initially experimented with the last two art forms, he knows digital photography. ‘With painting and drawing you are free to compose what you want,’ he explains. ‘For me, the challenge in photography lies in finding abstraction where only an open door, a plant or a casual passer-by makes it clear to the viewer that it is not a self-devised form.’

The question remains why Brouns, in his fascination with form and buildings, did not become an architect, why he only contemplates and does not design himself. 

‘Because in drawing houses, offices, and public buildings you are mainly concerned with functionality and user requirements. I think that means you lose the freedom to see more… to dream,’ says Brouns.