Herman Krikhaar

 


Herman Krikhaar : foremost an artist

Born Almelo, Netherlands on 18th April 1930

Herman's life is based on a chain of events, encounters and extraordinary chance.
He is at the outset a recalcitrant kid growing up in the Eastern Netherlands during the crisis and war years. As soon as he can, Herman leaves Twente to become a washer-up in Paris before spending the next eight years as purser for KLM.
Driven by an irrepressible passion for art from his earliest years, for twenty-five years he runs the best-known gallery in the Netherlands, then decides, at the age of 58, to commit himself to what has been his primary inspiration since the age of 11, and, for that matter, what has kept him in equilibrium all these years painting.
Whereas he is happy to relate with gusto, humour and no little self-mocking, every extraordinary incident in his very full life, he remains reserved concerning his work : « It is better someone else talks about that. » As with his character, his work is driven by instinct with tremendous power and vitality, allowing serendipity to play its part in life as in painting.

Almelo
« I could hardly have chosen a better environment to grow up in. My parents had a bakery in Hantermansstraat on the boundary between the commercial and the poor districts. We were surrounded by the most bizarre and tragic characters to whom we kids attached labels like the ?winos?. The Krikhaar family, on the other hand, constitutes the most stable basis a child could wish for : a harmonious catholic marriage with a hard-working father and affectionate and level-headed mother, who is the lynchpin of the family, running with authority and good humour both the household and their bakery/grocer?s store. In addition to the family of eight children, staff and household servants, lunchtime would often also include friends and relatives. Mrs Krikhaar distributed food parcels locally to the poor, who were struggling to survive in the crisis-ridden thirties.

It is her second son, who makes life difficult for his mother, as, even with the best will in the world, he is unable to sit quietly and pay attention in school.
« One day, I went far too far and the teachers came to complain to my mother. I had played hookey all day long and had also missed my music lesson. I came home as normal for lunch and on my return that evening , Mother was waiting :
« How did school go ? »
« Fine »
« and your piano lesson ? »
« It went well, too »
« Come with me !  »
and I followed her into the presence of three of my teachers ! I never wished to hurt my parents ; it just happened like that. The education system was archaic and rigid. Ostensibly abolished, corporal punishment still flourished and, one day, I had to take a terrific blow on the hand from the thick handle of a billiard cue for throwing a wooden clog at a teacher's head. »

His First Paintings
Partying with his mates, playing practical jokes and chasing after girls took up much of his time, but he loved withdrawing to the attic for hours on end in order to paint.
While delivering the bread, I used to hang around inside the studio of Anton Scheerder. He made large scale copies of masterpieces such as "The Night Watch", which he did brilliantly.
In this way, Herman learnt the rudiments of painting. This stood him in good stead, as is evidenced particularly by his magnificent portrait of Diderot after that of Fragonard. His first commission came from his mother who asked him to depict the houses of his ancestors : Mum hired a taxi and we went to Ootmarsum, where my paternal grandmother grew up.
The house and well in front still exist today. We then went to Vriezenveen to look for her father's house, but it had been demolished. But I did manage a painting of my grandfather's house at Geersteren.

The War Years
His love of painting can be put in a different perspective by a sad event that then occurred.
One of our chefs had given me a pair of racing pigeons, and, two years later, I had about forty. Shortly after the Second World War was declared, several members of the Dutch (NSB) National Socialist Movement came to make my father an ultimatum :? either he joins the party or his pigeons go?. The first option being out of the question, they returned the next morning and wrung the necks of every single one, before my very eyes. This was for me traumatic and, as a consolation my mother offered me a fine box of watercolours.
As the war continued, it becomes harder and harder to obtain art materials.
Up till then I only needed to bend down and pick up the empty flour sacks, but, because of rationing, this became scarcer. Tubes of paints were hard to come by, and I used to cut out bits of lead which I exchanged for paints. When the war ended ; leaks were noted in the strangest of places. From 1945 on, the Marshall Plan supplied us with sacks of flour on which I could paint. Just like the old marquises of my grandfather, I prepared them with glue boiled from bones. I dreamt of going to Art School, but I knew my parents saw little benefit coming from it.

