INTERVIEW WITH THE MASTER OF GLASS AND NUMBER 1 ON OUR LIST OF 25 RECOMMENDED ARTISTS FOR 2019.
Tell us about yourself and background.
I was born in 1957 in the old town of Maastricht, in the Netherlands, I developed an interest in fashion, interior decoration, architecture and design at an early age. It was not until going to the Art Academy in my hometown that I developed a profound interest in three dimensional art. While studying sculpture, I found a love for light and its influence on form resulting in creating light-sculptures. In 1980 after four years of study - I kept making light sculptures and started exhibiting all over Europe. My work got published in several design books and I would probably still make these light objects and installations if I didn’t walk into a glassblowing workshop with Andries Copier and Willem and Bernard Heesen at the Jan van Eyck Academy in 1986. Mesmerized by the glowing light of hot glass at the end of a blowpipe, I did not only decide to start investigating the possibilities of blown glass for my objects but also did a post-graduate at the Jan van Eyck Academy.
Tell us about your work.
The following year I started working in blown glass. Instead of trying to become a master glassblower myself I tried to learn as much as possible about the material by assisting and working with masters like Lino Tagliapietra from Murano and Neil Wilkin in England. Neil and I worked together with a highly skilled team for many years, producing many blown objects.
The use of graal technique (glass made with a colour overlay that is cooled, engraved, reheated, and encased in a layer of clear glass and blown again to expand the decorative engravings) and later the development of double graal, resulted in many successful exhibits and my first book Metamorphosis.
Although never being trained beyond an assistant, I love blown glass and learned a great deal about it over the years, studying the way the material behaves, how it flows, what it means to go with the material or against it. In my opinion I am still working with light, colour and form.
Another significant change in my work and my approach to glass as a medium came after a very influential and inspiring voyage to the Antarctic in 2001. Translating my impressions of the landscapes, the glaciers and the square rigged three-master I travelled on into vessels, I found we could not blow an iceberg! It frustrated me as I was so enthralled with the many icebergs I saw as “nature`s floating sculpture garden”. Being trained as a sculptor, I quite easily changed over to kiln-casting, a technique used specifically successful by Czech artists and makers like Zdenek Lhotsky. In short this compels of making a full-size model in wax, clay or in my case an industrial hard foam. I create my model by chipping away from a block, no different to working in wood or stone. From this model a plaster mould will be formed. Once the mould is dry, it will be filled with glass or crystal parts. It is then placed inside a kiln and fired till the glass melts and takes over the form of the model. After extensive cooling, weeks and sometimes even months, the mould is taken out of the kiln and through carefully removing the plaster, the glass shape will be revealed. Grinding away the ‘skin’ that results from the casting process, the final sculpture will then be ground and polished to equal my model. The series of sculptures known as Icebergs and Paraphernalia became an international success, documented by a book by the same name.
My fascination with ice and the way it is transferring light made me undertake more travels to the Polar Regions, resulting in a vast body of ever-expanding work showing nature`s endless source of inspiration. A visit to Arizona and the canyons and deserts of The Four Corners inspired a new body of work by the same title. To me it was a logical step to go from the cold transparent ice to the hot density of the desert`s rocks and mountains. Once again, this earth and it's awesome beauty intrigued, leading to a collection of glass sculptures. The town of Sedona became a refuge. A perfect place for long hikes through nature and quiet time for reflection and the development of new ideas that are then executed in my studio in the Netherlands.
Traveling has always been a necessary part of feeling alive for me. My curiosity as a human being and an artist for our planet`s cultural and natural diversity took me to all the continents. When we travel to other countries and cultures, not only does our outer world change but so also does our inner world and the way we perceive our planet and fellow beings.
The sculptures of a new series called Inward Journey are often quiet and introspective. With titles like Perception, Imprint or Transformation, I share my inner process and life philosophy, meanwhile presenting a mirror, sometimes thought provoking or meditative but always reflecting a need for understanding and appreciating the individual as well as the universal.
"When we travel to other countries and cultures, not only does our outer world change but so also does our inner world and the way we perceive our planet and fellow beings."
What makes your work and approach unique?
As I was not trained as a glassblower, I approach material as a sculptor. The idea dictates the technique and the material to use. Even though I occasionally work with other materials, I have a deep love for glass as it is the only material that allows you to experience 4 dimensions as you can see the front and the back of a sculpture at the same time, as well as the matter and space in between. Glass with its transparency and translucency, transforms and shifts light and has an influence on the intensity of color. It can therefore mold emotion and spirituality, the profane and the celestial. This is always embedded in my work and makes it therefore very personal.
Why is your work a good investment?
Buying art is an investment in wellbeing. All the arts, music, literature, dance or film for example can inspire, uplift, challenge or provoke. Art is a direct form of communication, whether emotional, mental, spiritual or even physical.
The level of art in a society defines the height of civilisation. Investing in art is also investing in the development of your cultural footprint and legacy.
Tell us about some of your achievements.
