Newsletter autumn 2007
Autumn 2007

Art in Focus: Branch of an Oak

Artist Paul van der Eerden (Rotterdam, 1954) on Branch of an Oak by Albertus Jonas Brandt: "For me, the branch of an oak by A.J. Brandt has everything to do with observation and composition. Brandt adds no shadow to anchor the leaf in the plane, but anyway you accept the surrounding space as obvious. The watercolour is spare and well-observed, but Brandt has also added a drop of water, which makes the whole more romantic." Branch of an Oak by Brandt (1788 - 1821) was acquired by the museum at it's birth in 1847 as part of Mr. Boymans' legacy.
Until 13 January 2008 Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen is showing the exhibition Enclosures, with over 100 works from its collection drawings selected by Van der Eerden supplemented with works by the artist himself. For an interview with Paul van der Eerden read on below.

Albertus Johannes Brandt, Branch of an Oak, 1788  1821, watercolour, 27,3 x 31,3 cm.
Albertus Johannes Brandt, Branch of an Oak, 1788 1821, watercolour, 27,3 x 31,3 cm.

For the exhibition Enclosures the City Curator Patricia Pulles interviewed Paul van der Eerden about his selection from the museum's collection and his own work.

Patricia Pulles: How did you devise the exhibition?
Paul van der Eerden: I was asked to make a selection from the museum's collection of prints and drawings. I looked at as many works as possible and several themes emerged, which I have commented upon with other works. The selected works tell a story that corresponds to my way of looking and my vision of the art of drawing. I am concerned with technical and other aspects peculiar to drawing such as plane, layering, negative space and flatness and motifs such as landscapes, the figure, portraits, violence and torment and the workings of the mind. I have also included works by artists such as Armand Simon and Elmar Trenkwalder that enter into a dialogue with the museum's collection of Surrealist art. In addition the Outsider Art works on show not only complement the exhibition visually and intellectually but also relate to the museum's collection of Surrealists, who were greatly interested in Outsider Art. On closer examination you will discover many relationships between the works: formal similarities and parallel ways of thinking. Drawings encourage us to take a long look and I want the visitors to take away an image from the prints and drawings themselves. I also think it is interesting that the themes that were used several centuries ago are still current. I think that the similarities and differences can provide a broader and possibly unexpected significance to the works in the exhibition.

Patricia Pulles: As we can see from the exhibition, you are extremely interested in the works of old masters. Can you comment on that?
Paul van der Eerden: The works of old masters interest me because it is hard for me to understand the way they constructed their images. If, for example, you elongate a body in the way the Mannerists did in the sixteenth century, then that must have an effect on the artist too. This is rarely discussed in art history. When I look at the work of Jacques Bellange I see an apparent elegance, but within a difficult design; it appears to reject beauty. I ask myself how it was possible that these kinds of works were completely accepted at the time whereas now I find them uneasy. I experience an alienating, unattractive and dark side in these works – a controlled 'loss' I am interested to know what went on in the artist’s head, what decisions he made and why. Such works question my way of looking and drawing and my experience of beauty.

Patricia Pulles: You also have a great interest in African art and Outsider Art. Unlike established art, Outsider Art is not characterised by stylistic or historical tendencies and movements. The artists are often psychiatric patients, mediums, people with autism and other outsiders. Where does this interest come from?
Paul van der Eerden: I collect African art and Outsider Art for the same reason. They depict a world image that is not mine. They show a reality with a different scale and proportions. Again, these works question my own way of looking at reality and my working method.

Patricia Pulles:You sometimes talk of drawings in which the draughtsmanship is almost negated. Can you explain that?
Paul van der Eerden: What I mean is that it is as if the drawing comes from without. There are drawings in the exhibition by Miloslava Ratzingerova, who saw herself as a medium. Her work is not about drawing, but about something else. Something creeps in, something alienating and indefinable. Works such as those of Ratzingerova grant us access to zones that negate all the devices and methods of draughtsmanship. It is irrational, but also highly controlled. The same is true of the work of Edmund Monsiel. He made small drawings of 11 x 7 cm in an almost mechanical way as if he were not drawing them himself. The consistency of line in his drawings is very difficult for a draughtsman to keep up. I find his drawing style unsettling and worrying. That is also what the exhibition is about.

Patricia Pulles: It always seems as though your own works emit a cry or wish to focus attention on our existential solitariness.
Paul van der Eerden: Man is in essence a lonely being who makes desperate attempts to get through life. I still look with great astonishment at all the fuss that goes on around me and I am still amazed at the fact that as a person you are locked in your own body. Reality is extremely peculiar and the question is how you give form to this as an artist. When I look at art I think the most interesting aspects are the maniacal, the psyche, the bizarre, the deviant and the indecent. I am interested in art that explores the dark side of humanity. But not the bizarre for its own sake because that simply reinforces the everyday status quo. I think it is the artist's task to explore and represent the periphery of existence. In my work that is expressed in themes such as loneliness, violence, voyeurism and alienation.

Patricia Pulles: Why have you called the exhibition Enclosures?
Paul van der Eerden: It's a term from economical history that refers to delineating your own property. In Paris in 2002 I made a series of nine drawings entitled Enclosures, which are about the creation of a territory, an empty space that becomes an object in its own right. The title refers to the action of placing a line on a sheet of paper and 'enclosing' it – the creation of a field. For me the term 'enclosures' is also a metaphor for the human mind. You can feel locked inside your own world. When you look at Outsider Art for example you feel that these people are locked inside themselves. The life of an outsider is hell of course, but what emerges is wonderful.