Arnhem
Thanks to his mother's faith in him, he entered Arnhem Art School ; <One evening, I heard my parents, downstairs in the living room, discussing my future, and I listened, ear glued to the floor. Mum finally convinced Papa who had been pretty unimpressed with this idea. Our priest found accomodation for me with an agreeable catholic widow and her three spinster daughters, and my father drove me there. For the first time in his life, Herman tried his best in school. At that time, it consisted of a classical and traditional training principally of lessons in anatomy and drawing pots and plaster busts. Influenced chiefly by the rebellious Theo Wolvecamp, who was in the same class though several years older Herman's enthusiasm rapidly waned. Wolvecamp quit halfway through the first year, bored by the uninspiring teaching. Later Herman visited him in Amsterdam and met for the first time Karel Appel, who was sharing Theo?s apartment.
Nor was Herman to complete his first year. On 18th April 1948, Herman was called up, a situation he faced up to with his inimical bravura. During his military service he was to make numerous visits to prison for prolonging without autorisation his weekend furloughs. In consequence he missed out on a brief posting to Curaçao, though his regimental colleagues took with them a giant pin-up he had drawn for them.

Paris
By the end of his compulsory 18 month service, Herman yearned to go to Paris. Leaving armed only with a suitcase he had exchanged for a painting and enough money in his pocket to keep him going the first few weeks, he found a job washing-up and as a barman, learning French and bargain-hunting in the antiques markets, where he had a number of remarkable finds including fine drawings by Rodin and Signac and an Adriaan van der Werff painting.
Aside from the bargaining aspect, which, since childhood, was a favorite sport for him, he discovered he really did have an eye for it. Realising, though, that as a barman prospects were limited, a year later he was back in Almelo, where he immediately found work as a roundsman for the family bakery, which is how one day on the street he bumped into a fellow baker?s son, who was working as a steward for KLM : ?I listened breathlessly to his stories and looked at his slides of far-off places. I knew straightaway I wanted to do that.
Next day I asked my Father for a day off in order to go out to Schipol Airport. His response echoed that of the steward from Almelo : ?Don?t tire yourself out going there ; you haven?t even finisherd secondary school yet.? But I took the train and, on arrival, asked the way to the Personnel Office but got lost and found myself in the office of the Assistant Director, who entered just as his secretary was explaining I should go to another building :
« What?s this young man doing here ? »
« He wants to become a steward and has to go to Building 401. »
« Yes, see Mr Krayenbos, Head of Personnel. » said Douzy.
When I found Krayenbos, I said to him, without lying, that it was Mr Douzy who had sent me. He straightaway treated me with enormous respect and took me on without the slightest question or exam ! By now, Herman spoke several languages. S well as french and English, which he had learnt from the Canadians who liberated his region, he spoke German thanks to the occupying soldiers billeted next to the bakery. Three months later he took to the air for the very first time.

KLM
There followed eight wonderful years (1953 - 1961) where Herman explored the world at a time when air travel was still an amazing adventure and a flight to Australia ? destination in the '50s for a large number of emigrants ? took a wole week, given the number of refuelling stopovers required. Visits to cities such as Beirut, Cairo, Bangkok sharpened his interest in ancient civilisations, and he began collecting ancient glass, coptic textiles from Egypt, Buddhas and Japanese netsuke. He returned from each trip suitcase full of souvenirs, selling the lesser pieces to Kouw, the antiques dealer, and storing the better ones in a lock-up, and then, in the periods between work shifts, and where spare seats allowed, setting off again with empty suitcases for the Near and Middle East. Back in the Netherlands, he bought Contemporary art, primarily in Haarlem at Eva Bendien and Polly Chapon?s gallery, who specialised in early CoBrA works.

