I first visited the Kröller-Müller museum in the Hoge Veluwe National park when I was an art student in London. There had been an official college trip organised to Barcelona and Madrid, however I and a few friends simply didn’t have the money to join such an outing. As an alternative we organised our own cultural excursion. It was a cut price affair, staying in the cheapest of cheap hostels in Amsterdam and spending, I think, five days visiting the cultural high points of the Netherlands.
Undoubtedly the most surprising to me then, was the visit to the Kröller-Müller museum. An hour east of Amsterdam on the train, followed by twenty minutes on the bus, before entering the park and picking up one of the free white bikes to get around the expansive landscape of the Hoge Veluwe Park. If I think back to that first visit I remember walking through pine forests and across dazzling sand dunes on a bright, crisp morning in early spring. It wasn’t what I had expected of the Dutch landscape. How different it was as a way to approach a museum art collection. My more familiar routine was to battle through the busy streets of London making use of packed buses and underground trains.
Crossing this windswept Dutch landscape brought us to the destination that our tutors back in London had raved about, the elegant Kröller-Müller museum. A stylish, modernist building housing the collection put together by Helene Kröller-Müller in the early years of the twentieth century and featuring the work of van Gogh, Mondriaan and many other modern masters. Behind the museum you have an extensive and ever growing sculpture park and forest.
Little did I know when I made that first visit all those years ago, that within three years I would find myself living in the Netherlands and within biking distance of the park and the museum. Regularly, as we did yesterday, we take our bikes and head off in a north-east direction. It is a 20km ride through forests and over heathland. As I said at the start, I’m yet to discover a better combination of physical exercise, landscape and art. The temporary exhibition for this particular visit being a rarely seen display of early van Gogh drawings.
Click here for more about the Kröller-Müller museum.
The last couple of months I’ve been gradually getting ready for two exhibitions. The first is a group show in the Dutch town of Nijmegen. The second is a solo exhibiton, in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, the town that has been drawing all the attention the last few months for its Jheronimus Bosch exhibition.
The exhibition is going to give me the chance to dip back into work influenced by the very Dutch interiors made by Vermeer, that I was making when I first arrived in The Netherlands back in the nineties. This will be hung alongside more recent work that is more orientated towards the Dutch landscape and our relationship with this most manipulated of environments.
Without giving too much away, I can promise a place for both of the painintgs below.
Empty Room, Oil paint on canvas, 1993
Untitled, Oil and acrylic on canvas, 2016
Rows of poplar trees have had a place in the Dutch landscape for many years, often in hard straight lines cutting across the fields or following a road or lane. The poplar though as a tree is it would seem, losing its popularity and the rows of spectacular verticals set against the horizontal landscape are increasingly being removed.
Near where I live in the centre of the Netherlands one of the most spectacular avenues in the country is living on borrowed time. Some 900 trees are due to be removed over the next couple of years. The landscape on the edge of the town of Wageningen it is fair to say, won’t be quite the same without them. Writers, artists, photographers, runners, birdwatchers, sound recordists and others have contributed to a new book that reflects on the trees, there presence in the landscape, their importance to us and ultimately what their removal will mean to us.
Wim Huijser and sound recordist Henk Meeuwsen have taken the lead in assembling the book, but I too have contributed to “Het ruisen van de populieren”, or in English, “The Rustle of the Poplars”.
There can be few landscapes around the world that are as manipulated and carefully managed as the Dutch landscape. The presence of man and the control he exerts is almost always present, sometimes subtly, sometimes in a more extreme form. My manipulated photograph for the book connects with this and the way the landscape forms the scenery for our lives.
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- Tagged art, digital, Dutch, henk meeuwsen, landscape, photography, poplars, populieren, veensteeg, wageningen, wim huijser
I grew up in the east of England in an area to the north of Cambridge known a s the Fens. It’s a landscape that is dominated by the simple and often hard geometry of a flat horizon line interrupted by an odd house or cluster of trees. Many might find it a bleak and empty landscape but it is an area of great beauty, rich colours and hugely expansive skies. I love visiting the area, as I often do, and driving and walking across the roads and tracks that run like ribbons across the fields.
Simple geometry and hard lines have always been an important part of my own work and I often wonder whether some of the reason for this might actually be in part tied up with my love for the simple structures found in the Fenland landscape and indeed the expanses of the nearby north Norfolk coast with its beaches and marshlands.
The fact that I have ended up living in the Dutch landscape has, I guess, only strengthened this fascination. I don’t consider myself a landscape painter, although I am hugely interested in the landscape and what it means to us, how we use or abuse it and how we manipulate the way it looks. These are the sorts of issues I am considering in my work. Whilst doing this, that interest in geometry keeps coming back, and above all that horizon line stretching taught across a composition.
Having been back to the Fens during the Christmas break with camera in hand I feel the geometry recharge has set me up for the coming months in my studio work.
There can be few more manipulated landscapes in the world than the Dutch landscape. There is constant construction and reconstruction, rearrangement and quite literal landscape creation as land is reclaimed from the sea. There is a constant tension between man and nature in this densely packed land. My work as an artist has grown increasingly to focus on these tensions and what the natural world around us means to us and how we respond to it.
Today we walked through a small section of the landscape of the central Netherlands. As I often do on such an excursion I made a small watercolour sketch, in this case of a the linear geometry of a recreated piece of nature, a pool for wading birds. Further on we encountered a selection of other newly created pools of a various of forms for a variety of nature. I was reminded of my own pools I created in my work a few years ago. Manipulated nature of a slightly more extreme form.
I haven’t posted a reflection on a day working on my own work for a while. Various reasons, the inevitable intrusion of other activities being the most significant of reasons. Still, the work goes on, even if it is not as speedy in its production as I would desire.
Today I’ve been working on the two images shown here. Both are, essentially built of the same components; a sky, a bowing coloured wall in the foreground and distorted by perspective verticals that in the drawing on the left are trees and in the painting on the right have been reduced to single fine lines. Also in both cases there is an ambiguity in whether the ‘wall’ is standing in the landscape or whether the landscape is possibly a sort of theatrical backdrop that has been painted or pasted onto the wall and now appears to be becoming separated from the surface creating the illusion that it is bending in space. The way in which the verticals are, well not vertical, play into the visual uncertainty.
When starting these pieces I thought that the drawing with the four tree trunks was just an experiment for myself, to prove that I was going the way of the greatly reduced ‘trees’ in the curved painting with its red wall. But having worked on the drawing with the trees today I am less certain. I think there is still work to be done to strengthen the drawing, particularly in darkening it to make it heavier, but maybe there are still possibilities worth exploring here.