Studio visit #9. Yaïr Callender

It was a grey day when i visited Yaïr Callender (1987) in his studio, in a seemingly forgotten suburb of The Hague near Broeksloot Canal.

Exactly the time and place not to be distracted by road signs, colourful advertising, cars and other visual noise, and to value the shapes and characters of things and objects, and to see how man and nature work on them.

Once it must have been part of human instinct to closely examine and read the environment, to literally see what it had to tell us and to inspire our imagination.

Somewhere in the history of seeing there must have been some sort of point where nature became culture in the perception of man.

When i arrived, Callender was working on a hexagon, sanding and judging its surface.

We discussed the point where a spot either remains just a spot or becomes something significant in its structure and colour. He also told me he likes the hexagon as a shape.

It has more possibilities than for instance the rather stable square or than the circle with its connotations with eternity etc.

Apart from natural processes Callender has a keen interest in the basic shapes of culture and how they personify human thinking. Clearly, making is a kind of thinking to Callender.

That is also a great difference with carpentry – the trade he is trying to earn a daily income with.

He likes the work itself but it is quite different from art in that it is – for all its aesthetics – purely practical.

Walking around in Callender’s studio one could easily get the idea that being an artist is a kind of romantic business where everything will shape itself if the artist is in the right mood.

Nothing could be further from the truth however, as Callender has to critically think and rethink his ideas while working and watching and also thinking about the practicalities of things.

Will the objects he is making have the right impact on the viewer, and how will they behave in the exhibition space?

And then there are the common everyday practicalities: how to organise your daily business such that you can give your art the dominant and professional place in life it needs. Well, the common story for any artist i guess.

Callender is best known for his monumental work, but his care for detail also brings him to works in which these details attract attention of the viewer and will make the viewer look further for details.

These details may be sculpted, drawn, painted or anything else, as long as they make the viewer wonder and associate.

Any intervention, any detail in a work adds to the meaning of the whole work, whether it is the surface of it, the colour or structure or any sign.

We talked things over with a cup of coffee until we both had to go our ways, back to the rumour of daily life again.

Next month Callender’s work can be seen at Omstand in Arnhem and later somewhere this year in Delft.  

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© Villa Next Door 2021

Contents of all photographs courtesy to Yaïr Callender

Bertus Pieters


Studio Visit #8, Tanja Smit

Artists who are not represented by a gallery have to find their own ways to catch the attention of their audience.

Having an open studio weekend is one way of doing so. Last weekend Tanja Smit (1961) had one in her studio in The Hague.

I’ve known Tanja for decades and there has always been a remarkable and wonderful consistency in her work.

In the past she has stayed for quite a few years in Barcelona and last year she visited Xiamen in China for a residency at the Chinese European Art Center.

In her work there has always been a sense of wonder about the world, its shapes and its signs, what they might mean and how that could be visualised.

In the actual artistic visualisation there is still this sense of wonder as the materials seem to dictate their own ways of expression and finding meaning.

During her already long career Smit has used different materials. However, paper and water based materials like ink and water colour seem to have become the most prominent, although she also uses photography.

One room of her studio was dedicated to her so-called text works.

She has taken newspapers, magazines and books and has re-edited them. For each work she has chosen a certain ‘key’ to re-edit it.

The ‘key’ could be certain words or groups of words and their meanings, or the shape of certain words, or the open spaces in a text, the shapes that seem to be hidden in texts, or even the lay-out of a page.

In that way pages with texts – sometimes with illustrations or advertising – seem to show another meaning than just the meaning of the words and sentences while being transformed into a new composition at the same time.

She uses both Dutch and foreign texts. In China she wasn’t able to read the texts, but still she has made text works based on Chinese texts as a visual meaning could still be distilled from them.

These text works also have a very rhythmic appearance and some of her works have been used as music scores.

Recently this year she was invited to make text works from Bible texts on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of the Dordrecht Synod.

She co-operated with musicians to create a musical performance at Pictura in Dordrecht on the base of these text works.

Some scenes of that performance were presented on video as well. In fact, with music she has brought the sense of visual wonder even one step further.

Apart from these fascinating text works she also makes drawings, but, in one way or another, the procedure seems to be the same as in the text works.

The paper already seems to bare the shapes in it and Smit’s only task seems to be to literally draw the shapes from the paper, just as she draws the shapes from a text.

In her drawings the interaction between paper and ink or water colour is crucial.

© Villa Next Door 2019

Content of all photographs courtesy to Tanja Smit.

Bertus Pieters


Studio visit #7: Pim Piët

It was already quite some time ago that Pim Piët (1954) and i agreed to meet in his studio. We often meet at exhibitions here in town.

It is quite difficult not to meet at any vernissage in The Hague as we are both always eager to know what is going on and what is on show.

Last winter he had a presentation at De Spanjaardshof, the building where he and many others have their studios. It was a small (the space itself isn’t that big) but impressive installation with painting, panels creating alternative, more intimate space, a standing bell and sound.

