Could you introduce yourself and your works?
Deep down inside I have always known I would become an artist. At the age of thirteen, I discovered the rapture and bliss of poetry, literature, painting and music all at once.
Art as a way out of the dread of puberty. I wrote horrible poems and did some clumsy drawing. I read Hesse, Kerouac, Sartre and Hemingway and marvelled at Dali, De Kooning and Rembrandt in the Boymans Museum in Rotterdam.
I listened to Debussy, Ravel and Satie but favoured The Beatles, Eagles and Stones. I started a band with my best friends and bought my first guitar. I still remember how it smelled like in the music shop of Servaas in The Haque, where I bought a second-hand black Ibanez Les Paul imitation. I loved that guitar. I thought it was the most beautiful thing in the world when I woke up the next morning and saw it standing beside my bed.
To become a Rock ‘n Roll Star seemed the best of all options (boy + guitar = girls) so there I was on stage at shaky 17 before a massive crowd at the New Year party of my local school. Life was sweet and full of promise.
At the age of 31, I hit a brick wall. My latest rock ‘n roll band suddenly fell apart. I ended a five-year relationship with a girl I didn’t love. Just before that, I’d quit my part-time job as a scan operator at a big newspaper company because it bored me to death. I made it to the end of a photography course, got my degree, did some work as a press photographer and even found a job in commercial photography. After 3 months I decided “commercial” wasn’t my thing.
On my 32nd birthday, I received from a friend as a gift some brushes and some paint. “You just try a bit of painting”, he said, “it will do you good”. So it did. It felt like coming home at last. Within nine months I had a small gallery show in Amsterdam and sold six of my paintings. I was ready to follow my bliss. My voyage into painting had begun.
Initially experimenting with figurative, Fauvism and surrealistic elements – influenced by Klee, Miró and the CoBrA movement – I gradually adopted a more austere and abstract style.
At first glance, the brush strokes on the canvas appear to be casual but that is just an illusion. In reality, it is an endless battle with various materials. Collages and arrangements of acrylic paint, cut-outs, eroded or torn elements and rice and crêpe paper. Spray-can discharges. Thick concrete and tile glue. Plastering cautiously with a filling knife, fanatically throwing splashes against the canvas like a pitcher in his element. Still, from such a tumultuous Rhapsody of materials and techniques, an intense, harmonious painting always appears. The perceived exceptions to this rule are ruthlessly painted over.
While the paintings are abstract, there is very real imagery recognizable – sunlight dancing off water or bursting through mist, cloud formations and rich autumnal colors. My work represents the lyrical abstract art tradition but with its own merit and a mystical undertone.
How did you find your own painting style (colours, compositions, and so on)?
To me, making art is not a hobby but I wouldn’t call it a job either. It is work that I have chosen to take upon myself and that has to be done. It is deeply personal and highly universal at the same time. To a certain extent, it is what defines me. It’s like keeping a diary without words. It is a way to get a grip on life that, at its core, seems to me as elusive as an abstract painting. It is a way to get access to what I don’t know, to what I have forgotten. It is a way to make meaning in a meaningless world. It is a pathway, both towards and from intuition. Making abstract art is like bringing a vision, laying dormant in the soul, to the light of day.
I never make sketches. I don’t sit around waiting for brilliant ideas. Everything happens in the process of painting. I just begin.
However, odd as it sounds, working on an abstract painting is a rather precise undertaking. There are certain Do’s and Don’t’s, so I’ve discovered through the years. There are technical issues that almost always work, (yet sometimes stunningly fail), there are technical issues that never work (but sometimes stunningly do) and there are techniques that might work but which I still have to discover. There are a thousand ways to start, a million ways to go on, and zillion ways to finish an abstract painting. Without some sort of reference, you might easily get lost on the way.
In the beginning, I mostly worked on paper with gouache, acrylics and pastels in a semi -figurative style influenced by artists like Klee, Chagall, Hundertwasser, Miro and the Dutch Cobra movement. Around 2004 I started working more and more on canvasses and slowly developed my current lyrical abstract style. The American expressionist like Pollock, De Kooning and Rothko have been influences as well as the work of the Dutch painter Eugene Brands who was for a short time connected to the Cobra movement. The basics are acrylics but I use a whole other lot of materials I discovered while experimenting through the years, like paper, sand, modelling pastes, spray paint, gold and silver powders and sometimes even sticks and pieces of wood. There is something alchemistic in making paintings.
The way to discover new ground, to keep on going and to improve, is by persistently keep on working from intuition while building your ever growing technical knowledge. That technical knowledge (or experience) has nothing to do with logic or mathematical knowledge. It doesn’t reside in your brain, but in your hands, your eyes, your whole body, your spirit. It is by that knowledge you bring precision into the process. Trust it. Intuition is what gets you on your way, precision is what gets you to the finish.
Abstract painting is not about ideas. It is about visions, dreams, misty archetypes, intuitive sensations, sorrow, joy and other poetic soul stuff we all share but most of the time can’t express for the lack of words. In the contradictory combination of intuition and precision lies the painter’s best chance to silently whisper from the other side of the veil. Not to tell a story but to visualise our shared longing for all those elusive things like harmony, inner peace or turmoil, beauty, rapture and oneness.
There are no shortcuts to acquiring this combination of intuition and precision.
But it will appear, sometime or later, during the process of painting. By starting afresh, again and again and again.
What kind of things influenced your lifestyles and art except for other artists?
