Work in progress, because everything perishes…
From when I was young I have always been drawing, first the outskirts and interiors of Amsterdam. My look on reality was shaped by the desire to create an ideal space or living environment. Maybe I was predestined as a city planner or an interior designer, but it remained all fantasies, dreams and romanticism. My education was coloured by protection and school performance; the only subjects which really interested me were history and geography: trying to realize where the far away and beyond was to be found. On Friday night I went to a drawing course, which was a different world: catching a model or a still life with charcoal. Even though I grew up in Amsterdam I did not develop any real ideas or ideals in these years. My planned world tour ended in a vacation in Spain. Just before I took the boat for Moroco I called home; a few days later I sat on the train for Groningen, destined to study law.
Life as a student for me was just passing time; a discontinuity with my solitary past, or dreamful youth and the start of a different more social life. After one year of studying law I changed, without regret, to History. For years I read books on all odds and ends of history and graduated on Pasolini: The battle against civility. My first work experience was at the Festival a/d Werf in Utrecht, where I have been responsible for marketing, production and the general management. I learned a lot, overall to take responsibility, I have met a lot of interesting, inspiring people and I felt proud to contribute to a wonderful product: theatre. At the same time I kept on dreaming and travelled a lot.
The next step was the Art academy Rietveld in Amsterdam, there I learned to put my thoughts and feelings in a more aesthetic framework. This has stimulated me into great creativity. My choices were initially conservative: drawing, painting and printing. Drawing has always been the base of all my work. A very worthwhile experience was a study exchange with the School of Visual Arts in New York, there I experienced a much more concrete, American, approach towards art.
I graduated at the Rietveld on Modigliani. Just by chance I met this artist in the corridor of the house of a friend: an intriguing dreamful look, shabby clothes and a brush in his hand. Studying him, I discovered he had a very concise body of works with the smell of pastis (French liquor). The thin line between fiction and reality fascinates me. I drew different aspects of the life of Modigliani and imagined Paris in the beginning of the 1920’s. The work got the shape of a kind of storyboard, while in fact there was not even a story told and it was more a kind of mosaic or a very difficult puzzle. The idea that I had never dedicated myself completely to art and the fact that it was about time to do so made me follow my dreams and I decided to go and live in Italy. Via South America Peru, Chile, Bolivia and Brazil I travelled towards Naples and Montalcino, there I worked for two years in the vineyards of the campi di Fonterenza. In the end it is love that kept me in Italy, even though I have to admit that I am also very sensitive for the sunny weather, the simple good food, all history and the incredible views.
2000 – 2010 In Transit
In these years I developed In Transit, a physical and mental journey. I drew the influence of a continuous changing environment on the mind and vice versa. Always “On the way”: the choices of the images and the directions of looking were free. It didn’t really matter if I was travelling myself or I was making the journey in my head. Every painting or drawing is the reproduction of a moment or a collage of different moments, encounters and feelings. I cherish nomadism (nomadic life) and I subscribe the beautiful all explaining phrase of Marion Stump: ‘Nomads are always elsewhere’.
In 2001 a red donkey appeared in my work. The first time I met him was on a trip in Nepal. In this animal I found the ideal companion, who lead me the way, who by standing still on unexpected moments showed me things which I other wise would have passed: observing, curious and unsure. It wasn’t too hard for me to identify with a donkey and so he became my alter ego: clumsy, chunky and obstinate, wandering in a world he does not understand. A donkey is also a counterpart of the much more aristocratic, famous, and much more popular horse, which you find everywhere in art history. I have made three exhibitions in which the donkey played the major part: In times of donkeys (2002), A donkey in love (2003), The ultimate donkeys (2004). The donkey has been at my side as a kind of evil conscience, which reminds m e of who I am. After reading the Metamorphoses of Apuleio, in which the principal character Lucius ‘by chance’ changes into a donkey and continuous life from this perspective, through the eyes of a donkey, my research continues. On invitation of Franco Troiani I have modelled 100 donkeys of clay and put them around the well of the Chiesetta della Madonna del Pozzo in Spoleto. The well, as a source of life and ideas, was the place for this installation called Metamorphosis. This installation has gone on tour together with the performance Ananke made by Graziella Reggio. Art critic Anna Cochetti has written a text on these trans/uman(z)e (transhumance) and hosted this project in her studio Storie Contemporanee in Rome.