Without jeopardising his social life (Café Eijders and Café Hoppe) Hrman still found time to paint in his tiny garret at 112, Gerrit van der Veenstraat, Mrs Kleinsman?s house. His travels, the New York skyline and Buddhaas influenced his work, in which dreams and the unconscious played a part. It was after suffering a serious skull fracture tht he painted the powerful surrealist self portrait with the steely blue eyes. Herman had caused a serious car accident after a CTAB inoculation at Schipol. When it was discovered other flight staff had also been severely affected, they immediately modified the composition of this injectyion. Herman required almost a year?s convalescence, which he put to advantage going to Wiesbaden to improve his German.

One day, on a flight to Australia, I chatted with a lady reading Dr Zhivago. We were soon discussing art and she said she lived in the artist, Alexei Jawlenski's house in Wiesbaden. I admired hugely this member of the Expressionist group ?Die Blaue Reiter? and, when I next was in Germany I visited her. The walls of her house were covered in Jawlenskis ! Thirty years later, I discovered a small canvas by him in a Sothebys sale. Catalogues as ?artist unknown? and lotted up with an oil by Mensje van Keulen at an estimate of 100 to 150 florins. In the Netherlands at that time hardly anyone knew of this artist and I got it for about 12000 florins, selling it on shortly afterwards to a German collector for its proper price at 100,000 florins.?

Ibiza
In 1959 Herman met his future wife, Jetty Andreoli. When they married two years later, Herman, who had by now accumulated a vaste collection of antiques and contemporary works, brought to an end his flying days. They left for Ibiza, not yet in vogue, and rented
A house by the beach. This unspoilt Spanish isle was already becoming a magnet foryoung intrllectuals and artists(,incjusing the Dutchmen, Bert Schierbeek and Simon Vinkenog) and
Was a refuge for American conscientious obkectors and Spaniards wishing to keep out of Franco?s reach.
For the first time in Herman?s life, he had all the time he needed to paint and started to evolve his own style. He saw harmony of form nd colour in the Moorish architecture of white, cube-shaped houses. Yje first Soviet Sputnik meeting its spark-trail end in the heavens overhed gave Herman an additional impetus. « Paintings were born, one after another, sometimes as many as two or three a day ».

Krikhaar, the Gallerist
As Jetty preppared fpr the arrival of their first child,, they returned to the Netherlands, They found temporary accommodation in a wing of ChâteauGroenevend in Baam, home of Amsterdam?s last Bohemian, the photographer, Joop Colson, who rented the whole place from the State fot one florin per year. The building housed the TV Chammel NOS?s Film Institute, the gardens were overrun with peacocks, chickens, artist?s easels and the circus caravam of Pipo the Clown and Mamelou. Here, too, Jan Vrieman made Karel Appel?s famous film, containing the celebrated repartee : « I?m just fiddling around, that's all. »
Meanwhile Herman sought and found in Amsterdam a space for a gallery. This was in a building on Weteringshan, near the Rijksmuseum. They also had the good luck to find a beautiful apartment to let close by, on Weteringplantsoen,, in a building already housing the artists Teddy Schaank and Ko van Dijk and also Ellen Vogel and Fons Rademaker.
The Krikhaar Gallery upened on 17th May 1963 with an exhibition of Chagall engravings.
Six days later, their daughter, Caroline, was born. From the outset, the Gallery proves to be a great success and, as his stock of old paintings reduces and could not be replenished, Herman
turned to Contemporary Art, and exhibited from the start works from the CoBrA movement.
In 1964 a man came in and asked straight away if he could exhibit with me. « You've got a nice shop here. » He said with that typical Amsterdam accent.Because of his heavy moustache and the thick overcoat he wore, I did?nt immediately recognize Appel, though I had met him on occasion at Wolvercamp?s in Amsterdam and with Ed van der Elsken in New York. This marked the return of the artist, already celebrated in Paris and New York, to his native Netherlands. Herman regularly scoured Paris in search of new artists and was there in late November 1965, when his son, Alexander, was born. All his time was dedicated to the gallery and he was unable to paint, and it would continue so, until 1971, when he took a year off following his divorce from Jetty.

