Uko, is there only one reality?
In my view, reality as an objective fact, of course, does not exist; you only have the actual event. And besides that, it always remains a personal perception.
So are facts. Let's take a fire (something magical as well; everybody wants to look into the fire). As an example, every bystander/viewer has his own personal position in relation to this fire. Physically, it is not possible to stand in the same place as another person. So everyone sees the fire from their own physical position.
In addition, everyone sees the fire from their own emotional position, which in turn is built up from the sum of personal life experience based on all things experienced and inherited (genetics and so on), repressed or conscious, from the past.
Your art is described as "magic realism." Do you think that art is the only way to combine both reality and magic, and why do we need magic and art when reason seems completely sufficient for an ordered and meaningful existence?
Obviously, art is not the only medium to experience both magic and some form of reality. Every religion is another method. The purpose of my art is how to create a connection between all components of being and not being. (I think you also see that in any kind of religion.)
Reason, as especially emphasized in the 18th century Enlightenment period (Voltaire, Gellert, Pope and so on), is one way (and by no means the worst) of approaching the facts, but it does not reveal everything because the human mind consists mainly of emotions and the so-called thinking faculty occupies only a small percentage of its brain capacities. So to complete the picture, more is needed than just reason, and then art, philosophy, and certainly religion will become very important additions. Unfortunately, in my view, this is all too often pushed aside these days. I think the focus now is too much on material matters. It is mostly about consumerism.
Experiencing the beautiful and magical may be a good alternative. You might find it in the beauty of all life's fragility, or even in the transience of all earthly things. My artistic way is to paint these themes in such a way that it becomes enjoyable and evokes depth, understanding, and recognition.
But to appreciate art requires education, and that is also a bit problematic nowadays, yet important, just because without art and creativity there would be no science. Art teaches you to think outside the box, and that seems essential to me. On the other hand, without science, I am afraid, there is no prosperity possible.
I notice how "blue" your paintings are. Why is this color so prevalent in your work? Do you find some symbolic significance in it? It is an expression of what?
The color Cerulean Blue Hue does indeed play an important role in my work because this color has symbolic value for me in the sense of peace, depth, stability, and a certain distance with a melancholic undertone.
I use this color to create harmony in the artwork and its appearance. For me the artwork should be understated and not an explosion of expressiveness. I feel this color has a contemplative look. It is rather introverted.
There is also melancholy in your paintings, but a kind of "cold melancholy"—uncompromising, even cruel. Or is my perception wrong?
I hope that in my paintings one sees and feels very clearly the limits of all being. Nothing is obscured, repressed, or perfumed.
The reason for this is that I think that only in this way can one recognize the true nature of life (being there, dasein) and, above all, learn to love it. One can take that as melancholy, perhaps even as cold melancholy, cruel, and uncompromising, but that was actually not the first intention of all that.
Can you tell us a little bit about your creative process? What is your inspiration and starting point for a work?
My focus has shifted because the times are what they are. The context defines the narrative. My daily encounters find their way into the work. It is through that prism that I see the world. But regardless of the circumstances, painting is about looking, paying attention. The act of looking leads to seeing, hence developing awareness. Not knowing but being aware. Asking questions. That is not a small task. That’s how you develop a sense of urgency – a need to respond. Inevitably, you pick up your brushes and engage. Recognizing visual and expressive potential, recognizing the extraordinary in seemingly the most banal.
Sleepless nights song by Luzabril singer/songwriter from Argentina.
Tell me a bit more about your decision to become a painter. How did this happen?
The reason why I became a painter actually lies in my early life. First of all, I began drawing and painting early in my childhood, and there was always a strong, intense feeling associated with it when I was doing it.
Later, I was quite moved by what I read in the Bible, especially the Book of Ecclesiastes (I) about vanity. (Vanitas vanitatum et omnia vanitas: vanity of vanities, All is vanity.) Furthermore, I found the life lessons from Ecclesiastes (9) quite convincing.
At that time, I found the world a difficult place, and then, when I visited the Rembrandt van Rijn exhibition in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam with my father in 1969, I thought I had found my destiny in life. I had found something that gave my life meaning. That was my youthful conviction—a form of idealism.
I was 15 years old at that time, and my ideas went on from there. From the age of 18, I attended the Minerva academy in Groningen (Netherlands), where I also discovered the right artistic path for myself.
Who are your teachers in art?
The painters from whom I have learned a lot after studying them and whom I quite admire can be found, to begin with, among the so-called Flemish Primitives (they were the first to work with oils), as there were: Hans Memling (an absolute favorite), the van Eijck brothers, Rogier van der Weijden and many others. This concerns painting from the 15th and early 16th centuries in the Low Lands (what is now Belgium, Flanders, and the Netherlands). The term "Flemish primitives" or "primitifs flamands" comes from the 1840s. When people began to revalue painting under the influence of Romanticism and Gothic painting, the term "primitif" was introduced to describe early Italian painting.
