POL Magazine review of 1975 exhibit in The hague: Hipped on Death, A Grave Enjoyment

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by David Leigh, POL magazine, published by Gareth Powell, 1975

Paul Bakker's sculptures arouse unwilling curiosities, stir religious antagonisms and demand forthright reactions. Which is quite understandable as they rather resemble a row of tightly swathed and tied corpses awaiting transportation to some mass grave-yard.

They lie in their square, shallow coffins, fixed in attitudes of either violent or peaceful death. Their stilled faces still contain a trace of remembered life, their limbs contorted in the death spasm.

To be reminded of your own mortality you would have to pay roughly $2,000 per figure. The Dutch government bought three and the Gemeente Museum in the Hague is interested in aquiring more. Their creator isn't interested in the motivations of his clientele but is passionately interested in the question of life after death, without for a minute believing he'll come across answers. "My figures are all just dead. They're still warm. One has an erection. Their chests are full of air. Their expressions are surprised or tortured. We don't give up life easily and this phase of the living/dying process is, to me, fascinating."

Bakker, born in Australia of a Dutch father and Australian mother, studied in Holland and was an early art director of POL (magazine) before returning to Europe four years ago. His pre-occupation with death has lost him friends, gained him admirers and occasionally tagged him with necrophiliac tendencies.

"A colleague (the painter Phil Klundert who makes giant size fruit and places them in hospital grounds and God knows where else) told a friend: 'I don't hate his work aesthetically but I hate his mind.' Now he doesn't speak to me." But he remains sanguine. "Another artist, the Swiss painter Ber Mengels said, after having seen only the photos of the figures, 'I'm very impressed and if you disappoint me' (meaning if they aren't as they appear in the photos) I'll break your neck'."

Paul adds that the man is a fanatic and when drunk screams his head off about anti-artists. Nevertheless it backs up his contention that strong reactions can be expected.

The police became involved when local gossip assured them that three bodies had been seen wrapped in plastic bags with their feet sticking out. The artist's explanation amused them, "but," says Paul, "for the next few days every bloddy cop came by to have a look as they'd heard about it at HQ."

His neighbours often clustered by the window to watch the artist serenely at work on his bodies, gas-mask in place against the fumes of acetone. To say they were bemused is understating the case.

His technique involves the making of his sculptured bodies out of clay, foam-rubber or chicken wire, then covering them with a canvas dipped in plastic. He buys the canvas in large sheets then dips it in an acetone batch which is both explosive and dangerous to health. After a few minutes the canvas softens and feels like wet leather. He then cuts it and wraps it around the clay figure and leaves it to harden for 24 hours. He then turns the figure and digs out the clay. The 'body' is painted a black brown. It's then...

(Remainder of clipping has been lost. If Anyone could help I'd be forever grateful. phb)

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