Salernes
« I was on holiday withAnton Rooskens in Rivello in Southern Italy, when the urge to paint overtook me violently and I decided to look for a studio. I ended up in Salernes, a village in the South of France, where Jan Montijn had found me an apartment». From 1974 he spent three monthe eqch summer creating a balance between the gallery and his painting. Just outside the village, he bought an old ?bastide, where his family and friends could relax beside the pool, while he withdrew to paint in his studio. The extensive garden, fruit and olive trees gave him great pleasure and reinforced his love of nature. When mowing, he would always leave a wide area for wild flowers to flourish., and his garden formed the theme for a powerful and colourful series of paintings inspired by Van Gogh. These landscapes disappear in the following series to be replaced by dancers and movement. In this manner a given series of paintings will be followed by a very different one in rhythm with Herman?s evolution.

Krikhaar the Artist
From 1963 Herman knex the uncertain balance between artist and gallerist would change.
« In fact, I had meant to close the gallery after twenty years, but I changed my mind in 1978 when I met a nephew of Picasso, who had inherited a collection of his uncle?s works ». The opportunity to work with such a group of masterpieces kept him busy for another five years.
Having achieved all he had wished for, it was with considerable peace of mind, and after exactly twenty-five years, that Herman for the last time locked the doors of his gallery at 5.00pm on May 17th 1988.
He wished to build a new house and studio on the extensive property he already oxned in France, and, given the magnificent view from where he intended building, it seemed predestined. ?My son, Alexander, was just finishing his architecture studies in Chicago and had already drawn up detailed plans ; however, the traditionalist civil servants down there were not of a mind to approve a modernist building and I had to fight for four years before I got planning consent. In the interim, he worked on « Dancers » a series of 2 m by 3 m canvases, too large for his existing atelier. At the same time, a unique series of bronze statues was created in Amsterdam.

The New Atelier
Finally during the summer of 1994, he installs himself in his spacious new studio : « I had decided to start here by a big series of crucifixions». The results are violent and intense tryptics on human suffering followed by a series on the circus, where tragedy also plays a big role . For the first time since Ibiza Herman can dedicate himself entirely to his work . With all his energy he throws himself into painting : I want to use the time I?ve got left to work as much as possible  He also experiments with all sorts of materials. : books of samples of wallpaper, crude handmade paper or printed packaging give him a backdrop on which to draw, glue, paint with a brush or with spray. He uses fate/chance to help him create new ideas. His relentless imagination is inspired by photos, illustrations in newspapes and magzines or even by bits of crumpled paper he finds in the street . He is also inspired by the world which surrounds him, by events which touch him. His two preferred animals appear regularly in his work : Blauw , the magnificent tame white pigeon who likes to rest on his shoulder and share his whisky and Bonnie, the funny dwarf teckel always in his heart and field of vision.
From time to time, he makes an incursion into three-dimensional work, for example cutting out an insect in a ribbed plastic milk bottle.
But these last years, he has preferred to stay entire days at his table drawing on little bits of paper. He is rarely short of ideas, imagination and the desire to work. Piles of drawings which never cease to grow, he'll pull one out from time to time and use it as a sketch for a large canvas two metres by three.
The artist for Herman is a painter of shapes and colours . Whilst the paintings realised in Ibiza were safely soft and poetical ,those of the seventies have more power, the colours are more vivid, strong lines accentuate powerful forms and erotism plays an important role. He continues to build on looks and finds an equilibrium, but doesn't stay there. He looks for new limits , discovers other possibilities and continues to evolve.
As in his life Herman is constantly looking for new challenges to draw out the maximum from his artistic potential. In his life as in his work, it is less a question of storytelling and more the manner in which it awakens the spirit.

Helena Krikhhar Stork, Guy and Michèle Beddington are deeply saddened to announce the death of Herman Krikhaar in Draguignan Hospital on 19th January 2010.


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