Posts Tagged ‘Jan Steen’

The artist as employee in making new antique clocks. ( auto-biography)

August 5, 2015

The VW Kombi

The first weeks were spent getting good bedding and turning the heating on. It was early May and still surprisingly cold.  We enrolled both our daughters in the local kindergarten school.  Our son  stayed home as he was still a baby.  Soon after we bought a VW Kombi bus. The VW bus  popularity was a world-wide phenomenon. There was an unwritten law that drivers of those VW buses would dip their headlights while passing each other on the road. Most often those drivers were anti-war. Both sexes grew long hair, smoked bongs, drank cheap red wine and listened to Bridge over troubled Waters.

We also had to establish our citizenship and get enrolled into all the different levels of the Dutch bureaucracy which is fairly complicated but generous. Child endowment, unemployment relief, all sorts of taxation requirements, getting banking accounts fixed. All went reasonably smooth and when things had settled I enrolled myself at an employment office seeking work as an ‘artist’. Much to my surprise and within a few days I was notified about a vacancy for an artist. An artist skilled in landscape techniques. It was about a twenty minute drive from where we were living. I was so intrigued. Can you believe this?

I turned up for the interview which was at a factory that made imitation grandfather clocks. Those clocks were apparently selling like hot cakes, exported world wide, especially the ‘Friesian stand-up clock’ with a swinging pendulum and hand painted clock dial. All had to be genuinely ‘hand painted’. This is where the job of the artist came in, specifically my skill as the artist landscape or sky/sea scape specialist. If possible it would be best if the clock dials were painted in a genuine ‘style’. A kind of mixture between a Hobbema or Vermeer would do.

I felt that it might be well worth the experience and after whipping out a quick little sample of a wind-mill and some sea-gulls was given the job. From what I could see on some of the clocks with hand-painted dials the previous painter wasn’t really skilled in faking an old master in any genre. The factory making the clocks was actually part of a much larger consortium doing all sorts of things including exporting tulips to America. I was in good hands. The salary was not bad either. Remember how I had taken lessons from Ronald Peters at the Parramatta ambulance hall in the late fifties early sixties in painting landscapes with a receding sky and dappled effects on gum tree trunks? Well, all this was now coming to fruition at the clock factory.

Those clocks were really amazing. The actual body of the grandfather clock was made from something that was poured in a mould. When taken out of the mould a brown stain was sprayed over it and, lo and behold, it looked like ‘genuine’ oak’. The actual grain of the oak was part of the mould. Amazing fake that could not be improved upon. Of course, today everything is fake. Reading only yesterday on a bottle of maple syrup at Aldi in small lettering  ‘flavoured’.

At the same time as my clock dial painting career took off, we also bought an original Dutch farm house with a soaring upwards part tiled and part thatched roof typical of that Northern area. Many traditional old Dutch farms had both people and cows inside during winter under the same roof. Hay that was cut during summer was stored inside together with cows and people. One reason for those high roofs was to stack the hay. It was all very cosy, intimate and above all in winter nice and warm. The cows heated the place up better than central heating ever could. Of course we did not keep cows and did have central heating installed.

The clock dial painting went very well. The management was very happy. A lot depended on the attractiveness of the clock face. They were bought solely on their looks.  The seagulls especially were very real. The manager said ‘they seem to follow me around the room’. I was emboldened to such a degree I managed to do the production of clock dial painting at home on the farm. Once a week I would drive over and hand the works of art in and pick up a box of blank  clock faces in return. As long as I did about fifty dials a week, all would be happy. I had achieved a fairly relaxed way of earning a salary and as yet had no need to apply for the Government artist salary. That was yet to come!

Of course, the clocks were super kitsch and some might query the moral fibre of someone happily doing that, but…who was I to not experience the life of a paid artist. Did not Jan Steen (1626-1679) run a tavern, had nine children and two wives.? What about Pieter Brueghel before (1525-1569), with his rejected ‘The Blind leading the Blind?’ There is hope for all Dutchmen!

We all make the best of circumstance.