Me, Myself, I: portraits (ongoing)
I believe that looking at someone else in a way is looking at your self, a reflection. Most of my portraits end up anyway as a kind of self - portraits: impressions of ‘a state of mind’. From time to time I make a selfportrait, just a study and often it is the cover of a book of a writer or actor. It is a way to come close to someone who made something beautiful. Then there are studies of fellow travellers in the trains.
Rome, seems to me, a beautiful lazy lady, overwhelming, impressive, miserable and most of the time bathing in a glorious sunlight. She exists of infinite surprises, caverns and corners where history is everywhere and tangible in a unique way. She is pleased with herself and has herself often portrayed. When I arrived in Rome in 2000 I have drawn the life and travels of Aeneas in twelve colour prints. Later I made a series of etchings inspired on Roman archaeology. And still I often sit down in a remote square and portray parts of Rome, observing her with a mix of love and disbelieve.
2003 – 2012 Il Trullo: exhibitions for my trees
Believing in the apocalypse coming close, I felt the need of a piece of land, to grow my own tomatoes. In 2003 I bought a trullo in the middle of an orchard in Puglia, the heel of Italy. The trullo is an archetypical little cottage for poor farmers, when you look more close to it a little castle for dwarfs, surrounded by almonds, olives, figs, plums and pears. I was fascinated by the archaic way of life in this area, where the nature and old values still determine contemporary life. The simplicity of life here taught me a lot. It was the ideal place to experiment outside of my own comfort zone and to marvel for example in 'the art of making jam'. A lot of work remained work in progress, in the end, the lack of a genuine audience necked me. Some examples: Trees for trees 1 & 2 I weeded the red earth and at the same time I painted my old paintings over again and hung them on the washing lines, where nature and wind had free play. Here originated my first exhibition for my trees. At a certain point I questioned myself what trees would really enjoy to see. And I started to make realistic portraits of them and their surroundings. These portraits I hung up in the trees and had wind and rain play with them until the point nature swallowed them. Me and my shade It was a game with the fantastic light. I picked up photography where I had left it (at the School of Visual Arts) in New York. The light gave me the possibilities to have shades playing the leading parts. Balletto delle cafettiere. The coffee perculator has an archetypical shape and is a symbol for daily trivialities. At the same time hugely elegant. How beautiful it would be if they could dance, a waltz would be fantastic. This was an idea for an abstract choreography, which has never been edited. Ash drawings These drawings derive from a meditative ritual. When I arrived at the trullo in spring, the grass needed mowing, as it stood at least one meter high. Then the earth needed to be burrowed and the trees be pruned, etc. etc. In the fall these heaps were burned into ash or charcoal, with which I drew in the red earth: ash drawings. The next spring these drawings had disappeared, until I started all over in the next fall. Jim as Vincent (the mower) The letters of Vincent van Gogh, have always inspired me and gave me a lot of comfort and resignation: it is not a problem to keep looking and searching. Still I can be touched by his descriptions about the things he discovered as a painter and which made him utterly happy. But also his complete dedication or surrender to art and being an artist, including all its doubts and hardships, as something inevitable touches me a lot. Jim as Vincent is an ode to Vincent van Gogh or rather indirectly to Francis Bacon who made four incredible paintings of the mower. Mowing as a kind of universal and meditative movement. Memories of pancakes I love to collect: bottles, tiles, boxes, little bags, pots and pans, anything, …. and this was the pan in which my mother fried pancakes. It is an important object that represents the memories and the taste of pancakes, a symbol for happy moments in my childhood. My childhood is past, the memories I keep, the pan hung for a year in a pear tree and caught the morning sun. Dug up paintings A lot of portraits are simple failings or have lost their ‘momentum’. Some of them I dedicated more of less to nature and time and by chance I dug them up again. The work of the nature and especially of the ants has been miraculous and made me look in a complete different way at these portraits… Until the point the ants made a definite end of these. After ten years I gave up the struggle against the elements and sold the trullo. I returned to flat paper, much easier to handle.
2006 House of butterflies
House of butterflies was a project commissioned by Kaap, before De Kleine Biënnale (the Small Biennal), now Tweetakt, curated by Mark Kremer. On the fortress Het Hemeltje in the vicinity of Utrecht (NL) we placed a green house where I worked for three weeks with children on a house for butterflies.
