As the History of Western Art shows an abundance of representations of pain, suffering and violence, it is at first sight surprising that the work of Ronald Ophuis has led to such emotional responses and controversies.
To understand why his work has raised such a good deal of dust one also has to look how his work, perhaps, differs from this tradition. First of all, Ophuis's scenes of violence are situated in a spatial and temporal present that is in most cases uncannily familiar to us. The violence that Ophuis represents takes place in our own world, instead of an abstracted, mythical context that is comfortingly far away and unfamiliar. A second difference is that in Ophuis' work the exclusive Western tradition of fixation on suffering of victims is not at work. The paintings for which Ophuis is mostly known and contested are, however, representations of violence that focus predominantly on the perpetrators, making the paintings highly ambiguous: the viewer cannot follow, or identify with, the moral position implicated by the painting. Instead, the painting forces the viewer to consider moral positioning in itself.
When working on a series, Ophuis always extensively researches his subject matter and, when circumstances allow, usually visits the "violence" scene.