RuudAntonius was born on the 3rd of December 1959 in Apeldoorn, The Netherlands. He lived there until the age of 13 and moved to England with his family in 1973, continued his schooling and studied art. After that, in 1979, he left England and moved to Bielefeld, Germany and 9 months later to Hameln a small town close to Hanover.For a period of 5 years he painted and played music here. In 1984 he returned to The Netherlands. In March 2006 he moved to England until 2011 and moved to Spain for 2 years, he now resides in the UK where he writes, paints and produces music.
PML: When did you realise that you wanted to be an artist?
RA: I was 8 years old and I remember it was a sunny day on a market in Apeldoorn, the Netherlands where my mother had taken me to do some shopping. That is where I saw a man behind an easel, working on a painting in oils. Now to be perfectly clear, I had never touched oils before, but I’d been drawing obsessively since I could hold a pencil. After watching this man for quite a while ‒ maybe as long as half an hour ‒ my prevailing thought at the time was that I found the work appalling.
PML: Even at that young age you possessed a critical eye.
RA: I did find the process fascinating and intriguing. I made up my mind that that was what I wanted to do. Certainly not as badly as what I was witnessing, but I was definitely going to be an artist. It seemed a good idea at the time, and I am still struggling with the thought today.
PML: Why do you say that?
RA: I am not so sure what an artist is. Okay, someone who paints, dances, sings, writes, composes music. But there is more to it than that. I don’t think we can just say, ‘hey he paints, he’s an artist’. Or even, ‘he makes a living selling his paintings’. It may be that art is not just producing work of a certain standard. It may be that it is the way you stand in the world, the way you live your life, all for the sake of making it possible to create your works. There is a lot of poverty before you start making money as an artist.
PML: How do you define your art?
RA: Why should my art be defined? Let’s face it, the more we have defined art the more the decline in quality of the arts has overwhelmed us.
RA: Listen, I have been an artist now for over forty years and I've learned a few lessons. We are soul searchers. We are boundary seekers concerned with giving meaning to our existence rather than artisans trying to explain what our art is. Artists are completely obsessed by the drug that is the process of creating. It is the creating that gives us energy. We are gobsmacked and in awe of what our fingers produce. We listen in amazement to the magic of the medium we use. Our thoughts are merely there to enjoy these little miracles as they appear: the fact we can manipulate light, dissect material, find hidden structures in what we take for granted. We create an apparition, a view... The creation, which has managed to crawl from our mind and soul, is the true essence of our occupation. I don’t believe we can or should try to define art. Not if you are an artist.
PML: You are saying that art is, in fact, decided by the public?
RA: Yes. The initial question does not interest me anymore, but naturally as a student and youngster I followed the trend of my teachers and peers. Yet I do realise you are fishing for that mutual language which takes years to understand. It is a broad language that does not contain words or pictures. It is a language of values, of artist ethics and aesthetics based on many years of exploring the small wonders of creation. It is a language for creators to help create. So back to the question as to how I define my art, I don’t but you may. It is not in my job description, but if you feel it happens to be in yours than you are more than welcome.
PML: Salvador Dali seems to be an influence?
RA: No, Surrealism has an influence. Since Dali was a huge exponent of this movement does not mean to say he influenced me.
PML: Sorry to insist, Ruud, but surely Dali is ‒ albeit among the Surrealists ‒ important for you?
RA: Okay, I’ll give you that one. But the greatest influences on my work are the old masters. I was 14 when I got my first set of oil paints sent over from my grandmother in the Netherlands. I had moved to the UK two years earlier. I didn't have a clue about brushes, mediums, canvasses and was very disappointed with my first attempts. So I went to the library and borrowed some books on the old masters. It was John Constable, the English landscape painter, who inspired me most.
PML: Interesting that it should have been an English painter.
RA: England had adopted me and I was adopting Mr. Constable. I even visited the National Gallery in London to see ‘the Haywain’ in the flesh. And here I must admit to a secret I have kept for many years. I waited until no one else was in the room and actually felt the painting. I wanted to feel the paint, the tension of the canvass, the structures of the glazes and the highlights underneath.
PML: What did you achieve by this?