Together with Annibale Parisi and Peter Noser, two artist and friends from Montalcino, we made an exhibition in the castle Castelluccio, on the properties of the family Orrigo. This castle is a stone’s throw from the oak of Annibale, an oak with 200 years of history. In this castle with many rooms with a view we brought an ode to Tuscany. We received a hospitable welcome in the old rooms with faded wallpapers and the splendid views over the Val d’Orcia and famous Crete Senese. Our works hung harmoniously together. This is so far one of my most beautiful exhibitions, only visible for the accidental or casual passerby.
2009 The studio’s of others (ongoing)
Until now I have not been able to furnish myself an appropriate studio. It seems, I don’t know why, I deny myself this kind of refuge. That’s why I often borrow a studio of friend artists or artists which I admire or which intrigue me as a place to escape to. It is also a way, in a meditative way, to relate with other artists and the art world.
2010 Sweet lemon tree or Literary moments
I have always been inspired by other arts, for example literature: different fictional characters and scenes play an important role in my work. In the public library Rispoli in the centre of Rome, I brought together a lot of works with a literary connotation. More important to me was the collaboration with the cellist/composer Stella Veloce: my drawings appeared as the background for her music impro/composition and got a complete different dimension and dynamics.
2011 Wormerveer and Paul Thek, the wonderful world that almost was…
In the wet summer of 2011 I stayed in exile in the studio of a friend in Amsterdam. First I had the plan to return to all the places of my childhood, and I wanted to make drawings of these. But I was too much impressed by the present. Besides that, I discovered a wonderful library with all kind of art books and also I enjoyed theatre again.
In Wormerveer I discovered the work of Paul Thek, an artist/vagabond who intrigued and inspired me tremendously. He is and does all what I am not and do not dare. I admire his passion and the uncompromising fantastic worlds he created. Some of his installations I have copied in drawings as a way to revive them but in the end are rather a kind of homage. It was also a romantic longing to the sixties, when there seemed another relationship with art and between artists.
2012 c’è qualcosa nel dolore degli altri, there is something in the pain of others…
Based on the poems of Maria Leonardi I have experimented with the relation between word and image: can text also be an image? The poems of Maria Leonardi are slippery as water, you can read them over and over again, and always find something new to discover, to interpret, to understand. A series of drawings appeared, which change all the time in content and details. We have projected them in the summer of 2012 on the Ponte Rotto from the Tiberina Isle, Maria read her poems while the Tiber flowed along.
2012 A house in a house in a house…
In A house in a house in a house I had the visitors of the New West Fest in Amsterdam, curated by Edward Janssen, tell about their ideal space, a fantasy or a reality. These I worked out into paintings and now hang all together as a big house (a mosaic) in het Talentenhuis in Amsterdam Osdorp. The plan was to bring these paintings to the original owners of the stories, but the work has strangely disappeared while on view in het Talentenhuis in Osdorp.
2013 There once was a donkey…
To give my work a new direction, to find a way to recycle my insurmountable pile of drawings and to overcome computer fears, I participated in an animation course by Femke Hyong. Inspired by the songs and texts of Maaike van den Hoek I made illustrations and moving images. This resulted into an experimental program, a live concert with animations titled: There once was a donkey…, which we have presented in the fall of 2013 in Amsterdam and Den Horn, most of the exercises I put on You tube.
2014 - 2016 Trees and il brucco di Pietraporciana
Commissioned by the Roman association Moto della Mente, Graziella Reggio and I drew 200 trees. The tree; seen, understood, beloved as the essence of life. The tree a symbol of pride and happyness, rooted in the earth and in contact with the universe, by roots, trunks, leaves, branches and fruits. Every plant gives and takes from the earth and is the emblem of the joy of our existence. After a presentation at KADO in Rome, this series of trees got a fixed place in the Refuge of the Nature Reserve Pietraporciana in Tuscany. The next year we were invited to an artist in residence there and made the video: Il Brucco di Pietraporciana: an animation about the life of a medieval hermit who lived in locus in a cave.
2015 My Spoleto, sculture in città
My Spoleto, sculture in città is my reflection on Spoleto and how art can relate to its direct environment, today and in the past. Over the years I made a lot of drawings inspired by the exhibition Sculture in città curated by Giovanni Carendente in 1962, who presented Alexander Calder, Lynn Chadwick, Tommaso Fraschini, Beverly Pepper and others, a wonderful event which left its traces in the city. 50 years later this exhibition concept was repeated, this time curated by Gianluca Marziani. I returned to the squares and hidden corners of the city to observe and comment on the presented art works. The series of drawings that came out of this you can see/read as a photo memory, or as snapshots.
