Guido de Waart can look back on an extensive and varied body of work, which attests to a consistent vision on his art, to invention, to originality and a great zest for work.
After his education at the publicity department of the Academy of Arts in Rotterdam, he establishes himself as an independent artist. In the initial years, he gets his income from graphic design work and teaching. As soon as he can support himself with the sales of his independent work, he ends his graphic design work and also gives up his teaching position at the Zaltbommel high school. Later, the then director Pierre Janssen invites him to come and lecture at the Academy of Arts in Rotterdam, which he continues to do to the pleasure of himself and his students for twenty years.
All his creations reveal the same visual language. They are paintings, drawings, etchings, linocuts and lithographs, plastic objects consisting of partially sandblasted glass panes, and papier-mâché objects glued together layer by layer into firm objects which often look impressive and heavy, but turn out to be light as a feather. This diversity speaks to a deep interest for the technical aspects of creating art. He works in small and large dimensions. The square format as the carrier of the image becomes his guideline, because he no longer lets himself be directed by the varying paper formats of the Japanese paper, which he often uses until then. The square is not limiting to him, but a grammar for a near infinite visual language with frequently changing techniques and therefore diverse manifestations.
From 1952 onward, he often exhibits his work. His first exhibit of drawings together with Henk de Roover in art gallery ‘t Center in The Hague gets a positive review from several art critics. His observations of ‘situations’ are judged as original and his command of technique is highly valued.
At the beginning of the nineteen-sixties, the drawings of situations, landscapes, nudes and portraits make room for organic shapes. The lines, which he writes rather than draws, form layered lively images. With pencil he creates a transparent and sensitive cooperation between lines and paper, putting down long extended lines with a firm hand.
In the nineteen-seventies, he makes large square drawings of structures, whose source can be found in observations of the landscape. They are drawings of a subtle play with the light of grays and whites, forming a pattern, which on first view works as a relief. Observation and illusion are interwoven into a puzzling, labyrinthine field of organic shapes. At times, he uses pencils of different grades creating starker contrasts in tone. Sometimes the image is built up from small groupings of short lines, at other times from large groupings of strong long lines, written down in a decisive hand, creating monumental images. I cannot refrain from quoting the discerning and sharp characterization of art critic Ko Sarneel on these drawings, which he made at the occasion of an exhibit in Venlo during a radio broadcast of the Regionale Omroep Zuid on October 20, 1977.
“…in his clean and elaborate pencil drawings of structures – so not frottages, but hand drawn elaborate structures – the silence, the light and the serene expanse of the Alblasserwaard region where he works; landscapes of a uniquely pure, completely unromantic, very spiritualized kind, which are only exposed through attentive observation, in each individual drawing, by means of an always very skillfully executed process of combining and harmonizing organic shapes with geometric shapes.”
Drawing remains a lifelong fascination. In the nineteen-eighties, large works of 110×110 cm appear and in the nineteen-nineties he makes both sketches and elaborate drawings, also in smaller formats. At the start of this century, he makes a large series of Conté drawings in color, measuring 100×100 cm.
During his studies he becomes fascinated by the potential of printing techniques. He experiments with these techniques and finds a way to create strong, layered images. The usually limited editions get a wide distribution. In 1967 he is awarded the Print Award by the Salon of Meuse Cities (Grafiekprijs van de Salon der Maassteden), recognizing the quality of his work. His inventive use of the old techniques creating an intentionally contemporary result undoubtedly contributes to this success. His relief prints are a prime example of this. In addition to limited edition prints, which he always produces himself, he makes monotypes, creating captivating results. In linocuts and relief prints from the mid nineteen-sixties, the shapes get a more closed character and colored areas with strong contrasts dominate. He welds the etching plates together into metal boxes, creating objects with relief and their own projection into space.
In the year 2000 he makes another series of linocuts, after not having made any prints during the nineteen-eighties and nineties.
Abstract large shapes in colorful contrasts, enriched by lively structures, characterize his print work. The paintings which he starts making since the mid nineteen-sixties, often on linen but more frequently on paper with very thin alkyd paint reveal the same visual language and color contrasts. They show big organic forms with visible structures of the medium, creating lively and intriguing images through the interaction between the created image and the background, which remains visible. During an interview with Joost van den Hooff of the Dutch newspaper het Vrije Volk, he made some statements about his principles and approach in reference to these alkyd paintings. For example about the meaning of the square in his work, he says the following:
“I have chosen a certain theme for myself, and that is the relationship between the geometric and the organic aspect. Sometimes, it is the omission. Sometimes leaving out so much that the geometric aspect disappears. For example when a snowdrift hits a window, the snow sticks to the windowpane en eventually the window can disappear completely. For me it is about just being able to recognize both the geometric shape and the free form which is created.”
His compositions on the square field in relation to nature are always powerful. So it is not surprising that in 1966 his submission of these paintings receives honors at the Europe Prize in Ostend, Belgium.
