I crushed my pen very early in the piece. I had a typewriter when I was about 10 years old. Impersonal they said. Suddenly Parker ballpoint pens were the go. We'd buy ten Parkers in Abadan, Iran, at the Armenian shop and then we'd swap them at Cairo Airport for daggers and/or a camel chair! All pastel coloured Parker Ballpoints.
I wrote about 6 letters a week and kept a dairy.
Then we had Faxes. I could still draw away and use my hand.
Then we had e-mails. Took some time to get used to. So impersonal. Like the mobile phone also changed so many things. Now you don't ask: 'How are you?', but: 'Where are you?'.
I get a mail on Facebook, for everybody to read.
I hate it. Still don't know my way around facebook. Who are the Wayn & Pete bro's I get mails from?
Hardly anybody e-mails me now.
Here is the invitation to my show. We 'made' it yesterday.
A few more nights sleep then the everlasting rail trip. Leave Tuesday morning and arrive in Armidale Thursday morning at 3.45. I am looking forward meeting all the old friends.
Last night on the ABC, a program about the artists in the 1880's plus. Monet, Manet, Cezanne and somebody who I hadn't heard of, something with an 'S'. Monet spent the war years of 14-18 happily painting in his studio making a fortune.
One thing was so very evident: Painters were not hungry. Painting was not for the poor or the working classes. I tell you something. When I went as an non shaving/virgin boy to the Royal Academy of Arts in The Hague.(KABK) I was 16 and had never met a boy who told us with pride his dad was a labourer! A 'werker', or 'arbeider'. Some terrible person, could have been as sweet as pie, told me when I was tiny that the manholes in the street were for the labourers so they could get home. Why didn't I disbelieve this?
All dustbin collectors lived in a prison.
The photo to the right was taken in 1963 at the country studio of the then so famous graphic designer and painter Dick Elffers (1910-1990). We students would go, with his son Joost Elffers - now in New York, to his dad's place in Baarlo in the Catholic south of the Netherlands. We could use all the paints and canvasses we wanted! Also in the village lived the American sculptor Shinkichi Tajiri(1923) in a castle built like a ship. One New Year's eve we made paper balloons with his late wife and floated them with methylated spirits into the sky off the castle's tower. Later, his wife died suddenly in her bathtub and had to be buried between the roses as she wasn't a Catholic and thus couldn't be buried in consecrated earth. On the wall in this photo a painting by Bert Haaitsma, Paul Bakker and Heleen Arends. All three were born in 1945. We all still paint.
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When I was a teenager, like so many others, I had to see a psychologist and he made me look at inkblots. The Rorschach test. I knew what I saw but shyness made me say Butterfly after butterfly. And my friends had the same experience. They didn't always say what they saw.
I nearly always see the human figure in things. I have shown before on this blog the interpretation of a reflection. On the 5th of April I have a small exhibition in Armidale, NSW, and will no doubt be 'interpreted' by the onlookers. And that is wonderful. Even a smile will do.
I was thinking about the fact I am so happy when painting. Even when I was making the painting 'Diena meets God', after her sudden death, I was humming, singing and whistling. She used to love to hear me making those sounds. So I have a gift. Given to me. Where did that come from?
My mother, here in the photo at the right, was well into her eighties doing a portrait of me. She was a good painter, forever doing things. In my family, my sister Margaretha inherited this as does my other sister Ursula: they are always doing things with their hands. My nephews and nieces are painting, taking photo's, acting, writing or 'doing' something in the creative field. My brother Norman loves his music and not only knows his composers but can pick the soloists. My daughter is an opera singer of some renown. I have said before I believe painters are the 'labourers' of the Muses. I'll tell you why.
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What does it mean when you say: I've known this or that 'all my life'? I have been in my body all of my life. I have known some people all of my life: My older brother Norman, my older sister Margarethe. The younger sisters, Ursula and the late Johanna I have known most of my life. Even one's mother you don't know all of your life if she has died, like my mother died a few years ago at 92. Clemens I have known since I was 7, Henny Hinten and Peter Meerman most of my life, half my life. I was 28 when I met Henny and two years later Peter. They still live together.Peter designed my first web site.
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When I was living in Armidale, NSW, Australia, until 4 months ago, I had the pleasure to meet Andrea Gledhill, the Curator of The New England Regional Art Museum. I showed her my work and she liked it. Some time later I was invited to participate in a 'local artist's exhibition' with as theme something like: 'How are you now or feeling'. Could have been: 'How do you see yourself now'. I cannot remember the exact description.
