Hans van der Ham

From volatility to stillness


The light enters from all sides en shines on him, the artist. Cautiously he moves between his sculptures, placed here and there in the high and roomy studio in the hart of Rotterdam.


I met him one Sunday afternoon. It was in a café in the Hague from where we looked out on whirling snowflakes that covered the streets with their virgin white, which accompanied us to another café, in the light of romantic street lamps.

Now, two days later I meet his sculptures. Men in clay who, when you observe the artist well, have been made to his own image. With his own hands he knows how to manifest himself into numerous man-figures, continuations of his search for inspiration. I observe his eyes.

‘My sculptures hide behind an identity that conceals their true character’, he says.

‘True identity never comes out, you have to cope with what is presented to you and never know where you really are with someone’. I stare at one of his paintings and see a colossus, desperately laying down, waiting for something. Or nothing. A living creature, so it seems. ‘Touching’, I say. It screams for attention, a desire to be cherished almost, but the expression at the same time creates distance. As soon as I am drawn into the picture I feel a resistance coming up that possibly confronts me with my own vulnerability. He takes a puff at his cigar and looks at me. In his eyes I observe the same vulnerability. And strength. The friction that strikes me in his work.


‘Persona..’. I take another sip of my Viognier that brings me into the whirl we earlier dealt. In a corner of the studio I discover Pinocchio, archetype of the tragedy of existence. He lightly touches my hand and whispers ‘Persona..’.

‘Carl Jung mentioned it’, I remark, ‘he defined it as an image adopted by man. It helps to survive, with the risk however to estrange from its own nature. Isn’t that what we really all want, to avoid the confrontation with one’s own character, with the deepest self?’.

He nods and frowns his ruddy eyebrows. ‘That’s the reason for my interest in ethnography, because of the hard reality the sculptures stand for.’ He explains that his catholic background provided him with no answers with respect to the worship of statues.

He picks up a statue, made by members of the African Lobi tribe.

‘This work has a relation to nature and not just portrays it, but also has a command of it. Not with fairy-like metaphors, but with symbolical reproductions it personifies an ancestor or deity, wrapped in wood’.

I try to understand. How natures helps to comprehend the purpose of life. ‘It is the inspiration of the matter, the struggle with the material that fascinates me,’ he continues. ‘Why clay?’, I remark. ‘Because it is unruly. The gravity draws on material that actually wants to return to earth. I want to enter into that struggle to knead a soul into it.’


I think of the etchings he earlier showed me, which were also preceded by a struggle. For days he struggled with just one line. If the figure was not spatial, he would reject it. ‘Creation out of the restriction,’ I say.

We keep silent and let the words sink in. He gets up and puts a cd in the player. Mozart strikes up, his favourite composer who with just a few chords managed to create a masterpiece.


The next question forces itself upon me. Why he decided to become a sculptor instead of a pianist, after he completed conservatory.

‘Because playing composed music gave me no satisfaction,’ he explains. ‘I lacked the possibility to influence the process and mould the time to my will. Visual arts form a fleeting time, it is there to stay, a reflection of oneself. Music on the other hand has to be re-created and put in time again, otherwise it is nothing.’ The words come out fluently, like musical notes from the piano keys.

‘I understand, I say , ‘music is volatile, but a sculpture becomes something on its own.’ Nevertheless I know how music dominates his life. He rises again and changes the classical symphony for jazz.

‘You hear that?’ he asks, ‘how the piano follows the saxophone? You cannot possibly paint this. If I could, everything here may be taken away. What happens on stage cannot be described.’

I feel the musician brewing in him. His voice enthuses and again takes me to the compelling question why he did not choose for the stage. The artist gazes somewhat pityingly away. ‘Maybe I am too emotional to make music. The visual arts enable to make time come to a standstill, instead of it taking place within a precious time span.’ He fills up the glasses again. ‘Time is dependant on the moment, while in the visual arts one can stretch time.’

His words are touching, his work entrances. I lay my hand on his arm and listen to the saxophonist. The pianist follows effortlessly. His eyes penetrate mine and I can read his thoughts. They don’t stop, as his creative urge doesn’t.

His work is far from complete. It is now clear to me that this will always involve resistance. He seeks it, for ‘it is necessary to live’, he earlier told me.


Monique Tolk

22 januari 2013

Translation: Kees Tolk

Beeldentuin 2017, Ravesteyn Heenvliet

Catalog text Beeldentuin Ravesteyn, May - June 2017 Monique Tolk Read on

24 preludes 1989-1994

Book with 24 drawings, edition 100 Read on


Interview KETELTV, November 2009 Read on

Individu en masse

Catalog text Individu en masse, February 2017 Monique Tolk Read on

Museumnacht 2012 Garage Rotterdam

Interview KETELTV, March 2012, exhibition Hermetic City Read on

Hans van der Ham 1990-2000

Catalogue soloshow, Denise van de Velde Gallery, Aalst, Belgium 2000 Read on

Business op Zuid

Interview Antenne Rotterdam, januari 2009 Read on


Catalogue soloshow, Metis Gallery, Amsterdam 2006 Read on

Hans van der Ham bedekt en verhult

BAZ Magazine, najaar 2015 Marjan Overdijk Read on

To be honest

Interview with Hans van der Ham by Monique Tolk because of the exhibition TO BE HONEST, galerie Nouvelles Images, The Hague October 15th 2014 Read on

Niederländisch 3D

Catalogue group exhibition at Petra Nostheide-Eycke Gallery, Düsseldorf 2007 Tanja Smeets, Maurice van Tellingen, Mark Kramer, Silvia B., Noëlle Cuppens a.o. Read on


Catalogue soloshow, Petra Nostheide-Eycke Gallery, Düsseldorf, Germany 2008 Text: Dr. Christian Krausch Read on

From volatility to stillness

Catalog text Personae, August 2013 Monique Tolk Read on

Black White

Group exhibition Gorcums Museum, curated by Piet Augustijn 2013 Armando, Marc Bijl, Silvia B., Paul van Dongen Rosemin Hendriks Raquel Maulwurf, e.o. Read on

Hungry Gods in Garage Rotterdam

Cimbalom Concerto, Florian Magnus Maier, June 2012 (Hans van der Ham on keyboards) Read on


Catalog text Personae, August 2013 Erik Bos Read on


Catalogue soloshow, Nouvelles Images Gallery, The Hague, NL 2013 Texts: Monique Tolk and Erik Bos Read on

Interview by Ernest van der Kwast

december 13th 2014 galerie Nouvelles Images Read on

De droomsfeer..

CBK Utrecht Wouter Welling Read on

Individu en masse

Catalog group exhibition, Kadmium, Delft, curated by Jaco van der Vaart 2017 With Marilou van Lierop Text: Monique Tolk Read on

RITUAL AND THE SACRED - Route du Nord 2016

curator: Hans van der Ham film: Monique Tolk Read on

Through the Mirror

Beelden magazine, March 2010 Tine van de Weyer Read on


Kunstbeeld magazine, November 2005 Anne Berk Read on

Beeldentuin 2017, Ravesteyn Heenvliet

Catalog text Beeldentuin Ravesteyn, May - June 2017 Text: Monique Tolk Read on

Hans van der Ham

Kunstbeeld magazine, March 2003 Wouter Welling Read on

LOSKIJKEN - galerie Nouvelles Images, Den Haag (NL) - 2013

The posthumous book ' LOSKIJKEN ' by Erik Bos (1955-2016), gallery owner of gallery Nouvelles Images, with thirteen letters to and six interviews with visual artists, including Hans van der Ham. Read on