His multifaceted interest in techniques continues to lead to new mediums for his work. This is how in the early nineteen-seventies he creates a series of glass installations with sandblasted abstract shapes, which are inspired by the repetitive rows of trees which line the road to Zaltbommel, the city where he used to teach for a number of years. He places glass panes of equal dimensions one after the other at equal distances. By shifting each of the subsequent sandblasted shapes he evokes a poetic atmosphere of natural shapes blurred by fog.
Plastic forms continue to inspire him, also outside the illusionary space of a painting or print. After first having experimented with reused etching plates as a spatial expression, he now discovers glass objects as an adequate form to convincingly express something that has made an impact him.
In the nineteen-eighties he makes so-called photo reliefs. He starts from large photographs of compacted blocks of shredded waste paper and molds them into plastic wall mounted objects. The top layer of the photographs is connected to papier-mâché or pur foam. By cutting up and reshaping parts of the objects, he creates plasticity.
Later, in the nineteen-nineties, he also develops colored objects with organic shapes, which are built up from many layers of thin paper drenched in glue. He buys this paper during travels in Asian countries, but sometimes he uses pieces of telex rolls or telephone books. With the intended shape in mind, he precisely and patiently glues layer upon layer until the object is finished. This creative process unifies concept and craftsmanship, a process that is reminiscent of his drawing style.
Over time, these plastic pieces have become an important and characteristic aspect of his work. They are strange and mysterious objects. Each piece has its own characteristic, even though it is thematically tied to the others, all created using the same basic pattern: the square or a combination of two squares creating a rectangle. Using this pattern, his visual language is always influenced by the organic aspect like in his other work. He is able to let the images capture a range of emotions, covering drama, tension and fun. Each object harbors a quiet symbiosis of matter and illusion. The illusion is present through the applied surface layer, which colors the shapes and sometimes highlights the autonomy of certain shapes in an artwork, or enhances the contrasts between them. Together with the deceptive impression of heaviness versus the actual lightness, this creates an ambiguity, which has an important impact on the experience of seeing these objects.
They are bright, very dark or metallic gray. Because of this they have a solid presence in space and at the same time they are part of an illusionary world.
They also show how sensitive an artisanal process can be and how it can be made visible and relatable. By naming the objects afterwards, he indicates the atmosphere in which he wants them to be viewed.
His independent work has frequently led to commissions for architectural pieces on or inside buildings. He makes large sandblasted glass walls for de ABN-AMRO Bank in Rotterdam (1977), which are an extension of his glass objects. After this, he is asked to create glass panels for the auditoriums of the municipal crematorium Hofwijk in Rotterdam (1978). A greenish discoloration is created by placing several layers of glass on top of each other. With these panels, he succeeds in making the convincing effects of his glass objects work on a larger scale, using nature-like organic sandblasted shapes in a rhythmically shifting pattern. Unfortunately, these panels are threatened to be lost forever due to recent renovations of the crematorium. They are images which are truly fitting for the elusive mystery of the transition from life to death and which deserve to find a new home in a similar environment.
Earlier, in 1963, he is commissioned to create architectural works for the Dutch tax collection service in Delfzijl; these are porcelain enamel paintings on panels for de outside wall of the building. Five years later he makes a similar wall for the Laboratory for Geological Research in Haren. For his commissions he also likes to experiment with different techniques, similar to in his independent work. He uses mixed techniques for a wall in the Confection Center in Amsterdam (1969), as well as for a wall on the Technical School in Culemborg, two years later. In 1970 he makes ceramic walls in Leeuwarden for the complete stairwell of the Cooperative Insurance Fund and in 1972 five large painted canvasses for Sanatorium Swinhove in Zwijndrecht, which as swiveling squares function as floor level indicators.
This body of work built up over many year has the mark of great craftsmanship and emotional involvement in the creative process. The tension between nature as a starting point and the interpretation into drawing, print, painting and plastic object is repeatedly being tested over the years and expressed with feeling. The concept nature must be qualified, because for him it is about cultivated nature, with varying levels of human intervention. In the nineteen-seventies and eighties for example, the large white plastic-wrapped heaps of grass in the landscape were a source of inspiration for many drawings and prints.
Characteristic for his work is that he has always maintained the connection between observation and representation and expressed it using different techniques. He stays away from intuitive abstraction as objective. The square is a reliable format throughout the years. Using this as a basis, he is able to express his images. When the square can no longer be recognized in certain works, this can always be explained from the process of creation, in which the organic form has consumed the square, which is present nonetheless.
With this perception of the reality around him and the translation to images in his work, Guido de Waart has left a personal and sensitive trace in the independent art of our time.
Hein van Haaren
Hein van Haaren is art historian and was director of the Rotterdam Academy of Arts, of the Rotterdam Academy of Architecture and of the Netherlands Architecture Institute.