In the past 24 years I produced a lot of art. Most portraits, by far less birds, some landscapes and a couple of things.
In my landscapes I always create a situation. Here you see an oar and part of a boat.
This is part of a boat and a view of some gulls on a sandbank.
Here you have a better impression of my boat.
And this is a very famous spot in Dutch literature 'The secret rural estate' of the writer Gerard Reve. I didn't want to paint it as an object. Instead I went inside and made the painting in the tiny kitchen, with its view.
A thing I can show you with this example. It seems more easy to pretend that this is a portrait of an object, than to explain that this object
is meant to be a portrait. But it is. It is a portrait of Paul Delvaux.
The portrait is about my secret wish to look at naked women and to desire them. This concept of voyeurism finds its complementary opposite in a painting of Delvaux. The reflectors come from a Dutch bicycle, at the time that they were introduced and compulsory on them, because in Holland nobody used light on his bike. The reflectors reflect the secretiveness of voyeurism. The chance to be discovered is part of the excitement. The box, that I got from a Belgian friend, has been used to contain fruit, and symbolizes the wish itself. Later it happened that Delvaux became blind.
My very first drawings are these of Francis Bacon. I was 22 years old, in 1977. I made them after reading the interviews of Bacon with
David Sylvester. I was enormously impressed by this book, for various reasons. One of them was his attempt to deal with mimic and motoric
expression. Another reason was the way his painterly image was constructed in a non-illusionistic; but sensual space. I felt instinctively
attracted to it. The third reason was what he said. That he wanted to bring the image closer to the fact, and that he, at the same time,
was interested in the dramatic effect of a painting. The conclusion that Bacon saw life as a dramatic event, was so strong for me at that
age, that it compelled me to make these drawings out of compassion and curiosity.
I was very proud of these drawings, but soon I did another attempt, which you see here.
It is actually a photograph of a drawing that is printed mirror image. This print is glued on paper with a drawing of a frame. It is called 'Francis Bacon at a party'. The effect that we see Bacon in the mirror, is comparable to the effect created in the landscapes. I introduce my subject to make it accessible and more intimate.
With these drawings and some more I entered Art School, in 1978. There were no lessons. My tutors came in on Tuesday and discussed what I
had been doing. It was suggested that I should start painting. To work with color and brush was very difficult for me, but I found a way
to conduct by assembling my portraits from parts of paintings that I had rejected.
I adepted so extremely well that in 1982 I had my first solo exhibition at Marian Goodman Gallery in New York. Here you see me with a
portrait of my tutor Ger van Elk, who introduced me to Marian Goodman. My confrontation with the art world, which took place at my School
where the famous Dutch artists were tutors, shocked me. I literally felt to pieces. But my motivation was enormous and I tried to
understand what was happening. The process of understanding is different from the process of living and perhaps surviving.
It needs answers instead of strategies, and it is not funny at all.
Whereas my thinking had problems to find out where I stood, and my brush gave me a lot of trouble to produce an image, I wanted the answers from what I produced.
Here we see a landscape. The tree and the aminous cloud are reflected in a river. Although the river flows from left to right, as we can conclude from the state of the horizon, it is the land with the tree that seems to slide down the river.
The first portrait that I created in oilpaint was the Dutch writer and poet Jan Hanlo. He was the writer of my years of puberty. I remember
an odd story about this.
At my final exams in High School, my syllabus of Dutch literature contained all his titles, mounting up to one quarter of the list. My
examinator started with a question about this uncommon fact. It was a reasonable thing to do, a matter of breaking the ice. But I could
not answer. My identification with the writer was so total, that my choice was unreflected. We had to skip him as a topic. It was a missed
chance. In this painting it seems that I went back to that scene.
At the same time it seems to be a portrait of Hanlo. Hanlo was a keen observator of the tiny scene. Being a perfectionist, he wanted to hear the noise from a children's room too. It was an almost impossible task.
At the same time I entered Art School, I persuaded my girlfriend to leave home and share rooms with me.
