Persona June, 25th 2020 by

World Fine Art Professionals and their Key-Pieces, 269 - Niels Smits van Burgst

Niels – 1, to all that lies ahead 1, 2015

World Fine Art Professionals and their Key-Pieces, 269 – Niels Smits van Burgst
Niels Smits van Burgst’s studio is located in a former school near the Sparta stadium. Not long ago I was there to interview a colleague of Niels. This studio is larger and that also fits in with the largest works he makes.

niels – 2, to all that lies ahead 2, 2015

When I enter I see a photo of a roast hare or rabbit on a large screen. On the short wall to the right of the door is the painting Niels is working on. The hare lies on a table in the center front of the painting. Sitting behind, a little slumped a girl and a boy. They sit on a balcony. Niels Smits van Burgst: “The title is Scene on a balcony, no. 3. It is a boy with his girlfriend. In terms of composition, that semicircular table in the center front goes against all the laws of painting. I try to solve it painterly in such a way that it is still possible. “

niels – 3, a sad Event in the Woods, 2015

That boy is more common in Niels’ paintings. “He is a favorite model.” Many paintings by Niels feature boys, usually in groups. You see girls occasionally. It often concerns nightlife situations where people drink a lot. Niels finds the subjects for the paintings in photos on the Internet. “I search randomly for pictures that boys shoot of themselves and each other. Sometimes I come to sites where entire series of those photos can be seen when a group of young people have been to Lloret de Mar or to Ibiza. For example, they sit together in a tent and do nothing special, or hang on a terrace. It should come as no surprise that the photos would ever be used for a painting, they are an imagination of our time and the boys have chosen to put the images publicly on the net. “

niels – 4, le Champ des Vaches revisited, 2015

Niels’ work is all about showing an identity. “Of myself and others. What is it like to be alive as a person, in this decadent Western society? Too much luxury and free time leads to endless boredom. We seem to be shamelessly vegetating, enjoying a conversation about the scapegoats for our malaise, about sex, about how it all happened or the latest gadgets.” Niels: “I try to paint the behavior of groups of people; wanting to withdraw from the group, or on the other hand conforming to the group.”

niels – 5, scene on a balcony, 2015

Master craftsman and apprentice
In one period behavior is central, in the other the ‘external storylines’, as he calls it, prevail. “If one canvas becomes too anecdotal, the next will become a bit more monumental.” The way of painting changes continuously, that happens gradually. Niels: “People say they know my work from about ten years ago. But then it was completely different. This has to do with the angle with which you approach a theme. That differs per painting. When a painting is finished, I see what a weaker spot is. I want to avoid something like that in the next painting. That is why I adjust the way of painting, or the approach to the theme. There are continuous small shifts in working. “
He brings in a small painting that he made ten years ago. You see a master and his apprentice. “Pretty anecdotal. Later, in 2008 I painted again.” An important reason was that he got a bigger studio in 2007. That gave him the opportunity to make larger paintings.

niels – 6, icoon

Airy images
At the top of the right wall (seen from the couch on which I sit) is a series of portraits. They appear to have been recently made. The color structure seems pointillistic. Niels: “I am told that I work impressionist. I put the colors separately on, but for a different reason than Monet. My paintings become more diffuse and mobile because I cannot put my finger on the exact behavior of the depicted persons, nor on their motives. The diffuse makes it seem like there is much more behind it, without you knowing exactly what. It is ambiguous. “
Why does Niels paint like this? “I’ve been wondering for a long time how to line up with other people. When I was young, what I did and said was not consistent with what other people did and said. So I found no connection. I tried to find out what other people got their pleasures from, in order to find a certain connection. I am primarily concerned with the how, less with the what and why.” He has painted many, many airy images of parties or gatherings. Niels: “It seems airy, but it is impossible to gauge, unreliable. Is it really that friendly or can you be kicked in the next moment? “
His website is called Is he one of the modern genre painters? Niels: “When I decided to paint people, I indeed wanted to go this way. Jan Steen is a well-known genre painter. But often, as always, there is morality in his paintings. All kinds of elements stand for certain virtues and vices, with the associated value judgment. The exception is Adriaan Brouwer (1605-1638). He did not care about those moral rules and painted, for example, vomiting people in an honest, judgment-free, non-moralistic way. I wanted to go that way, but less narratively. “

niels – 7, gezel, 2005

Le champ des vaches
He has three key works. The first consists of six separate parts and is five meters long. It was made in 2013/2014. We see a young man with a cloth on his right shoulder, bare-chested and his pants down a little, and all kinds of paint stuff in front of him. The young man looks somewhat like the artist. The work is called ‘Six masturbation scenes’. Niels: “The fact is not interesting in itself. The person is turned inwardly. There is a suggestion of movement through the sequence in the series, but you do not see anything per canvas. I show what remains after disabling the anecdotal. “

niels – 8, Six Masturbation Scenes, 2013

The second key work is very different. We see a landscape five meters wide in three parts. It is from 2015 and is called Le champ des vaches. We see a meadow without cows. Niels: “The painting has almost no subject. I didn’t make the pasture grassy. It is like a wall; there is no view, no way out. You can also see that in my other work; there is a wall, a group of people or a roadside closing off the painting. It is therefore literally hopeless. There is no revolutionary event, there is no battle going on, no progress is possible, it is deliberately insignificant. There is only more to come, in a different way; there is only progress. “
On the third key work we see a blank wall and all kinds of boys in front of it. It is called “Act in a garden; to all that lies ahead “(2015). Niels: “Not a single glance from the boys can be understood; I stand and I look at it; this is what other people show; I didn’t make it up. Nothing else should be allowed to happen in such a painting. In this painting I succeeded for the first time in completely solving a wannabe anecdote in paint. “

niels – 9, pink roses on my table, 2014

On the couch
Niels Smits van Burgst has been an artist since 1993. He studied at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague in the Graphic Design / Typography department. His teachers were the ‘descendants’ of the famous Gerrit Noordzij. “I graduated with abstract, spatial work. I had a good grade list, but for the subject of typography, the teacher concerned only wanted to give me a pass if I would never do typography again. I gladly accepted that condition and the consequence. The first year as an artist I continued with conceptual / spatial work. This resulted in unacceptable decorative work for me, there was no story of contemporary reality. Because I wanted to tell a real story, I started painting people. I also painted landscapes.”
He discovered that humans have no significant depth. “The only thing you can name is the flat image; the rest is a hypothesis.” He had people, models, pose in front of him. “They were sitting here on the couch, doing nothing and that’s how I paint them.”

niels 10 – Room 316 Hotel Jarry

The market
The art world turns out to be just a market. “You have trends that many are following, artists and reviewers. Rotterdam has long been a conceptual stronghold. My work didn’t really fit in there. Simply put, it is like this: an artist makes his thing, he or she sells it, or it piles up. It is of course the best when it is sold. This happens in my work at times. Success depends on all kinds of factors, it also has to do with money, it is a market. It is also a market for reviewers. But personally I am never concerned with money or the market. “
1) To all that lies ahead 1, 190x210cm, 2015, 2) To all that lies ahead 2, 180x320cm, 2015, 3) A sad Event in the Woods, 120x210cm, 2015, 4) Le Champ des Vaches, revisited, 130x500cm, 2015, 5) Scene on a balcony, 140x, 2015, 6) Icoon, Sam 6539, 7) 2005, gezel, 17x25cm, 8) Six Masturbation Scenes, 140x480cm, 2013, 9) Pink roses on my table, 110x120cm, 2014, 10) Room 316, Hotel Jarry, 200x150cm, 2014

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