Books. I read a lot, reading is one of my greatest inspirations though not necessarily for painting. I hold the belief that for being a true artist some sort of “Homo Universalis like” mindset is necessary. You have to have some insight and wisdom into the many possible worldviews in this life whether it is psychological, political, spiritual or mystical. Reading is a way to expand your mind and question your beliefs.
Joseph Campbell said it like this: “The inner world is the world of your requirements and your energies and your structure and your possibilities that meets the outer world. And the outer world is the field of your incarnation. That’s where you are. You’ve got to keep both going. (…) The seat of the soul is there where the inner and outer worlds meet. (…) Sit in a room and read–and read and read. And read the right books by the right people. Your mind is brought onto that level, and you have a nice, mild, slow-burning rapture all the time.”
James Allen wrote: “The dreamers are the saviours of the world. As the visible world is sustained by the invisible, so men, through all their trials and sins and sordid vocations, are nourished by the beautiful visions of their solitary dreamers. Humanity cannot forget its dreamers; it cannot let their ideals fade and die; it lives in them; it knows them as the realities which it shall one day see and know. Composer, sculptor, painter, poet, prophet, sage, these are the makers of the afterworld, the architects of heaven. The world is beautiful because they have lived; without them, labouring humanity would perish.”
The way I make art is not something you can learn like, say, a computer program. It’s much more intuitive, and it can be confronting, even very frustrating at times. Time and time again I have to find my own personal translation from soul to vision to matter and make it universal. Not that there is much of Me involved in the creative process, come to think of it. Material Me has to be present to handle the paint and the brushes. But the conscious, thinking Me, Ego Me, better keep a low profile when the painting is in the making.
I always have cherished the idea of being like an open window through which the great spirit of creation comes flying in and does its work. I am merely an instrument available to be used by something far greater.
Carl Jung states it nicely:
“Art is a kind of innate drive that seizes a human being and makes him its instrument. The artist is not a person endowed with free will who seeks his own ends, but one who allows art to realise its purpose through him. As a human being he may have moods and a will and personal aims, but as an artist, he is “man” in a higher sense— he is “collective man”— one who carries and shapes the unconscious, psychic forms of mankind.”
Nature is another great inspirator. Many people compare my paintings with great vista’s, cloud formations or even cosmic nebulae. The surroundings where I have been living the last 14 years. a beautiful, slightly rolling landscape under great wide open skies in the North of Holland, has certainly had an impact on my painting.
A deep longing for autonomy and freedom are factors which played a role in choosing a career as a visual artist. There’s great satisfaction in making something original and new out of nothing and be able to present it to the world.
Finally, curiosity is what keeps me going. There’s wonder and mystery in seeing and experiencing what happens if I put paint on a canvas, by trying to stretch the limits of what is possible to depict on a flat rectangular piece of cloth.
There is no harm in Art. Art might be ugly, mad, deranged, incomprehensible or coldly conceptual but as far as I know Art, in all its history, has never killed anyone.
One of the questions I often get asked at shows if it is hard to let go of a painting.
The answer is no, I can let go of them easily. They are meant to be out there in the world, hopefully, make it a little bit of a better place if possible. And there is always a new one, waiting to materialise through me.
Do you have anything you want to do in the future about art?
Also, do you have any messages to the visitor of the exhibition?
After 23 years, painting still holds the same kind of challenge to me. Through trial and error, I developed my own style, my own song in which I can express something that’s hard to say in words. In the time that is given to me, I want to refine my style as much as possible. The time of making great strides and progress of the early years is over. I’m looking for more subtle improvements now. There’s always room at getting better if you create the possibilities and space for it.
The earth, the galaxy, the whole universe is perfect. Old myths tell us that we were kicked out of perfection long ago. Perhaps by an apple, a snake… But there is deep truth in myths if you look at them as metaphors. We are here to make perfection conscious. Like striving for the ultimate painting that lingers like a vision somewhere in the mind. That is the true goal of any artist. That’s why we make and love art.
There is a peculiar thing about fine art: it arrests all movement of time. In a way, it stops time if only for a moment. Looking at a work of art is looking at something that will never change. To the visitors of the exhibition, I would say: try to let that moment of timelessness pervade your consciousness. Don’t think or conceptualise about what you see. Don’t try to look for familiar forms. Just let the colours, light and energy wash over you and feel what happens inside.
Whitestone Gallery Karuizawa is pleased to present Eelco Maan’s first solo exhibition in Asia: In the domain of the soul.
Based in the Netherlands, Eelco Maan(1962–) started his artistic career in 1944. Music, meditation, and Zen philosophy are the inspiration for his abstract paintings.
Eelco’s artworks are characterised by a warm, mystical undertone, and perfect composition that creates a distinctive harmony. While on the surface his brushstrokes seem casual, according to the artist, it is ‘a tumultuous Rhapsody of materials and techniques’, which could be the most significant element of his art.
We cordially hope to see you this summer in Karuizawa, to witness the achievement of contemporary abstract painting by Eelco Maan.
KARUIZAWA NEW ART MUSEUM
1151-5 Karuizawa, Karuizawa-machi, Kitasaku-gun, Nagano, 389-0102, Japan
Tel: +81 (0)267 46 8691
Fax: +81 (0)267 46 8692
Opening Hours: 10:00 – 17:00 (October – June) , 10:00 – 18:00 (July – September)
Closed: Tuesday (*7 days a week in August)