Under the influence of emerging Protestantism in the seventeenth century, vanitas paintings became popular in the Northern Netherlands. I also find that an interesting time, from which I learned a lot. Painters from that period are: Pieter Claesz, Maria van Oosterwijck, Pieter Steenwijk, David Bailly and many others. Vanitas paintings go back to the Book of Ecclesiastes (I) where a lot is written about vanity.
In the twentieth century, I especially learned to appreciate the Magic Realists, from the thirties on, such as Raoul Hynckes, Pyke Koch, Wim Schuhmacher, A.C.Willink and others.
Of course, I also owe a lot to the teachers at the Minerva Academy in Groningen (Netherlands), such as Geert Meijer, Diederik Kraaijpoel, Piet Pijn and so on.
From overseas, Andrew Wyeth and Edward Hopper are definitely among my favorites as well.
What is the life of a painter like? How do you spend your time? What inspires you?
In my case, life as a painter is not much different from that of someone who works somewhere else. You start in the morning and finish at the end of the afternoon.
It's a lonely profession with nothing spectacular to offer.
However, I think you should not wait for inspiration; it is better to just start every day, and then inspiration will follow itself.
It is actually also a matter of self-discipline.
In fact, I already answered in my answers to previous questions what is rather inspiring to me personally: the beauty of vulnerability and the temporary nature of all being.
Being is, I think, actually an interlude of the time of not being.That is magical for me. I don't give answers; I am mainly surprised, wondering, and asking.
Narcissist a deo rex, a rege lex.
The Montreal Review is about books, art, and culture. Tell me what you read, who your favorite authors are, and why you like their books.
Writers and books that I am rather interested in are in the field of non-fiction, popular science, such as those by the author Dick Swaab, a Dutch neurobiologist and brain researcher. His books report on brain research and provide insight into human biological behavior. I also like the books of Yuval Noah Harari, he provides insight into human existence from a completely different angle. The book I also liked very much is a book written by Carel van Schaik: The Good Book of Human Nature: An Evolutionary Reading of the Bible.
I'm currently reading a book by the author duo Harald Meller and Kai Michel: Nebra Sky Disk. It's about a 3500-year-old Central European civilization (Aunjetitzcultur).
In the field of fiction, I find the French writer Michel Houellebecq to be very enjoyable to read; he describes the future of Europe from a fictional perspective. Another book that I like very much is Das kalte Blut, by the German author Chris Kraus, about his grandfather.
Tell me what you think about contemporary Western culture in general. Do you see any new trends or significant changes?
Personally, I'm less enthusiastic about contemporary Western culture. I think it's all becoming rather superficial these days, very much under the influence of consumerism. But I don't want to be too negative; there are of course beautiful works of art made by artists today, for instance by the Northern Realists. But it remains a little bit too local.
On the other hand, if you want to get somewhere in the art scene at present, you have to go for activism and being "woke," which is becoming very cliche for me. To me, that misses the mark.
I myself believe that art should be a free spiritual expression, bound only by itself, and any ulterior motive should remain alien to it because it would obscure it and make it more or less a means of propaganda (quote by Helene Kroller Muller).
I see few truly new trends; it continues on the path begun by Marcel Duchamp's ready-mades (1917), repeating itself in a variation, in a drive for "innovation" and "modernism," with the meaning of making a lot of money and fame at certain market parties and curators with Cutting Edge art.
This is particularly important for curators in order to generate a reputation.
What is your advice for young artists?
A former teacher at the art academy Minerva in Groningen (the Netherlands), Diederik Kraaijpoel (born 1928—died 2012), once said, and I found that very cynical at the time:
"You should only want to become a painter/artist if you really believe that you can do nothing else. If you see other options, it is better to spend your time on them."
At that time I didn't want to believe that and thought it was very negative and cynical, but now I have come to understand that statement much better, although it remains very cynical.
Still, I didn't want it any other way because it continues to attract and fascinate. Perhaps it will work like this:
One day you decide to make a work of art and you spend the rest of your life improving that work of art by making a new one and then again a new better one.
That does not automatically mean that the last painting is also the best.
Diederik Kraaijpoel was a painter/author. He has written some interesting books about contemporary art. He wrote Frozen Revolution, The New Salon, Was Pollock Colorblind? and Reputations.
In the end, I think, if you feel like painting, don't let anything stop you...But make sure you are not financially dependent on your artwork!