In my work -- paintings, sculptures, assemblages -- I use objects to rescue their attached memories and stories, however remote, and to preserve, enhance and contextualize them into new entities. These objects and fragments of objects are picked up from city streets and beaches, or bought from markets on three continents or donated (for instance, discarded paintings from other artists). Most are ordinary, humble objects that are lost, thrown away or broken, a quality that is more important to me than that they are “found.”
Like an archeologist I excavate fragments of the past and try to discern a narrative from them. Shards become “wholes,” not as something that once was whole in the past, like an antique vase, but as new forms in the present whose meaning is allegorical, and to “rescue” or “repair” that past. Though some of my paintings reflect a specific place (“Warsaw Dig,” “Saltwater Archeology” or “Vindplaats” -- Dutch for “Place where something has been found”), the only real place where different visual narratives come serendipitously together, is my studio. Apart from digging in the humble past other experiences involving objects inform my work, such as a visit to Auschwitz and traveling through Africa.
An image from a documentary about the Netherlands in World War II has stuck in my mind: Silent rows of Jews are walking on their way to the Central Railway Station in Amsterdam. They carry bundles and suitcases with the belongings that they were allowed to take by the Germans, the bare necessities. In the museum at Auschwitz, one sees in large glass showcases mountains of these and other objects: shoes, glasses, pots and pans, artificial limbs, suitcases, shirts. Meant as memorials of a crime, of unfinished lives suggesting stories that would never be told, or would never be, these accumulations of colours, shapes and textures immediately touch nerves that say: beautiful. The old question comes up; “How can one make art from something so unspeakably horrific?” But the horror and the beauty of it are not mutually exclusive. Not unlike a requiem, it has the capacity through beauty, to bring solace.
Process plays an important part in my work. Here I take cues from the African shaman. A shaman, like an artist, possesses an “eye.” He recognizes the spirit in an object. I likewise “identify” objects. Like fetishes, which are assembled by a shaman from all kinds of organic an inorganic matter into mysterious objects, my process, too, involves collecting, sewing, wrapping, cutting, covering, knotting, tying, connecting, nailing, piercing, weaving; a meditative, accumulative stream of actions that inform the finished work. In my paintings, though seemingly mostly abstract, all the shapes, lines and marks represent something real. Shapes and colours are getting introduced and painted over, actions that keep being repeated -- much an imitation of the process of remembering and forgetting -- until the painting becomes “the whole story.”
An -- albeit dyslexic -- archeologist, a mourning descendant and an African shaman, all these personae come together in my practice as an artist. For a fetish to come alive and to do its work -- remembrance, healing, magic -- the spirit therein needs to get coaxed into action through ceremony. Here lies the role of the viewer: be it in the shrine, gallery, museum or studio.