NUDE

 

 

Your face without expression,

lending the body its impression,

of muscle pure, and skin, and flesh,

not carnal, yet quite sexless.

Not even tempting our masochist,

sheer model in the circle of your pupils,

practicing pencils and perhaps their brush.

You’re purely nude and certainly not naked,

your mouth too prim, your nose forbidding.

However – though it seems unlikely –

 once back at home, you may turn lush,

take off the abstract mask and your cool cover,

and blush, leave that unsmiling pose behind,

showing your chosen lover what’s kept hidden –

then pay him back in kind.

 

Sierksma, February 2018

No. 5 of Study Art

J.H. Plokker, pencil drawing

 exam work Academy of Art, no title

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CHURCHES AND COOLIES

Every day your memory grows dimmer 
It doesn’t haunt me like it did before
I’ve been walking through the middle of nowhere
Trying to get to heaven before they close the door

Bob Dylan

________________

 

Koeli – a Dutch word I only came to know much later. One thing is for sure: This church – yesterday seen a little from above, from the heights of the Castle in Leyden town – for each and every Leydener has always been and still is the Koeli Kerk, the Coolie Church.

 

 

Quite a while before I came to understand the meaning of the word koeli, I already knew why this rather strange name had been given to the edifice. Misspelled, because not properly understood; it is that simple.

 

 

COELI it says, not KOELI/COOLIE. However, those who gave it this name perhaps did know what koeli/coolie meant, which at the time I did not

 

As a young first-year grammar schoolboy, I considered this a rather good reason to properly judge the stupidity of the working class of the town I lived in. Gone down the drains since the downfall of the Leyden cloth industry in the 19th century, it had never recovered.

 

The young Latinist immediately saw their silly mistake: Porta Coeli – the gate leading into Heaven, the church as the House of the Lord. Nonetheless, as all Leydeners did and still do, I also kept calling it the Koeli Kerk. Of course, its real name is Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception.

 

Towards the end of my grammar school period, with a strong wish to become a social philosopher, I had become a communist and now knew that a coolie is an East-Indies day-labourer and porter, perhaps even more generally an Asian worker, who was generally considered to be robber and a crook. Fine correlation, is what I thought. With such bold people we would certainly win the Revolution, as always in those days spelled with a capital R.

 

 

Added to this was the fact that not only from the outside, but more specifically its interior, this Koeli Kerk is so ugly that it reminds those in the know of Dante’s Hell. And what else might one expect from something classicistic, done in the 19th century, perhaps even mirroring the decay of the working class…

 

 

As far as the dulling of the revolutionary forces of the Working Classes was concerned -this as a result of bourgeois ideology, considered as ‘opium of and for the people’ of which Comrade (capital C!) Lenin had spoken such wise words – it wouldn’t come to all that. Inside such an ugly church the Workers (yes, indeed!) would easily overcome the blinding faith of their parents.

 

Meanwhile, like an old man, politically disenchanted, from this high Leyden castle I observe the Koeli Kerk in the distance. I feel all mellow and soft inside. Rather nice – as part of the urban scenery not bad at all.

 

Sierksma 27.1.18

GLOBAL

 

 

Atlas tripped, so much is sure,

celestial spheres crashed down –

globe dinted, if not smashed,

the heavy hand of man wrongfooted,

leaving its awesome trail behind.

Taken a wrong turn, 

– one of these days, somewhere –

straight into the wastelands.

 

Sierksma January 2018

CALVIN’S GHOST

On what the Dutch call a hoogland – a ‘highland’ in the form of a heightened sand bed on the spot of the confluence of the Old and the New Rhine, coming together almost in the middle of the old university town of Leyden – these good people started to build the Hooglandse Kerk.

 

In our Low Lands this seems a clever move. After all, even a mole hill here counts as a mountain. Thus, true believers sought to protect the building against possible high waters of the swollen rivers, perhaps having Noah’s Ark in mind.

