‘I CAN’T JUST TAKE A BREAK FROM NATURE. IT’S PART OF ME.’
‘I was nine when, as usual, I went out in the early morning to milk the cows with my father. It was autumn, a cold one, almost winter. The grass was frosted white. My hands hurt and felt like they were actually freezing. I started to cry. My father took my hands and thrust them into a bucket of warm milk.’ When you look at Jan Commandeur’s (1954) work what you notice, more than anything else, is the force and movement with which the paint has been put on canvas. You can see the way Commandeur has been inspired by a place, a landscape. He paints a memory of the place, the mood it conjured up for him, rather than the landscape itself. This kind of painting is called a Stimmungsbild.
“I’m sensitive to bleakness, but I don’t revel in it. I’m a positive romantic.’
Jan Commandeur is the son of a catholic farmer from Grosthuizen in West-Friesland, the part of North-West Holland where the bulbs grow. From a young age Jan was put to work on the land. The animals on his father’s farm needed to be looked after every day. In the summer the whole family harvested the tulip bulbs. The work was hard and it never ceased: after school, on Sundays, during the holidays. This was how Jan Commandeur came into contact with the vitality and force of nature at a young age. It wasn’t just a romantic force, but also a tough and merciless one. It was formidable, but also suffocating.
When he was nineteen he woke up one morning with the idea: ‘I want to paint.’ Up to that point he had never set foot inside a museum, nor drawn, nor painted. It was an impulse that changed his life.
I loved our animals and liked working on the land. At the same time, I wondered how and when I would be able to escape this life. As well as this, as a boy growing up, I couldn’t accept that all the things around me just disappeared. Nothing I touched endured. I thought about everything, but I had no way of releasing the pressure. I was looking for a way to express myself and then, all of a sudden, I had this idea. Painting, it was quickly clear that nature and its reflections would be his theme. Sometimes the paint resembles swirling water; green almost rustles, moves. Patches of shadow and light shift as you set eyes on them. You don’t see precise contours and details won’t stay still. The organic shapes painted in contrasting colours often look like landscapes. As well as a sunny, happy side, Jan Commandeur’s paintings also have a raw destructiveness; the force of nature, rather than a pastoral idyll. Commandeur’s work invokes and celebrates both the giving and taking of life, as did Dylan Thomas in his poem:
The Force That Through The Green Fuse Drives The Flower.
The force that through the green fuse drives the flowerDrives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.
The force that drives the water through the rocks
Drives my red blood; that dries the mouthing streams
Turns mine to wax
Both the farmer and the artist can lie around regretting the state of the world; but there’s work to do. Even if death is everywhere, new life is pushing up through the old growth. This is what Jan Commandeur paints: life, its whole. The force that through green fuse drives the flower.Jan Commandeur also works with gouache and makes collages and prints. Are you interested in his work? Then make an appointment to visit his studio in Amsterdam. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org You’ll get a response the same day.