Angst, the fear of being without courage?

Printer-friendly versionSend by email

Click to enlarge: Model Renate with bandaged Body, acrylic on canvas, life size
The painting shown here I did in 1975. It is of a man wrapped up in bandages and next to him the covered body of a child. Scary stuff? Absolutely; but not really.

The small body was in fact my daughter Renate who I asked to lie on the floor with a sheet over her so I had a 'model'. Renate wasn't afraid at all as she knew how it had started. The life sized bodies I made out of clay she quiet happily sat on while talking to me. She knew it all started with lumps of clay. Lumps of clay that end up looking like dead bodies in the eye of the beholder.

I did these things as I thought I was so afraid of so many things I'd make the creepiest of all things and as the maker, I couldn't scare myself. I would be without fear. I was even scared living on my own in the 'big' city of The Hague. I had just arrived back from one year on Santa Maria, Azores, were nothing could harm one. Fearful man holding cat

If I have to describe myself psychologically, I'd say I am a man with angsts. Fears. I am afraid of heights, sharp objects, cats, dogs, teenagers and dentists, to name a few.

I am afraid of rejection and I always thought I was dumb. As a young person I had totally accepted the idea I was mentally retarded. I couldn't read very well and hardly spoke the languages I was meant to understand. I remember asking my mother: 'Mum, do I speak English good?'.


At my first High school, the Johan de With Lyceum in The Hague, I had the very best art teacher one can hope for. The then famous painter Jan van Heel (1898-1991). He called me to his desk one day. He smelled of aftershave and was a slightly overweight man who always wore a hat, even in class. He was looking at a drawing I made and said:'Paul, 10 out of 10 is for God, 9 is for me and 8 is for my best student. Paul, I give you a 9.' Can you imagine how I felt. I was walking on a cloud.

My 'paintings' were always hung in the main entrance hall of the school. But my school report was shocking. Never seen before. I averaged something like a 4 (out of 10)! All 'memory' subjects like history and geography, biology and something else, cannot remember, were ok but maths, algebra, geometry, languages were averaging 2 to 4.

My brother Norman, four years older, had studied there too. Didn't even speak Dutch when he started but did his finals as the best student with 9's and 10's. I had to leave and was sent to a school for 'nice' boys with little brains. In Holland it was called a MULO, advanced primary education (APE?).

But again I was so lucky I had a fantastic art teacher who instructed me to do ink drawings with a broken bit of wood, or a match, or the wrong end of a paintbrush. He so much enjoyed doing these drawings with me, forgetting that all other subjects were again, even at the MULO, embarrassingly low. I was now 16. I could draw for sure but could hardly write my name.

Royal Academy of Fine Art (The Hague) logo To go to the Royal Academy of Fine Arts (KABK) in the Hague, one needed at least 3 years of High school, I had one. My mother went to the Academy and talked to the director Mr. J. J. Beljon, a 'social' sculptor. She pleaded with him and he broke the golden rule and let me in on talent. Not on brains. I thought it didn't matter, as long as I can draw and use the right colours. Heavens above, did I use the right colours.

My main teachers were Mr. Jacques Jansen en Prof. Jan van Keulen. They were followers of the Bauhaus. Intellectual art . Hitler hated the Bauhaus off course. I didn't really like Bauhaus either.

But I had a favourite teacher: Ootje Oxenaar. He had designed the Dutch money. He was 'teaching' us nude drawing. Monday morning we had the class and a nude model would stand in front of us, sometimes scratching her bum. But although Ootje was 'old', pushing 35, he was still a young guy, a boy forever. He told us one morning that Rembrant's 'Night watch' would be great to be cut up into tiny pieces and used as beer coasters!!! What a man of the day, no?

Red, blue and yellow. Black and white were the accepted colours. But I liked other colours. I like, help!, purple and shapes that were not geometrical. The hippies had arrived. I was lost. Van Keulen called me to his office and asked me: 'Is painting paintings in your attic with oil paints not the same as giving a sex maniac a large steak?' I didn't know what he was talking about. I was still a virgin. Come to think of it, I still have no idea what he was talking about. He always smelled of garlic and was a sharp dresser and a lady's man. Drove a Jaguar.

But I never felt fear at the Academy. Not even in front of a huge canvas. With anything to do with art I felt confident. However, we were often accused that we could not paint a 'traditional' work. So I painted the fearful nude male shown on the left. And cut it up after I had made my point.

Later, I went to meet Salvador Dali in Cadaqués many years ago and for me it was just meeting another artist, albeit a very very famous one. I went with a friend, also a painter and he was shitting himself. We were taken by Miss Norway 1957, in a white cadillac. The door at Salvador's house was opened by Amanda Lear, the then famous singer/drag queen. The BBC were filming and a fashion show was shown to the Maestro Magnifico. We were told by Amanda to call him by his title when spoken to. Cool. Who cares. Art is art and a fart is a fart.

But don't ask me to be confident with a bank manager or a real person. They puff and pant, you know! And smell of something I cannot put my nose to. Certainly they are superior,

I have fear of pain. I am 63 years old and never, never, have had a fight, as in fisticuffs. Why? Because I am a coward and didn't want my large nose to be hurt.

As a student we went once to a dodgy pub and a huge drunken man held me by my neck demanding me to buy him cigarettes. The only words I could utter were: 'Filter or no filter?'.

But otherwise fear was with me all the time. Having been brought up in the Far and Middle east, dogs were usually to protect you from others, thus all other dogs were my enemy. They would if they could attack me. Bite me. But we always had dogs, dogs I loved and they were not guard dogs. But I still cross the road when I see an Alsatian on my path.

And I don't only mean the dog. I am afraid in cars. I don't drive. Tried to, but the driving instructor told me to give up. I nearly kissed him, I was so happy I didn't have to drive. Climbing up ladders is another thing I don't like doing. Yet I did abseil only three years ago in Armidale. When Billy the Kid told me to let go, just fall backwards (30 meters) I knew I was in good hands and if I did fall I'd be dead anyway. I went down and felt totally free and totally trusting. On the ground I did thank that Someone a little. So fear comes and goes. phb I would love you to read my blog on