A particularly interesting development is the use of glass outdoors. With the Czech glass alchemist Ruda Banas and Zdenek Lhotsky and his team of kiln cast experts, we have found a very fruitful collaboration that enabled me to create large glass sculptures that can withstand the changes in temperature in different climates.
We have placed these sculptures in gardens, ponds and architectural sites. Influenced by the change in light, whether sun, moon, clouds or artificial, the sculpture seems to change in translucency, colour and expression.
To have objects outside like this, opened a whole new range of possibilities of using glass interacting with the surroundings.
"I have a deep love for glass as it is the only material that allows you to experience 4 dimensions as you can see the front and the back of a sculpture at the same time, as well as the matter and space in between."
What are your sources of inspiration?
The actual creative process can be the result of observation, contemplation and concept. Much of that is intuitively translated into form, though sometimes that process can take years. I find making art a spiritual journey, a search for what really moves me deeply and helps me understand who I am and what I need to express. The interaction with the public is part of that. That is probably also the reason I love doing commissions, because they challenge me to think out of the box of what I usually want to make. When I get a commission, I look at all aspects, the people, location subject, all the circumstances that help me come up with an idea are completely different from what I normally work with. I find this different dynamic highly interesting and rewarding.
What are you passionate about?
Traveling! It has always been a big part of my personal growth as a human being and an artist. My interest in cultures and religions, the differences between cultures and how we express our religious, spiritual identity intrigue and inspire me. Nature became more and more important over time, the natural world in relationship to the man-made and my own understanding of it.
How do you want your art to affect the viewer/ world?
In a world with so much man-made ugliness I strive to create things of beauty that touch people's hearts and give them pleasure as well as food for thought. Art is the quintessential desire to express oneself; it is my joy and passion!
Tell us the back-story of some of your projects.
Ten years ago, I was asked to make a large outdoor sculpture, to be placed in a commune for people that were disabled by respiratory illnesses and often only partial mobile or even paralyzed. I created “AURA”, the outline or energy field of a 6-foot-tall man. The color is blue like the symbol for healing, oxygen and water. What I wanted to express is that the people living there may be disabled physically, but they still have the capacity to think, fantasize, dream, travel in their mind, create and communicate as complete as any ‘healthy’ fellow human being.
Over time I have made sculptures for institutes, homes, ships and offices. Every commission is uniquely created to interact with the people present and its surroundings, it is some of my most precious work.
I recently did two installations for an exhibition at the Fort Wayne museum of Art. The first: “7 BODIES”, represents the human existence as seven individual elements, each containing specific potential: physical, mental, emotional, vibrational, spiritual, creative and ethereal. The outer shape of these seven sculptures is an identical abstracted form. By deliberately denying gender, race or physical appearance, the viewer is invited to look beyond the political, fashionable, aesthetic or social connotations that so much influence our perception of our fellow beings and ourselves. Separating the elements that define our human existence and visualizing them as individual entities, the observer is challenged to reconsider each element, its valuation and importance as part of the whole.
The second installation is called “Perception”. This installation consists of 13 sculptures that are identical in form but made from different materials and/or in different colours. Materials and colours represent and associate with different emotions. They can be cold or warm, gentle our harsh, revealing or obscuring. The intricate shape of each sculpture has an opening that allows us to see what is behind the sculpture. The way the form tilts reminds the viewer of the different angles of perception. The lines lead the eye in and out but always back to the hole, while the levels of reflectiveness of the surfaces, from transparent to mirroring, change the periphery of our vision. Looking through the hole in any object, we can never see the whole installation. We all look through a peeping hole; we only see a part of the whole. It`s our human condition.
"In a world with so much manmade ugliness I strive to create things of beauty that touch people`s hearts and give them pleasure as well as food for thought."
Share with us your upcoming projects.
Now I am working on six larger sculptures representing the original art forms: music, literature, drama, dance, architecture and combined the 2 and 3-dimensional fine arts. I got the idea for doing this installation when I realized that there are many exciting things happening in cross-over disciplines and art-forms. This is not new and has been going on for many centuries, foremost in opera and any similar performance prior; opera involves stage design, which would include painting and sculpture, existing and/or created architectural elements, dance, drama and of course text (libretto) and music.
I love opera! Even though the Greeks already developed combinations of the arts, the Italians lifted it to great heights, therefore all titles are in Italian.
How do you feel about art and its role today?
Art is more politicized than ever, relating to the hear-and-now. It expresses issues that are no different than what gets broadcasted on CNN. I find a lot of contemporary art to lean more on concept than visual experience.
The mental aspect often diminishes the emotional experience. As a contrast, much art seems cartoonesque and decorative. Damien Hirst`s Venice show “Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable” was the perfect commentary on this phenomenon and maybe therefore not approved of by the fine art world and its critics but well appreciated by the many visitors, myself included!
Tell us about where you are based.
Living between my studio in the Netherlands and my refuge in Sedona, Arizona, I travel as much as my work requires and my heart desires. The world is my oyster!