 

However, I am quite sure that not merely utilitarian considerations were at work in their minds. The effect of this immensely elevated cathedral, as it stands on its elevated spot in our flat territory, is also aesthetically sublime.

 

High as it is already by itself, the building rises even further from the depth of the terra firma supporting her, aspiring as it were to what the faithful followers consider Heaven. For the unbelieving Thomasses of this world this magnificent church itself is of course already heaven on earth. One cannot but look up against it.

 

 

 

 

As the original chapel was dedicated to Saint Pancratius, who in 289 was born in Phrygian Synnada and who died in Rome on the 12th of May 304, I am also quite sure that there must have been statues of this holy man not only inside but also outside the church. That is, when it was still part of the Church of Rome.

 

Pancras, as he is called in The Netherlands, was a principled man who refused to make sacrifices to Rome’s gods and was consequently executed by the Emperor who at the time had not yet become a Christian. However, followers of Calvin, who like that Roman Emperor simply could not accept this version of religion, tried to efface his memory by cutting away all sculpture and all painting from the Hooglandse Kerk.

 

 

From the perspective of Modernist Architecture, the interior looks like a grand, abstract, clean and sober building. It might have been designed somewhere in the 60’s. Compared with this view, Saenredam’s rich church interiors seem of a Bernini like baroque… The exterior, however, is like it was when it was built, excepting the few visible signs of Calvinist vandalism which are the true index of the fanatic religious history in the Netherlands.

 

 

Visible here is an absence. No bold imagination is needed to envision the pedestal that once supported a statue of – why not! – Saint Pancras. Proudly, he must have stood there, inviting his flock to the services held inside, in what was once a colourful scene of devotion, with other sculptures, with the Stations of the Cross and with more colourful paintings depicting the grand scenes in the history of the Great Faith.

 

This little hollow, covered by a neat quarter dome of Dutch brick, also seems to harbour a dark shadow. Calvin’s ghost perhaps, the man who is still lurking in every corner of Dutch society, coming alive when a New Puritanism seems to be needed, or the stern admonition of those who want to behave in what is considered an un-Dutch manner.

 

Sierksma February 2018

EROS/THANATOS

 

 

 

 

Emaciated countenance, bleach white,

with coffee and a cognac on the side,

to find her courage, yet seem stable,

sampling me straight from the reading table,

in a grand hotel in my hometown.

 

She interrupts my coitus with Proust, no less,

and lures me straight into her hotel bed.

While being ploughed, I hear her crying,

she whispers “I am dying, I am dying”.

Post coitum and feeling sad,

I know, it was not just her Little Death.

Sierksma February 2018

 

REMBRANDT’S HANDS

It has been my arguable prejudice since long that judging the technical quality of a painter’s craft should depend on how on his canvasses he has managed hands – the manner in which he navigates his own hand to perform that trick of tricks.

 

Not that a less crafty painter may not impress us with work that intrigues or inspires. A Hopper is a good example, so is Magritte. Both of them are ‘bad painters’, yet now and then producing bloody good art. But do not ask them to paint a proper hand…

 

Danton might have spoken to the cursed Robespierre like this: “Touching the hand that, with a detached stroke of his pen, sends off so many people into their deaths – I just cannot afford to do that.” After all, the hand of that fearsome French Revolutionary was a hand of utter t/Terror, the word to be written with both a small t and a Revolutionary capital T. Danton did not shake that hand and thus perished under the razor-sharp claw of Madame la Guillotine. This as an introduction to a little essay on the depiction of hands, more especially the painted hand.

 

Could a Rembrandt have painted that hand of Danton in such a manner that we would immediately recognize it as the Hand of Death? He would surely not have used a symbolic hand, an icon like the porcelain little talon used by Emperor Napoleon. The real hands given to the emperor by the painter Gérard on this crowning portrait are pretty well done, and so by the way is that little artificial hand on its stick, lying on a pillow.