RA: Two major things in my life. Firstly, it may sound weird, but touching the surface of a painting tells a lot about how it has been painted. It certainly was the best art lesson I've ever had. And secondly, I am probably one of the very few in the world who have actually been able to touch this work. How I got away with it I do not know.
PML: So you started by copying the old masters?
RA: I copied many masters from the age of about 14-15 years, and suddenly I found myself selling these pieces to my teachers at school for a couple of pounds. This enabled me to afford my materials for the next paintings. Other people caught on, and in a short span of time, I got a few commissions. During my school days, Turner, Rembrandt, Constable, Whistler and many others have stood on my easel.
PML: You could have made a fortune as a forger.
RA: Not very long ago a long lost friend contacted me on Facebook and reminded me her father had bought two paintings of mine when I was 15 years old. She sent me a photograph of Salisbury Cathedral, originally painted by John Constable. Although I could see my mistakes, I was surprised that these attempts were not bad at all.
PML: When did the surrealism creep in?
RA: It was many years later, in my early 20’s that my work showed any signs of leaning towards surrealism. I was very much a traditionalist, wanting to learn the trade of painting, the techniques, before wandering off into alleys of weird and wonderful ideas. My approach to art as a young man did me a huge favour although I was not aware of it at the time.
PML: Perhaps, nowadays, the originality of the idea is more important than technique?
RA: Most definitely, but the problem is that an artist has a million ideas but 900.000 of them should be trashed before they are executed. They are simply not worth it. Then another couple of 10’s of thousands might be amusing, but on closer inspection should be recorded in a sketch book as a reference.
RA: I am not particularly proud of what our last decennia have brought us, the Jeffrey Koons, The Tracy Emmet’s, The Damien Hirst’s, all exponents of a derogatory hallucinating and fraudulent form of making a living from having absolutely no talent at all. The fact that galleries have always dictated what sells and does not sell is part of our culture. But we can now safely say that, as long as it is big and shiny and maybe interesting as a tiny idea, it will sell. It is the story of the artist, the words, the racket rather than the joy of the conception of the work that now prevails.
PML: Where does this tendency come from?
RA: Obviously the current trend of indifference and the need for bite-sized glossy and appealing results. Also, and I know I am treading on thin ice and many will disagree with my point of view, but the first one who did this was my fellow countryman Vincent Gogh. It wasn’t his fault. He was not aware of it. But he was one of the first artists whose character became a story, a book, a romantic novel of a failed artist supported by his brother.
PML: You can't deny he was ahead of his time though? No one painted like him.
RA: That is a lame excuse. One could argue, and I tend to very often, that, in the latter stages of his life, Rembrandt was far ahead of his time with his technique. I’d put forward he was the first impressionist. In fact, nobody paints like anyone else. Vincent van Gogh did not show any revolutionary aspect in his specific field of ‘expertise’ , nor does his work have an amazing masterly quality we can relate to. It is the work of a maniac. His paintings were and are awful, technically as well as intellectually.
PML: His paintings are alive with movement and colour...
RA: There is that, but let’s face it, there were many others in his time who did a better job. If anyone can convince me otherwise I'd like to meet them. I truly believe that I might be able to convince them. I know it is a bit of a rant but hey, the injustice of this ‘industry’ is sometimes unbearable, and I feel someone has to have the guts to say things as they are.PML: What is your current project?
RA: I am working on a painting with a huge Cauliflower. The title is ‘Je n'aime pas le choufleur’ a reference to Rene Margritte’s series the most famous one being "Ceci n'est pas une pipe."
PML: Is this a commission or do you just like cauliflowers?
RA: I don’t do commissions. I just make my own stuff. Cauliflowers are quite nice until they are overcooked. They get this nasty odour, something between rotten fruit and a urinal that hasn't been cleaned for a while. Not palatable at all. In the UK they usually then cover it in cheese sauce to seal in the smell, and then kill it some more in the oven. So I avoid them in that state like the plague. But seeing a cauliflower in the sky, fresh, like a sun beaming caulirays into my landscape, seemed a lovely idea and just made me feel very good. Of course there is more to it than that, but I will leave that to the observers. I mustn't make it out to be bigger than it is. It is just a cauliflower in the sky.
PML: And when you've finished that?
RA: I am going to paint a painting without a huge cauliflower.