It was a tranquil and reflective installation, great to see and experience during those dark winter days.

Others might have made it into a woolly, quasi-mystical scene, but that is far from what Piët aims at. For a long time he has been using words in his paintings, often just single words.

Words don’t just have a meaning, they also have a shape. The shape intermingles with the meaning and both define his paintings.

A bit like words defining a poem and its shape.

Of course colour is also a defining factor in his paintings. As for the sound, there has been a good co-operation between him and composer Anna Mikhailova(1984) for the last few years.

Piët’s word paintings, often rhythmic, have a quality that allows, even welcomes music and sound, not just for a background but as an equal partner.

As such his co-operation with Mikhailova has proven to be a very fruitful one. Mikhailova in turn has a very good feeling for what Piët wants in his pictures.

Maybe surprisingly, when we saw each other in his studio we hardly talked about his individual works.

We did talk about the marvellous light in the studio, about the general conditions for making art and about different tendencies in making exhibitions, but i guess his works, covering the walls and part of the floor, quite spoke for themselves. Piët’s work is, as it is for almost all artists, a labour of love.

Labour was one of the aspects of life we discussed.

As for many artists Piët has earned a living with other, non-artistic labour. He purposely didn’t choose for a more ambitious or intellectual job, he needs his intellectual capacities for his art work. On the other hand even the most unintellectual jobs need a sense of purpose and dedication if they are really useful.

We agreed however that even this sense of purpose and dedication is denied to workers these days as efficiency is aiming at higher profits to generate more money for shareholders instead of aiming at a better and meaningful life for workers and a better service to the public.

One can even see it in the way young artists have to work in this country.

We were discussing this with Piët’s wonderful works around us and his materials and books as witnesses of what purpose and dedication can really bring in life.

For those who fear we ended on a bit of a pessimistic note: we didn’t. I think for both of us seeing and making art is too fascinating to become pessimistic about.

As to me it was a very inspiring afternoon. Thank you Pim!

© Villa Next Door 2019

Content of all photographs courtesy to Pim Piët.

Bertus Pieters



Studio Visit #6: Melle de Boer


Last Monday i visited Melle de Boer (1972) in his studio in Billytown. I had seen pictures of his latest paintings on facebook and i was eager to see the real thing.

It took some time but at last we met and we spent the afternoon talking about art and – of course – about painting.

De Boer took up painting again last autumn. You may know him, apart from his great work as a songwriter and singer, as a wonderful draughtsman.

In his drawings his lines are self confident on one hand but on the other hand always in search of the unexpected.

They are cartoonlike. The figures, signs and sometimes the words always find their own way in the white space of the paper following their own logic, and they often have a somewhat surrealist sense of humour.

Why he has taken up painting again, he told me, was, as i interpret it, more or less a matter of soul searching.

The way he uses the figurative in his drawings, using humour as part of his way of expression, could also be interpreted as a way of hiding from what keeps him really artistically busy in his mind. Also, painting is technically more of a challenge and it offers you more of a struggle, both technically, artistically and mentally.

He decided to paint non-figurative representations, so as to be busy with the material, the composition and its expression, free of any interpretation of recognisable shapes or situations, free from references to the real world, not to be distracted

We agreed painting is difficult. As soon as you start painting there is a heavy weight of traditions on your back and shoulders which you have to bare, ignoring it, condemning it, admiring it. But the main point is: there is the paint itself.

Apart from the colours it can be glossy or matte, it can be transparent or opaque, it can be thick or thin, it can be exciting or just bland, it can surprise you or it can be terribly unsurprising.

Finding a balance is a matter of a lot of trying and not being afraid. One’s biggest mistake may turn into one’s most brilliant idea and the other way round.

Brilliant ideas are to be mistrusted when painting anyway. We also agreed that there is no way of being totally abstract or non-referential.

After all, even a simple geometric shape like a square has a meaning in one way or another. We looked at some works he has been busy on. We talked about the monumentality of smaller and bigger paintings.

One greyish painting has, in red, the name of Georg Trakl, the great pre-WWI Austrian poet of whose work De Boer is a great admirer.

Simply describing it, it is a grey painting with some blackish lobes and of course that name written in red, but when you walk around it, you see the different structures of the paint, the ideas proposed, rejected and becoming part of the painting. Any painting artist may recognise these aspects and they keep on fascinating both maker and viewer.

The main problem in painting (as it is in art in general) remains how to surprise oneself without imposing one’s will on the painting or one’s own mind.

De Boer is too much of an artist not to have himself surprised. His hand, like in his drawings, does not shy away and is always in search of the unexpected.

The paintings show a world full of tension, a clash of positive and negative, toughness and sillyness. Personally i can’t wait to see his paintings shining in a show. It would be a new chapter in De Boer’s work (as it already is).

And there is of course also Henk & Melle’s new cd We Are All Rockstars, a title that says it all. Thanks Melle, it was an inspiring afternoon!

© Villa Next Door 2019

Content of all photographs courtesy to Melle de Boer.

Bertus Pieters