 

 

Master Rembrandt was not one for explicit symbolism, he considered it cheap. Or it must be symbols created by himself, for instance in the attitudes he gave his sitters. He is still the best of them all, proving that someone who opposes Calvinist preachers may still be blessed by the Lord with the mastery of his craft, as can be seen on his portrait of Eleazer Swalmius [1637].

 

 

This is indeed exactly the kind of overconfident, Reformed Church little prick with a Latinised name who may have summoned Rembrandt to be given a sermon on his way with women. Here, indeed, the task of producing a proper hand was complicated by such an attitude.

 

We know that this Man of God has been given a preacher’s pose, including ‘an orator’s hand’. So, this hand must have been given extra special care by Rembrandt – which he gave it.

 

 

Perhaps, though, something may have gone wrong with the thumb…

 

But then again, look at this fatty, a man trying to impress the painter with his business capacities or perhaps merely with his scribbler’s intelligence, offering Rembrandt a chance to make a portrait of a man not all too clever, so it seems.

 

 

Apart from his intelligence, Rembrandt has managed so well to capture the culinary pleasures of this man – exactly the hands of a fatty man who is in top form when eating copiously every day. Vicariously, one feels the ring wriggling itself painfully in the plump finger’s flesh.

 

 

Many a great painter shies away from hands. They may first try, as did Ferdinand Bol in his masterly portrait of this old pensive man with the face of almost a Rembrandt quality.

 

 

However, observe how something has gone seriously wrong with the portrayal of the fingers of the right hand. Bol decided to take the easy way out, giving the beard a little extra which now covers and hides them. The effect, though, is rather silly.

 

 

Arent de Gelder also solved his hands problem cleverly. He decided not to overpaint this young man’s hand after failing to do it properly. He hid almost the whole of it under what seems to be an etching which he is now supporting with that hand to show it to us, his observers.

 

 

A true master of hands is Samuel van Hoogstraten. Look at the way in which – in a self-portrait – he has portrayed his hand manoeuvring the pen over a sheet of paper, holding it as a dear instrument.

 

 

Or for that matter that other Master of the Hands, Herman van Aldewereld, who lovingly gave this rather plain woman hands one would like to start kissing on sight.

 

 

In detail they are even more striking:

 

 

What has always puzzled me is the way in which such magnificent paintings come into existence. A hand like Aldewereld’s girl must have taken even him quite some time. It still seems unjust to the person portrayed to make her ‘sit’ ad infinitum, till finally her hand has been done and has achieved the status of the Sublime for centuries ever after.

 

Then, unexpectedly, visiting the Rembrandt House in Amsterdam, I found the solution. Rembrandt’s old room with his requisites has been preserved. You know – the skulls, the helmets with plumes. The works.

 

 

On the floor the keen eye may observe two plaster hands in a certain pose. You imagine the painter doing his vital job on a sitter’s face and on the outlines of the pose, then leaving the rest of the canvas to be finished by one of his pupils, for instance by that great Ferdinand Bol who assisted Rembrandt before he himself became a Master. Although I would not leave the painting of the hands to this Bol…

 

However, for a great painter a hand is perhaps like the face of its owner. These hands may need that same toucher and finesse given to the sitter’s countenance. Rembrandt may have done both face, pose and the hands himself, then leaving the rest of the canvas to be finished by his staff.

 

Sierksma, January 2018

NIGHT DAWNING

Darkness visible – the dawning of a night.

Adjacent to the waning light,

an awesome black appearing.

Voiding of all mensuration,

a lack of bearings and coordinates,

lay of the land a fuzzy haze.

Fumes drifting in from sea, a lace

that bridges the unseen and the unseen.

The chiaroscuro of a soul eluding,

a body in its dark divorce,

one’s inside getting lost in brooding.

To be or not to be – or to have been.

 

Sierksma January 2018

No. 4 of STUDY ART – Geert de Koning, No title [1986], etching

Poems/texts on etchings, sculptures and artifacts in my study