Guido Geelen


A good work of art lifts you out of your eartly existence

KNAW Heineken Lectures

solo expositie Guido Geelen, Vuur-Werk 1987-2000

The Dr A.H. Heineken Prize for Art 2000 was awarded to Guido Geelen,
creator of sculptures, for the unorthodox and innovative way in which he
uses the traditional material of clay.

Why this title? Because for me, good art is a necessity in my life, as important as food and drink. In addition, the existence of art has enriched my life enormously. So it's unimaginable for me that I should miss out on the pleasures of enjoying art.

Art: more than 'just messing about'

The word 'art' is often used much too lightly. To give an example, people are quickly inclined to describe a drawing by a five-year-old as art. I think they're way off the mark. Because a work of art is most definitely something more than just a thoughtless daub of paint on paper, or, as the Dutch artist Karel Appel famously said: 'just messing about a bit'. Creating a work of art is a very deliberate form of 'messing about', based on an inner need and vision.
All too often, people make quick judgments about art: a work of art is attractive or ugly, fantastic or worthless. In reality, however, appreciating and judging the quality of art requires some background knowledge. Similarly, an English poem cannot be fully appreciated and understood without some command of the English language.
In the past, as a child, I had no idea what art was, and in a way you could say that for me everything was art. But that's a bit too easy, because it is definitely possible to draw a distinction. There are the traditional forms of art such as a painting, a sculpture, a piece of music, a building, and so on. But today, the representations of a road network on large motorway signs is also regarded as art.
With all this in mind, within the whole arsenal of what we call art, I would like to apply the distinctive characteristic 'good'. After all, a work of art can be a failed painting, a bad building or a terrible piece of music.

A good work of art lifts you out of your earthly existence

A good work of art must immediately move your heart, touch your soul, reach into your bones. When you see and feel a good work of art, you forget for an instant that you are there. It's a sort of religious experience. When you're back with both feet on the ground again - something which might take a few hundredths of a second - you discover that something very complex is going on. You then try to analyse this complexity: Who created the work of art? How was it created? From which period does it date? In which context can it be placed? And so on.
The maker of a work of art is a specialist. Of course, he has his vision; that is a given. In my view, the starting point must always be the transformation of reality. A work of art portrays something of the here and now. It does something with what we see around us; it transforms it, captures it. It must also have something innovative, otherwise it's just a repetition of that reality, not a transformation. The specialist has a number of means at his disposal to achieve that transformation. We can expect him to use those skills in an expert fashion - after all, being a specialist, he has trained for this. Of course, there are always people who are born geniuses, who simply have 'the gift', like Mozart. And there are also self-taught artists who have a particular desire to create something. By constantly working in and with the subject matter or the material, they gradually become more and more comfortable with it.
If the specialist has employed the factors I have just mentioned correctly, and has also incorporated into his work the cliches of life and death, old and new, beautiful and ugly, black and white, light and dark, and so forth, then we might expect that the puzzle which is the creation of a good work of art is complete. However, a good work of art always has an additional, indefinable factor - call it mystery, emotion, intuition, chance - which plays a key role in the creation process.
If you come across a good work of art in the right place at the right time, it can evoke a response which can perhaps be described as the religious experience I spoke of earlier. Such moments are so intense and blissful that we suddenly feel as if there is more to this earth than, say, our day-to-day worries. That's what I mean by lifting us out of our earthly existence.

The inner need to create images

There have been a few moments when a good work of art has evoked a sensation like that in me - and without alcohol or drugs, I should add; a completely pure sensation, in other words. And when that happens, you obviously want to know how it happens and what precisely is happening. If it's a piece of music, for example, you might try to discover what was going on in the composer's mind. You can read about this, or you can try to discover what happens by making music yourself. I think the same thing happens with visual art. At an academy of art you learn by carrying out assignments how the process of creating visual images operates. At a certain point, you have enough insight and a need arises to strike out on your own, to create your own images. You don't need any more assignments. You are then able to give form to your inner need to create an image. The question then, of course, is whether your own image is also able to evoke that intense experience. For me, the kick is using material to make something which gives me a feeling of intense happiness. But it's a very short-lived feeling. That's where the 'drive' comes from, that makes you go on producing new images.
Because that moment of bliss is so short-lived, I also try to experience 'quality moments' in my daily life. For me, the setting is important and also provides a frame of reference which enables me to hold my own. I expect the same commitment from the specialists around me, each in their various disciplines. That's why I can get so angry when fellow-specialists - artists, architects, design-ers, and so on - don't do their work well. Without asking to, I am then forced to encounter their pollution. This is anything but uplifting art.

The visual arts as my chosen field

Sadly, I'm no homo universalis, and as I can't make a contribution to society in all domains of art, I've chosen to try to excel in one artistic discipline. That discipline is the visual arts; sculpture is my field. Since 1985 I've used clay in my work because that's the material in which I can give form to my thoughts and feelings in the most striking way. Precisely because it's so unformed and meaningless on its own, clay creates possibilities for imparting form and meaning. The idea of creating an image from clay which is a result of my own actions, right down to the tiniest detail, is something that fascinates me enormously. In 1994 I also began working in bronze and later still in aluminium.

The Dr A.H. Heineken Prize for Art

The Dr A.H. Heineken Prize for Art 2000 was awarded to Guido Geelen for the unorthodox and innovative way in which he uses the traditional material of clay. Guido Geelen, who prefers to be called a creator of sculptures, creates images in which ceramics form an important element. These images are often constructed from ceramic reproductions of a wide variety of everyday objects. Guido Geelen has, for example, created a ceramic sculpture composed of dogs, car tyres, vacuum cleaners, televisions and computers, all made of red clay compacted together. By organising these items in a particular way and then stacking them on top of one another, Guido Geelen has created a ceramic wall which fascinates viewers despite - or perhaps because of - its seemingly morbid character.
Guido Geelen was born in Thorn, the Netherlands, in 1961. He attended the Institute for Draughtsmanship, Craftsmanship and Textiles (tehatex) in Tilburg and went on to study at the Academy of Fine Arts for two years. Guido Geelen was awarded the incentive prize for applied art by the Amsterdam Fund for the Arts in 1988, the Charlotte Kohler Prize for Sculpture in 1989, and the incentive prize for fine art by the Amsterdam Fund for the Arts in 1990.
Guido Geelen's work can be viewed at the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art in Amsterdam, the ptt Art and Design Collection in The Hague, the Kruithuis Museum for Contemporaiy Art in 's-Hertogenbosch, the North Brabant Museum in 's-Hertogenbosch, the Kroller-Muller Museum in Otterlo, the Boijmans van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam and the De Pont Museum in Tilburg.
The 2000 DrA.H. Heineken Prize for Art (Dfl 100,000) is being awarded to an artist who works in ceramics. The Netherlands has a rich tradition in ceramic art, ranging from the centuries-old Delftware industry to the innovative Dutch pottery from around 1900 (when independent potters first began to flourish) and right up to the revolutionary ceramic work being produced in our own day. It is precisely this aspect that the jury has decided to emphasise by awarding the Dr A.H. Heineken Prize for Art to artist Guido Geelen for his entire oeuvre.
The jury that has awarded this prize has acted independently of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. However, a number of Academy members took part in the jury in a private capacity.