Artist in ExileFik van Gestel

This month Zwart Huis publishes a series of interviews with artists who live and work in today’s quarantaine. As such, the gallery hopes to support and promote its artists in these strange times of Covid-19. We continue the series “Artist in Exile” with Fik van Gestel (1951).

How are you experiencing this period?

With acceptance. Unquiet when shopping. Sweating out of fear for contagion. But not so much different otherwise. We live spacious and remote and have a very direct visual contact with the landscape around us. It’s like living in a slow nature documentary.

What impact does this period have on your work?

Not so much right now. I have a bizarre exhibition which is currently running but was only open to the public during the vernissage. It’s a balanced selection that now remains abandoned – for the time being I hope. A bit sad and disillusioned, I currently tend to avoid the studio.

What does a typical day in the studio look like?

I certainly don’t paint every day. I do pop into my studio every day to do some bricolage, to judge some pictures for inspiration, to prepare work, etc. The act of painting itself happens in well defined periods. I tend to get very active in short time spans which then leads to many images which are judged on their strength later on.

Do you have a fixed way of working?

No. As soon as I would experience a certain routine or repetition, I would stop.

What role do you see for art in moments like these?

At this moment I see art as something which is secondary, but always present nonetheless. Art is relaxing, consoling. Visual art, poetry and literature are nurturing, intellectually invigorating, emotionally healing, indispensable.

What little things do you enjoy?

The bond with nature and the observation of the undulating dynamics of appearing and disappearing. Every little step of the planting of a new forest. The line of sowing, growing and harvesting of edible stuff in our greenhouse and garden and then playfully incorporating them into meals (my wife in particular does the latter exquisitely). Having lived together for decades – day in and day out – with someone you like, endure and love.

What do you miss the most?

Direct contact with my children, grandchildren and friends. Cuddles, kisses and skin contact.

What music do you play in the studio?

None. Music and being visually active, that doesn’t work for me. Background noise tends to irritate me, including conversations on the radio. I can really enjoy music if I listen consciously and exclusively. I simply adore a direct performance in a concert hall by a symphonic orchestra.

What books are on your bedside table?

I read at least one poem almost every night. So I have quite a few collections of poetry, most recently by Jens Meijen, Anneke Brassinga, … I also read quite a few novels, most recently Jeroen Brouwers, Peter Verhelst, Houellebecq, …