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

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