2014 and 2016 De Scheet and Kusland
Viktor Frolke wrote two sweet stories for his children Magnus and Alina and asked me to illustrate these.
2012 - 2017 Mapping Memories & Places 1. Tracing places
In 2012 I have committed myself to the project Mapping Memories & Places. In this historical project I research the life and the times of my grandfather, Paul Blumenthal (1897-1982). I am especially interested in the impact of politics on his personal life and try to relate this to my own experiences. I followed his footsteps, retracing describing his routes and experiences, mainly through Germany, Indonesia, U.S and the Netherlands. These travels I have documented in drawings, diaries, letters, collages and photographs. The idea is to bring all this together in a book (so far I made a first draft) and a traveling exhibition. The first presentation Tracing Places, together with Graziella Reggio took place in the cultural association Trebisonda in Perugia. Anna Cochetti wrote an inspirational text about the role and function of maps. The project exist of lots of little booklets with notes and scetches and I made a blurbdummy for a real book.
2017 The labyrinth of life
I concluded my first big sculpture in the garden of Annibale and Elena Parisi at their estate Nostra Vita in Montalcino. I had the remains (i viti) of the old vineyard at my disposal, which I first cleaned thoroughly then impregnated and then used them to draw a labyrinth with a gorgeous view of the Monte Amiata. The chickens from next door visit this work daily.
2018 Rhino’s or after the earthquake
The earthquake in Umbria, Italy in 2016 had a greater impact on me than I had anticipated. Not only did it physically detach me from my home and studio, which interrupts my relation to my materials and memories and results in incomplete works. It also made me look for a stubbier companion in life other than the donkey, who withdrew quietly into its stable. For whatever reason a rhino entered my hemisphere in November 2017. Somehow this more solid archetype fits me better and now accompanies me on my wanderings through nature and the art world, which still makes me unsure. The rhino as a symbol of stubborn solitude and the desire to resist: pompous, clumsy but fragile. Together with Graziella Reggio we made the exhibition Conchiglie e Rinoceronti at Storie Contemporanee (Rome 2021) different interpretations on the theme: a shell, as a place to hide and about feeling safe in general.
2020 Diary of a garden (ongoing) The lessons or metaphor of gardens, a new paradigm or paradise?
Covid bound me to a new place: Cerri, just above Lerici, along the Gulf of the Poets, where I started a garden. L'histoire se repete... Four terraces I freed from brambles and I put the old olive trees back up, who looked first like warriors of war. I prepared the soil and started a vegetable garden, the first idea was a communal garden for the village but this appeared more complicated then I expected it. I adopted the philosophy or permaculture and worked all day and I am caught by the magic of it. I created my own Monets with seeds and plants. over the years the garden changes and fulfills new projects like playing with scents and odors and experiment to make it more resistant or self supporting … all the times questioning where and how to intervene, what and how to maintain a wild, spontaneous character.
At the same time I question myself how I can represent this experience in art. Often the experience is far more exciting then the reproduction. In mapping and painting the plants as such I tried to capture them. The garden came with a new studio who hosted the lost and found outside in the land and inside what was left over the ages…I reproduced plates as I found in the soil, made jewels for the plants from scratch iron, roosts of bamboo are the base of a scultpture. I see this as a continuing project. The funny thing or comfort is that the lessons of a garden are very subtle and come in very different stages (seasons): The art of making jam or conserving vegetables. Dialoghi con la natura at Arte primitivo e contemporaneo in Spoleto (2022) was a little exhibition on this theme. Tiziana Garzini wrote a text titled Metamorphosis.
2019 Illustrations… (ongoing)
Often, like with studio’s of other artists, I find comfort in stories of others and like to illustrate these and I am very happy in these joint adventures. My friend Maria the poet, had a very special aunt who lived her whole life (1936 – 1922) in Casa Motta at the Porta Romana in Milan (2019), it was wonderful to document her life. My doctor write poems and asked me to illustrate these, in his poems collected in Bloot he describes his friends and emotions. Another friend Oep traveled with four friends on a sailing boat to Iceland, his travel journey reads as a romantic expedition in other times De zon stuitert op de horizon, in rough scetches I gave my interpretation of this adventure (2022/23). For See All this I drew the favourite plants of Piet Oudolf (Summer 2023).