Hans Meertens: Starduster

May 17, 2012

"... interesting, polysemic pieces of art can only be created when I dive deep into my own cognitions; what makes me tick, what is it about certain visual influences that some have more impact on me than others, what is their connection, where is the mystery or poetry in a certain subject, how can I dig that up?"

Last week I went to a presentation at Rago Arts and Auction Center in Lamberville, NJ.  It started at 5pm so I headed over after work. The event was an open house for their 19th/20th Century American and European Art auction held on May 12th. I was looking forward to it, yet part of me wondered if I was wasting time; if I should get home so I could paint rather than look at paintings.

Three hours later, I was glad I went.

Dr. Robert Cozzolino (Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts) discussed the distinctive character of Pop in Chicago during the 1960s. As I sat listening to Dr. Cozzolino's fascinating lecture, some of my own thoughts on art seemed to solidify. I decided that I might be ready to write a statement about my art ... something that I knew at my core. Not a bunch of long, tangled words that sound impressive, but real truth about my life and my art. I felt myself evolving.

My guest today, artist Han Meertens, talks about his evolution as an artist moving from a focus on what he thought artists are supposed to do toward recognizing that the true beauty of art is much more profound than anything someone else can define for the artist; it's about the artist, and what he or she can uniquely define.

Meertens
Given my own story, I've realized that my innate drive in both life and art is to obsessively search for meaning and/or beauty in chaos. This drive brought me through my dysfunctional childhood in one piece, and has stuck with me throughout my adult life. What I've discovered, almost by accident, it that if I look into chaos, I automatically begin searching, trying to tease anything that might mean something, be familiar, comforting or beautiful. It's probably the strongest natural instinct I have. And I search until I find; it's as simple as that. I do not stop; it's a survival mechanism that has been wired into my brain. Sometimes it's a gift and sometimes a curse.

I didn't study art like Hans and Dr. Cozzolino. I have a degree in Biology, something that fascinated me as a young adult, not because I have a scientific mind but because I have a creative one that has its own unique qualities.  At a time when I was incredibly bored, I stumbled upon biology and found it interesting and challenging. Biology showed me how meaning and beauty emerged from chaos, and that attracted me. I wanted to understand it. My ability to pursue an interest in something no one expected me to embrace opened a door that provided familiarity and comfort.  It was my coping mechanism, and in some ways, my salvation.  And it ultimately led me down the path to Rago Art and Auction Center last week, where I sat eating cheese and crackers as I listened to Dr. Cozzolino. I knew I was in the right place, doing what I am meant to do.

Meertens
Looking back, I don't believe I could create the art I'm creating now had I taken the path of attending the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts. I'm not knocking it in any way; in fact, I'd probably go now if I could. I'm simply commenting on my own evolution as an artist. Who really knows what alternate paths would have produced. We can't know. We can only try to understand the path we choose and why.

I'm understanding mine more every day.

As is Hans ....

What's your story? How long did it take to establish yourself as an artist? Was the journey straight or twisted , and are you surprised by your success?

After spending some years abroad as an art student in York (U.K.) and Ghent (Belgium) I graduated from the HKU - the Art Academy of Utrecht (Holland) - in 2000. I was 25 by then. I took some more courses on the art academy until 2001 before combining my career as a professional artist with a part time job as an art teacher in Amsterdam for the indispensable financial input. For 6 years I worked really hard to build a consistent body of work and portfolio. In the meantime, I had had some sold out exhibitions and in 2007, I decided the time was right to take the risk, and to spend all of my time and energy on my artistic career. I truly don't ever think in terms of success. It is tough in times like these to be financially dependent on art-sales, but being able to do what I want to do most is what it is all about.


Meertens - Stardust 
With regard to your current creative focus, was there an "ah-ha" moment you can tell us about?


Whenever I feel the need to focus on something different, in technique or subject matter and the combination between the two, it usually takes some time and effort to get it right. 'STARDUST' - my current series of collage portraits - found its final shape and form after a period of experimenting with materials and trying several approaches to transform a personal loss into something more transcendent. The ah-ah moment with this particular project was when I made the connection between a mother and Icons.

What has been your process for engaging galleries to show your work?

When I first got out there, I realized that fortune favors the bold! I have always been very straightforward. For the past years I have become lucky with that and still I'm being approached most of the time. In such cases I tend to find out more about the other artists represented, their exhibition space, etc. And most importantly, whether they are interested in me as an artist, including my artistic growth. Is there a drive to help me forward? Unfortunately in the past I have dealt with a couple of opportunistic galleries only in it to make a quick buck. There was absolutely no love for the artist or my work.

Meertens
Do you believe some of the various attributes related to being highly creative have caused you aberrations in life, helped you deal with life's aberrations (issues), or both?

Both. I think one of the key elements of being this passionate about and committed to creativity is the fact that it is a part of who I am, how I live and breath. Like most artists, I have always been a pretty sensitive and visual type and this cognition has led to a rather equivocal attitude to life´s aberrations.

It is great to dive into the good stuff with your senses wide open, but it hurts equally hard when things go bad. All my paintings are a reflection of how I felt at a particular time in my life. They are like diary pages to me that helped me recover from bumps along the way.

Meertens
Have you ever had to deal with people in your life failing to understand your creative personality, interests, or drive? If so, can you tell us about it and how you've dealt with it?

It took some time and effort to convince my parents that attending art academy was the best option for me. I think there have been a couple of awkward situations with friends and lovers since then when we were on different planets when it came to sharing the intensity of undergoing art, or failing to keep connected when I was highly involved in a particular creative interest. Sometimes it is hard to explain the inner necessity - that drive that is flowing from a very emotional desire - to spend this much time and energy on art. I can deal with it though, by realising I can't follow all their passions either.

Have you developed a specific process that enables you to meet your creative goals? If so, can you tell us about it. Where do most of your ideas come from?

In my first years in art academy, like most fresh art students, I was focusing on fictitious concepts of what art was supposed to be like in my head, based on a very shallow knowledge of art and art history. The results were overtly 'invented', created for the outside world, without anything of the real me in it. I have learned since then that interesting, polysemic pieces of art can only be created when I dive deep into my own cognitions; what makes me tick, what is it about certain visual influences that some have more impact on me than others, what is their connection, where is the mystery or poetry in a certain subject, how can I dig that up? With the risk of coming across vague: the source for my ideas derives from a self-examining form of mindfulness and self-awareness.

Meetens - Stardust
What do you believe places an artist apart from his or her peers? So many are highly talented, but what makes one stand out as truly gifted?

An unstoppable inner force and vision to create and innovate autonomously. A combination of hard work, talent, motivation, will power and courage. Knowing when not to be modest. Also, being in the right place at the right time meeting the right people getting the right feedback and recognizing opportunities, etc should not be underestimated. But this is all just a shot in the dark, really, since I wouldn't know. I think often success is like an avalanche; sometimes a person who experiences some success, is being picked up and then the ball starts rolling which doesn't necessarily mean that the work is much better than someone who hasn't been moved forward to a spotlight point.

What is your primary motto or mantra in life? Why is this important to you?

"Always keep in mind you know nothing." This makes me question what I'm told, keeps me humble, curious, open to different views and most importantly; it keeps me moving forward.

STARDUST




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