Jan Cremer: Renaissance man Back


Author:Annelette Hamming


The artist and writer Jan Cremer, born in Enschede in 1940, has devoted himself intensely - and in all circumstances - to painting and sculpture since his early youth and since the beginning of his education at various art academies. At the aki in Enschede he was a pupil of Johan Haanstra, at the 'Kunstoefening' academy in Arnhem he had lessons from Fred Sieger, and in The Hague it was Paul Citroen, in Paris Ossip Zadkine and in Perugia Marino Marini who were his guides in art for shorter or longer periods.


Not everyone remembers that Cremer, already years before the publication of his unrelenting bestseller I Jan Cremer in 1964, regularly made the front pages of newspapers and magazines at home and abroad as an artist. He won admiration - in the form of favourable reviews and the emergence of a large and permanent group of fans and collectors - but also caused scandals, such as his comment on Dutch television in 1960: 'Rembrandt, who's he?'


Jan CremerHis artistic gift was already apparent when he was permitted to assist Karel Appel in painting a mural for the e55 fair in Rotterdam. At the age of seventeen Cremer headed for Paris. There, and during his years on the Spanish island of Ibiza where he lived and worked from 1961 till 1963, joining in the activities of the Grupo Ibiza (other members included K.F. Dahmen and Erwin Bechtold), he became friends with many internationally known and important artists. Ceaselessly, without being distracted by anyone or anything, he worked on the development of a distinctly personal and unique body of work, which is now being shown as completely as possible for the first time in this book.


In 1957 he painted the first of a series of canvasses that would become known as Peinture Barbarisme. His first one-man exhibition took place in 1958 in Galerie De Posthoorn in The Hague and he joined the Posthoorn Group of artists (with Bouthoorn, Nanninga and Hussem), working as an assistant to Willem Hussem. His participation in the Hague Salon in the same year created a scandal. A year later he exhibited in the Hague Municipal Museum and in 1960 in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. Scores of exhibitions followed at home and abroad.


With a scholarship from the French government he left for Paris in 1959, where he ended up in the Rue Santeuil, the famous former tannery where Bogart, Appel and Corneille, among others, had their studios and where he assisted Bram Bogart.

As the inventor of both Peinture Barbarisme as well as Dutch Realism in America, where he moved to in 1964 on the proceeds of his first book, Jan Cremer followed a path that led from Abstract Expressionism to colourful and tightly composed work, known as his New York period, which can be regarded as the Dutch version of Pop Art. In America the tulip makes its entry into his work, never to disappear. Despite his travels Athrough Siberia and Mongolia, his lengthy stays in the South of France and Tuscany and many other exotic, distant places, including the Seychelles, his theme remains 'classical': each time it is landscape that plays the main role.


After the publication in 1964 of his unrelenting - and later worldwide - bestseller, Cremer the painter ended up unintentionally in the shadow of Cremer the writer. His definitive move to America in 1965 meant that his art was temporarily pushed into the background in the Netherlands. In his New York studio he began painting Dutch landscapes. This very colourful 'Dutch Realism', with cows, farmer's wives and tulip fields, marks a clear departure from the highly abstract expressionist work of previous years. Dutch landscapes were to remain a recurring theme in Cremer's work, but the steppes, deserts and mountain ranges of Siberia and Mongolia, regions that he travels to many times, are also a permanent source of inspiration. In the same way that the landscapes of Italy and the South of France remain themes in which he sometimes absorbs himself in for months on end.


In his recent work - Corn fields, Tuscany and Southern French landscapes in explosions of colour - he returns to a lyric abstract expressionism. Besides being a painter and a graphic artist with more than 300 prints to his credit, Jan Cremer has continued to write. In addition to his books, he has written many travel stories and a study about the Mongols, which earned him a Fellowship from London's Royal Geographical Society in 1973. As a director he made the impressive documentary The Long White Trail (about his 300 kilometre long expedition across the icecap in Northwest Greenland), and as a photographer too it appears that Cremer has a fantastic eye, as was evident in 1999 in the first exhibition of his photographs, Unseen Eye.


It is beyond the scope of this essay to mention his many merits and achievements. There are too many of them - Cremer himself talks about them sporadically in his own newspaper, the 'Jan Cremer Krant', founded in 1967. Within Dutch art Cremer is the only real Renaissance man, who can and does do everything and who lives alternately in New York, Southern Europe or Paris, but fortunately returns regularly to his native soil. Even if it is only for a short time, until his always restless Hun's blood goads him further, in search of more, bigger, the biggest.