An Artist of Unique Vision

Too often artists of tremendous talent and beauty are not recognized in their lifetimes.  I’d like to help change that for at least one artist. 

In this blog I’d like to introduce my faithful readers and friends to a Dutch artist of unique vision and broad talent, and who just happens to be someone who has become a close friend.  Corinne van Bergen sculpts in glass, wire, bronze, elastic and combinations thereof.  She also is darn good with paint and pencil, but it’s her sculpting that caught my attention and admiration.

The work pictured above, Solo Swimmer, part of a series of glass sculptures she has completed, and in my opinion, is the best thus far.  The methods by which Corinne sculpted the swimmer makes him appear as if he were flying through the water.  In fact, upon first seeing Solo Swimmer, I blurted, “That looks like Superman’s Flight!” — referring not to the superhero but to a memorable drift scuba dive that resembled the thrill of uninhibited flight through the water.  

How Corinne crafts the glass sculptures is a painstaking, remarkably unique process.  She conceives and sketeches out the image she wants to portray, then draws each bodily segment on a sheet of plastic, which, ultimately, guides her as she carves each pane of glass.  As each etched glass piece is pressed to the next, they collectively begin to form the body Corinne’s envisioned.  Or at least this is my simplistic understanding of what she does. 

Think of a CT head scan where each “slice” of the brain reveals an intricate pattern of whorls, squiggles, and noodly shapes (sorry, I got fired as Artistic Editor on the school newspaper!).  When all the CT slices are put together, they would form a picture of the head, brain casing and inner brains, etc, included.  (Sorry again, non-marine science wasn’t my strong suit either!)  The point is:  each “slice” or piece of glass is intricately carved to be part of the whole sculpture, and performed in a medium which is fairly common — glass — but when completed, presents a piece of art which is as unique in concept and execution as it is in beauty.

Corinne’s other work as an “expressive artist” is similarly intriguing.  Her use of commonplace items such as metal-coated string, wire, or even elastic bands, produces small sculptures which are indeed as expressive as many anatomical drawings. Many of the wire figures she has used in story-telling tableaus or “sculpture plays” (my definitions) in exhibitions, while others are expressive as solo pieces.  As of this summer she has started an interesting series of cast bronze scuptures of little “B’Angels” which in Dutch loosely translates to “mischevous” or “naughty” angels that nevertheless posses a smidgen of vulnerability.  The first shows a young angel full of piss and vinegar perched on a spool.  Peek behind her and you see her clutching the thread to the spool for dear life. 

You can see photos of Corinne’s sculptures on her website:  http://www.corinnevanbergen.nl. The website is bilingual; just look for the combination U.S./U.K. flag in the upper left and the page will translate into English.  I’m sure all of you will be as fascinated by Corinne’s work as Michael and I were.

To construct her wire figures, Corinne begins twisting and turning the wire in her fingers, and eventually what emerges is a figure:  man or woman, dog, ear, or — my favorite — a little whale:

I am particularly fond of this piece as Corinne made this especially for me as a combination 60th birthday and farewell present.  We had become close friends during our sojourn in the Netherlands and this was such a touching and individualistically “Corinne” way of expressing  to me great friendship and caring.  Indeed, Michael and I had become good friends with both Corinne and her husband, Martin, spending many an evening over wine, Dutch kaas (cheese), and dinner, including our last night in Holland.

In a previous blog I enthused about three other Dutch artists whose work I admire greatly:  Vermeer, Van Gogh, and Escher.  Their styles and indeed epochs varied widely, but they had one thing in common, besides being Dutch:  they were all deceased.  It’s a shame so many artists only achieve fame once they’ve passed on to the Great Artists’ Haven in the Sky.  Let’s try to get Corinne van Bergen some deserved attention and praise now rather than later.  Her singular talent and work deserve it.

Corinne & Yanna, her cat

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Artists in Netherlands

(Van Gogh’s painting of an almond tree in bloom.)

Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Escher.  All notable Dutch artists whose talent was recognized in their lifetime (to varying degrees) and whose influence and fame continue to this day.  How is it that a country as small as the Netherlands has managed to produce so many talented artists of such a wide range of productivity and styles?

That is a question I am not prepared to answer or even speculate upon intelligently.  I do know that my two favorite painters happened to be Dutch (Van Gogh and Vermeer), and after seeing the works of several others while in Holland, notably Escher and numerous others from the Haarlem and Utrecht “schools”, I am suitably impressed.

But first, a word of warning.  Since this is foremost a travel blog, and I am nowhere near being an art “critic”, I do not pretend to have any great insight or commentary on the work of any of the artists I mention in this posting.  In other words, the opinions expressed are my own, perhaps uninformed, but to paraphrase Popeye, “I yam what I yam and like what I like.”  I will strive to relate my own experiences and impressions of a few museums and collected works – nothing more.  For any of you more knowledgeable art connoisseurs who would like to comment on what follows, be my guest.  I’d love some input as well as insight.  But these are my impressions, no more.

Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

First off, let me point out that 99.9% of us have been mispronouncing this great artist’s last name. It is not “van go” (as in doe, female deer) but “fan  gkocchk” (or something close to that).  After all, he was Dutch and his name was – naturally – pronounced correctly in that language.  (For those of you new to this blog and/or Dutch, read my earlier posting, “Dutch is a Pirate Language.”)

So it was no surprise that when the “fan gkocchk”  museum was pointed out to us on our bus tour of Amsterdam several moons ago, it took a while to register that the guide was referring to the Van Gogh Museum.  (It was at that point that our English version of the tour conked out on us, hence the brief interlude of Dutch – and confusion – as to what we were craning our necks at out the window.)

Once this rather comical translation mishap was straightened out and we actually got to the Van Gogh Museum, we found the experience worth our while.  Moderately-sized for a museum dedicated to one artist, the VGM  has an excellent collection of Van Gogh’s work.  What was startling to remember is that this artist only painted for about ten years before ending his life at age thirty-seven, and to witness the changes in his work from his early attempts and style to the blazing colors and strokes of his final months was amazing. Even more stunning than Van Gogh’s range of styles was his productivity:  in all, he is estimated to have painted over 900 canvases and 1,100 drawings. Of this body of work, he sold only one painting during his short lifetime.

I was particularly intrigued with his paintings of almond blossoms and other spring-blooming trees that reflect the influence of Japanese art on his style for a short period of time.  Another revelation was that at one time Van Gogh had seriously contemplated following his father into the ministry.  Trying to juxtapose those earlier intentions with his last years in Paris and Arles was a tad disorienting but gave this complexartist an even greater depth than I had realized before.

No display of Van Gogh’s work is complete without some of the colorful,  even splashy canvases from his last 2-3 years.  Sadly, most of his best known canvases are housed in other collections, but there were a couple of sunflowers and wheat fields, and the famous purple irises round out this eclectic collection/display.

Definitely a “must-see” for any lover of Van Gogh’s work.

Vermeer’s Delft

At the other end of the productivity spectrum is Johann Vermeer (1632-1675) who was known in his lifetime as a talented but painstakingly
slow artist.  According to the Vermeer Center in the artist’s home town of  Delft, he produced (an estimated) 40 or so canvases, of which only 35 have survived to this day. Although Vermeer was locally appreciated and sought after during his day, he did not receive world-wide accolades until well into the 19th century and has remained popular ever since. He is now most famous for his painting, Girl With a Pearl Earring, thanks to the novel and movie of the same title.

What makes Vermeer such an incredible artist is his use and conveyance of light in his paintings. The light, usually coming from the left, is both suffuse yet also seems to spotlight the subject.  Many of his portraits, such as the Girl With a Pearl Earring seem incandescent with light.

If you like Vermeer I highly recommend a trip to the Vermeer Center in Delft.  This is not a museum that displays any of his original work.
Instead, there is a gallery of large, quality photographs of each of his
surviving paintings.  The value of seeing each reproduction sequentially is to trace his emerging style and use of light, as well as be able to get an appreciation of how much of his work reflected everyday life in medieval Delft.

I had had my reservations about paying to see just photographs, but in the end I felt I had learned and understood so much more about Vermeer and his work.  The center also has a brief video on his life and times,  exhibits that show contemporary artifacts of Delft, and a reproduction of his studio.  Most interesting was the series of exhibits that detailed his use of light in every aspect from its shading and coloring of human skin to how it both illuminates and reflects from still objects.

The town of Delft itself is delightful.  Ribboned with small canals and traversed by cobbled streets and bridges, Delft is a charming and pleasant way to spend an afternoon.

The main canal in Delft with the flea market on either side.

Delft Town Hall of the Market Square

Houses on a side canal

The House of Escher 

The Escher Museum in den Haag (“The Hague” to the non-Dutch) is housed in one of the former palaces of the Dutch Royal Family.  The high-ceilinged rooms, with their crystal chandeliers spectacularly shaped into carnival masks, guitars, skulls and more, are a beautiful showcase of Escher’s evolving art.

Like most people, I was familiar primarily with Escher’s tessellations.  I emerged from the museum with a greater knowledge of the man and the breadth and depth of his work.  It is impressive.

After viewing the museum, I highly recommend a brief respite at the Hotel des Indes a few yards to the right as you exit the museum.  High tea is served daily in the domed lobby of this elegant hotel, complete with silver service and a timer for proper steeping of the tea leaves.  (You can also  have just plain old “low” tea and/or “spirits” and bar snacks if you prefer.)

The Escher Museum in one of the former Dutch royal palaces.

Hotel des Indes