work for Verkerke Reproducties, a Dutch company that was one of the biggest
poster and art print companies in the world. The poster business was a booming
business in those days and the successful poster artists were getting rich.
Unfortunately I was not one of them, but I had a friend who was a leading
Verkerke artist and he was a rich man! At that time I was a starving artist who
just came to the Netherlands and was struggling to survive. Any opportunity to
earn some money was most welcome. In the subsequent 6 years I produced
(designed and painted) about 120 posters, prints and greetings cards, most of
them for Verkerke. I never got rich, but thanks to the jobs that I got from
this company on the regular basis, I was able to earn my living. Also during
this period, which I consider to be a period of my apprenticeship, I learned a
lot and experienced all sorts of things that provided me with important
knowledge and insights.
The first few posters
that I did for Verkerke were the posters of clowns, who were always playing an
instrument, mostly a violin, and were accompanied by little dogs and boy clowns.
The art director would explain to me what kind of paintings they needed, and
because it was a highly commercial work, I obeyed all their wishes and, if
necessary, I did all the requested changes and corrections. Typically the
clowns had to be depicted as latently sad, melancholic people. The compositions
and colors had to be sweet and appealing,
and they had to answer to the somewhat cheap aesthetic needs of the
public who was buying the posters. The sentimentality was one of the main
ingredients and a key to the commercial success of the poster.
This was my first
clown painting. The initial expression on the clown’s face was sadness. I can’t
remember whether the art director has requested
such an expression, but the painting was accepted and published as an oversized
greetings card. After that the art director asked me to repaint the clown’s
face and to make him smile, which I apparently did. However, this painting was
never printed as a poster.
Back than the
headquarters of Verkerke Reproducties were far from the place where I lived. In
fact they were at the opposite side of the country. Although the Netherlands is not very big, it took me a few
hours to get there by several trains.
Once, I brought one of my clown paintings to the art director (see below). She
was at first very pleased with the painting, but after a while she started to
doubt. At the end she told me that she wants me to bring the painting back home
and to paint a red rose on the ground next to the plate ( this was before the
internet and Photoshop). Why, I asked. Because, she said, they have found out that,
regardless the main subject, the posters that have a red rose included in the
composition sell better than the posters without it! Also, a red rose was selling
better than, for instance white or yellow rose. So, I brought the painting back
home. A week later I was again sitting in the train with the same clown
painting next to me, but this time with a red rose in it.
There were many
situations of a similar kind during that period. I never complained about not
having enough artistic freedom while doing this kind of job. I guess I did not
need the artistic freedom at that time. Instead I needed enough work in order
to survive physically and mentally, and I needed a challenge that would help me
to develop my artistic skills. Most of these 120 paintings were not very good,
some of them were really bad. There were only a few of them that I was
completely satisfied with. And although
I now don’t like to look at most of them, these works were extremely helpful
and important to me. I have had my share of ultra commercial art which
does not deal with the terms like artistic freedom, or free self-expression. I
have tasted the humility and the obedience,
which are the indispensable elements in the illustrator’s arsenal of
Nowadays the things
are different. I guess I have earned my artistic freedom. I know now what I
want, and what I don’t want, and when to insist on my own freedom of artistic
expression. But I also know when to put
the thoughts about this freedom aside; I know when to shut up and do as the
client requires, in order to refill my piggy bank.
This is one of the few
paintings which I did for Verkerke posters that I am pleased with.
|All creatures great and small, 1994, oil on
wooden board, 100 X 70 cm, 39 ¼ X 27 ½