It was not a good idea. About half a year later she did leave me and left me in despair. Then I listened a lot to a record of Lennie Tristano. Especially his requiem for Eric Dolphy gave me relief. I made this portrait of Tristano. I want to notice here that this drawing represents a story, and that I projected my self on Tristano through his music. I was extremely glad with this drawing. In the act of making it reflected my situation. It was the last drawing that I did for years. I returned to drawing again, when I did my first painting on a stretched canvas.
I was alone by now. Above me Jan Commandeur lived, who attended the same school. Jan, being son of a farmer, made big expressionistic abstract paintings, which remind nature. We became inseparable. We ate together and went out in the city. We found out that he exactly was one year older than I was.
Netje was the widow of the painter Edgar Fernhout. With other artists, he founded the School that I was visiting, and named it Ateliers '63. It was a household word. And Edgar Fernhout was a legend. I got acquainted with Netje a couple of years after his death, when I was admitted at Ateliers '63.
One day, I saw her walking a little old street. She was carrying a bag with leek. The green leaves were popping out of the bag. She was in deep thought, an aureole of sadness was around her. Up till now I thought that she was mourning about Edgars death. Now I think differently, because my father died two years ago. Why did I project this kind of sadness upon her? It happened before the schoolyear started. I entered Ateliers '63 not yet. I was selling tickets in a small museum where visitors came. I always peered out of the open door. When I saw her walking, I felt like I betrayed her, and went inside. Later, at Ateliers '63, I made the painting. Then there was the desire of identification. Where did that come from? Two difficult questions that I will try to answer. First I want to notice that I did not project sadness upon her, but the cause of her sadness, which is Edgars death. I must have had an idea of an enormous loss. The projection was the result of very high expectations that I had of Ateliers '63. Netje herself had exited them. The desire to identify with this sadness came later, when I experienced Ateliers '63. I had a difficult time. Edgar became symbol of it. In identifying with Netje I could regret my death.
After I left Ateliers '63 I made in Amsterdam a number of portraits that were very succesful. This succes overwhelmed me a bit, as well as the portraits themselves. Two unhappy factors arose from these portraits. First the misunderstanding that these were fragments. To me they were not. I had not fragmented, but assembled those. Secondly it happened that I became identified with this kind of portrait, because of their succes. This became a burden for me. I made them like this, because I couldn't realize them in any other way. And although I made them, they very much reflected me. And this me that was quite young, insecure and looking for an answer, became part of a manipulation in real life. I got bored with this as to the extend of the main character in Sartres 'Nausea'.
Here is another example of the portraits I made then. It's Spinoza. It can speak for itself.
This painting from 1984 is my first one on stretched canvas. At that time I lived with my girlfriend in Antwerp, that was then famous for it's cheap rents and it's spectacular opening hours of the bars. Every other night we had some guests from Holland in the house and we explored city life a lot. I did the painting after a still from the movie Early to Bed. I painted a very sleepy Laurel on a background, which implies a cosy interior. (Please notice that the arrangement of space in this painting does not suggest a mirror, although the shaving soap on Laurels chin might do so.)
About the same time as I did Stan Laurel, I made this portrait of Georges Simenon. I tried to identify with him in the concept of smoking a pipe. This is not as simple as it looks. I knew of a biographical fact about his beloved daughter, who committed suicide. A few months ago I discovered a photo of his car in a book of my son, about cars. Simenon bought this car at the Salon of Génève. It is a Ghia Asimmetrica.
I was surprised by the resemblance of my portrait and the car.
As I told you before, I wanted to escape from my assembled paintings. And I knew the direction. I always had remembered very well the drawings 'Francis Bacon at a party' and 'Lennie Tristano', that I made when my girl left me. Bacon was a concept of projection and Tristano was a case of projection. It was something that I had not been able to do so clearly in the assemblies. And with the capability to make paintings on a stretched canvas, I became aware of a distinction between fact and concept. From that time I made paintings and I made objects. I never made an assembled painting anymore.