But I had been in Armidale maybe two months and was feeling very good. So I did a portrait of a stifled man holding his 'fear' symbolised by the cat and the creature illustrating the sadness on his shoulder. Then I had a family in front of the canvas, made out of old bed sheets, as if they had stepped out of the painting into the world. The real world, with a nicer cat, the bunny still there but not threatening, a kid, mum and dad. In other words: a real world. I did this 'project painting?' with the help of some of the kids in Freeman House. What amazed me was how shy these otherwise pretty worldly people were because they were naked bodies. To think they sometimes used language that would make a sailor blush. I tell you, my vocabulary widened that year. Look at the self portrait I did in 2005, only a month before I went to Armidale and Freeman House and look at the difference.
What an empty and sad man I was then.
Well, that is all in the past.
Today I met a very kind lady, now the person on the curatorial staff of the Cairns Regional Gallery.
We had a very nice and long talk and I promised Susan I'll send her my biography and wishes for a possible show there in the future. Like so many museums and galleries they are fully booked for the near future but we'll see. I am ready.
Decided to have an opening of my exhibition 'in absentia', the 2300 km trip from where I am to where it is held is at this moment in time impossible.
Strange feeling, like sending your children to boarding school.
I am at this moment putting a port folio together for Cairns.
So I was going through my life's work and so many memories come flying back.
When I came back to Holland after The Azores I felt a little afraid. I had my house/studio on the top floor of a huge building in the old part of The Hague, adjoining the famous Mesdag Museum.
But my fears of living in a city and a little nervous at night made me think:: if I make the most scary things imaginable, like dead bodies, surely my scaredness would go. I was maybe 25. I remember working on a body, I molded it with clay and then wrapped it in a hard canvas impregnated with a kind of plastic that, when dipped in acetone became a bit like a shammy. Malleable.
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I couldn't sleep last nite and started thinking about something that often plays on my mind: This crazy unbalanced world and where do I fit in it. The craziness, some call it unfairness or injustice, is everywhere. I live in that group of highly privileged peoples. No bullets hissing passed my ears, food enough to share with a cat and four kittens and I can walk down the street without being picked on because I might represent a different Tribe. During the day.
What we feed our cat, 'special' milk and soft and dry food that could easily feed some starving people in Somalia or some maimed kids in the Congo. It is highly nutritional and healthy.
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A few years ago I was in a small place called Millthorp in NSW and staying at a friends place. Her two daughters had some noisy but nice and cheeky friends visiting them and they questioned, or preached maybe, to me about the madness of abstract art.
Another instance was in the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra and a man was looking at a huge and beautiful Sydney Nolan. He said in a chuckling way: 'Don't you think I could do that too, Paul?', (he was a surgeon) and my answer was: 'Maybe P., who knows (trying to be polite) but the fact is you don't and he did'.
The kids in Millthorpe made it harder, so I had to trick them. I suggested: 'What if say Beyonce or Mick Jagger sat on a cushion in your room and find a tiny brown fart mark on your chair after one or the other had left . What would you do?'. 'Wash it, man, ugggh, how disgusting'. My answer: 'You are kidding yourselves, you'd cut it out and frame it! To all your friends it would look like you have an abstract art thing hanging on your wall'. After a while, one of the boys admitted that I could possibly be right.
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I imagine most people doodle, either when on the phone listening to a boring conversation or just having nothing better to do. Like Rembrandt, many artists do self portraits when they are stuck. Or, I do, for sure. All my life I have done self portraits and most were destroyed or I simply threw them away. But I have a few left.
I was recently looking at Rembrandt's self portraits. I was actually trying to find out why no Dutch people call their kids 'Rembrandt' anymore. It is a first, given or Christian name. I understand why kids are not called Adolf. We must not forget that Rembrandt van Rijn wasn't a poor bugger, he was famous and highly respected but his self portraits fascinate me.
It appears that he was very objective, but when he was young the arrogance was put on, when he was older he looked so sweet and content. He looked like my mum in fact. Was he? I think so. My late mother was a very good portraitist, by the way. She did a portrait of me when she was well into her 80's.
Me? No way, when I feel bad, I put a terribly sad or bad looking person on the canvas. When I am angry I would paint an angry man. I was once very upset with a lady I was living with because she didn't acknowledge my paintings. I have written before about this. So, one day I did a self portrait with the woman next to me and did I make her look nasty.
I'll show you a few self portraits I have done over the years. But I must say, so often people have asked me to do THEIR portrait and I have refused. For two reasons: I fear the challenge as you must paint the person the way they want to look. And I must curtail my personal interpretation.
All in all, it isn't worth it, I am a coward, but as I was saying to my friend and colleague Roeland Zijlstra, who does many portraits; 'I shall have to bite the bullet and do it, get it out of the way!'. So tomorrow I want to do a self portrait again. See what I end up with. My life is very good, I am happy, healthy and poor, so surely this must be seen in the painting. Then we'll see if Clemens will sit for me. That will be my first portrait! And Clemens' first too... :-)
Four definite emotional periods in my life, spanning a period from 1985 to 2002. From; Alone in Terena, Portugal, then with the woman who preferred me not to paint, to counseling with a psychologist and then, finally, reality!