Where it’s at

The wordless stories of Jaap Helder

Wed, 07/01/2020 - 10:15am

Story Location:
53 Townsend Avenue
Boothbay Harbor  Maine  04538
United States

The modern abstract painting in front of me draws me into its surreal world … An oval mirror near its center draws me in. I see a figure of a woman inside it. I cannot tell if she is standing or seated. She appears to be looking straight ahead at a shadow figure standing in a doorway. Who is it? And where does the doorway lead? Is temptation encouraging her to join the unknown figure into another realm of being or consciousness?

Whatever happens, it will be intense, Look! A rectangular shape outside the mirror below is of combustible reds and oranges … the closely knit netting pattern inside moving to a helter skelter rhythm … then, my eye moving left, a white cross – perhaps representing the first aid she will need after passing into the unknown with the stranger? And, then, beyond the cross, a blue shape with a more relaxed netting pattern. She can rest there. Recover herself … she is in a safety net.

Hey, mirrors are portals of sorts, are they not?

The painting, entitled “Swoon,” is one of Dutch artist Jaap Eduard Helder’s works included in his show at Studio 53 opening July 3. Twenty of the Round Pond-based artist’s paintings will be included in his showing of modern abstracts on the first floor of the gallery. Helder, who paints exclusively in acrylic, joins watercolorist Tony van Hasselt as the second “Dutch Master” at the Boothbay Harbor gallery.

“I only work on wood panels – my favorite size is 24” x 24”, “ Helder shared. “My method is so (pauses) … expressive. Layers of paint, scraping with metal combs, palette knives, sandpaper, screwdrivers … I would tear paper or canvas apart” he shared. “It’s “a totally intuitive process – no cerebral thought at all.”

Those layers of paint begin with a layer of black Gesso that primes the board, and is exceptional for artists as into texturing. After this application, Helder said, “I smear paint around and eventually it will tell me what to do and where to go.” How does he know when a painting is done? “When there’s nothing left to add or subtract … when I’m in love.” There’s something about the lilt in his voice when he says “in love” that informed me of the joy Jaap derives from his art and his exploration of the natural world around him – beginning in The Netherlands.

Helder was born in Velsen. His childhood visuals included major industrial images, sounds and corresponding olfactory. His father, also a painter, was employed at the largest steel mill and as an adult Helder did a stint at the mill, too.

“We lived on the canal that bordered the North Sea so there was a lot of traffic – fishing tankers on the water … and the coal trains at the mill. Love the beauty of decay, or the decay of beauty. I take lots of photographs in junkyards, of old cars, trucks, boats ...”

The effects his process have through his layers of paint and texturizing are deceptively evident in a new work in the show, “Quarry.” I think I spent a bit too much time magnifying this painting on my computer, but … it was worth it! One special touch: a peg board. Now, that may not sound like much, but … the colors in this one are not uniformly bold; there are various shades of white, pale golds, yellows and oranges … Since moving to Round Pond about 18 months ago, Helder has been living on the edge of a quarry. As I spent some time living in this painting, I saw the layers of rock and earth beneath the blue sea above. The textures from the peg board, metal comb and whatever else he used marking a passage of, and ravages of, time I imagine not even Jacques Cousteau ever saw … I could see one example of why Helder likens his process to a geological expedition; as he sands he discovers marks created earlier in the process.

In addition to Holland, Helder also carries the visuals of life lived in Israel and Ireland before moving to Maine; and his continuing love of primitive African arts. About five years ago, he worked burlap into his work, in strips and larger pieces, exploring the new textures he could create. One of his paintings completed during that period, a 36” x 36”, will be in the show: “The Theater of the Unseen.”

I had to get a sneak peek at that one. Having appeared on several community theater stages over my three decades here and my love of the occult … well … he had me at the title! The burlap shapes brought stage curtains to mind – each one different, each one a veil … covering or protecting what lies beneath … what could it be? Could the “theater” be memory? Could each veil be a coverlet for an important memory – good and bad – that remains unseen yet is always present? The colors Helder chose for each “curtain” belie the type of memory it preserves or protects … Yes, this will be the first piece I see in the July 3 show.

Helder speaks of the magic that can happen while painting … that place, that emotion, that force that seems to come from within and without simultaneously.

“I just want to make a good painting and what you see in there is fine with me. I like to say they are stories without words.”

I say let the conversation begin!

Studio 53 is at 53 Townsend Ave. Meet the artist from 5 to 7 p.m. during the First Friday and show reception in the Sculpture Garden behind the gallery.