Persona April, 27th 2023 by

World Fine Art Professionals and their Key-Pieces, 412 - Cees Smit

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World Fine Art Professionals and their Key-Pieces, 412 – Cees Smit

Paul Schaublin’s gas station exhibition at the WM Gallery in Amsterdam at the end of 2021 led to many reactions. A book ‘Searching for the Soul of Service Stations’ was published with various photos and also paintings (also new ones) of gas stations.

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Following this, there was a short reprise of the exhibition, also with some new works and a mini-exhibition of various petrol stations by Cees Smit. One of Cees Smit’s petrol stations, a green-blue Citroën DS, also know in France as Déesse (Goddess), in front of Garage Boots gas station in Schoorl, is included in Schaublin’s book.

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Surviving with hemophilia

I speak to Cees Smit in the room where his paintings hang. On the table in the middle – next to postcards of his work – are two stacks of books. It is his autobiography, one stack is the English version and the other stack is the Dutch one. The cover features a futuristic-looking gas station against the backdrop of hills and a dark evening sky. On the roof of the station it says ‘GAS’, and behind it, the brightly lit shop on the roof says ‘PLASMA’.

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The book is called ‘Surviving hemophilia, a road trip through the world of healthcare’. He wrote it in the period 2018 – 2020 and various paintings also ended up in the book. Cees Smit: “I read an article by Sarah Smarsh, the author of ‘Heartland’, which outlined the lives of American blood / plasma donors. These are often poor people who desperately need the money they have earned with donating their blood to pay the rent, groceries and petrol for the car. When the main character who just donated his blood in the blood center gets into his car, he says a quick prayer, hoping that he still has enough gas to reach the gas station. That was the inspiration for a whole series of paintings.”

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Cees Smit was born in 1951 with a rare disease, severe haemophilia. There were too few proteins for his blood to clot properly. As a result, he often suffered from internal bleeding in his joints. The doctors tried to do something about it with the DES hormone. That turned out to be a wrong decision. His growth was stunted. He’s still a little man. It wasn’t until he was 16/17 that a more effective treatment was introduced by infusing protein plasma into the body, initially three times a week, now once a week.

Usually the plasma came from voluntary donors from the Netherlands. But sometimes there was a shortage and foreign plasma was also used. in the 1980s, American blood plasma was found to be contaminated with HIV and the hepatitis C virus. “In America there was a wrong selection of donors, especially people without money and prisoners, often also drug users. They often donated blood, sometimes twice a week. Hepatitis and HIV entered the blood / plasma and many plasma users, including hemophiliacs, became infected.” Also Cees Smit. He is cured of the hepatitis, but he still takes medication for HIV.

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The disease played an all-important role in his life. He started writing about it with the journalist Piet Hagen, he also became active in the Dutch association of hemophilia patients, where he became editor of the magazine Factor. He did research, came into contact with specialized doctors and hospitals and went to international conferences. He has written several articles in professional journals and books on the subject. It became a ‘career in hemophilia’. He received an honorary doctorate from the University of Amsterdam for his services to the patient movement. He is currently a lobbyist for the rights of people with a chronic illness and for improving the position of patients in health care.

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Painting course in the Morvan

Cees has been painting on an amateur basis since 2000. In September of that year he and my wife went on holiday to France, where they had signed up for a painting course given by Janna Spil in Larochemillay, a village of about a hundred inhabitants in the Morvan in Burgundy. That holiday was a great success. He never thought painting would be something for him. “We did that for 17 years – sometimes two to three times a year – until our painting teacher passed away.” He does it with great pleasure and learns something new every time. “Over the years I have started to make more daring color combinations. The style has become a bit more realistic.”

More gas station paintings are on the way, including from gas stations in Germany, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Austria.

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Does he have a key work?

He has. It is the painting on the cover of the book, also the first painting in this article, it is a free interpretation of the petrol station in Dronten. The other paintings are variations. He painted a total of 25, half of which were sold.

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What is his experience of art life?

“Through the courses in France, also from other painters, I learned a lot. As a result, you learn to look at a landscape differently. In my HBS (Highschool) time I was already interested in paintings. I saw Hopper in the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. People sometimes say: ‘you work à la Hopper’. I also go to museums for inspiration. This is my first time exhibiting in a gallery. I am a member of Atelier Bergen (NH), and I sometimes exhibit there as well. And I’ve exhibited in a few other places. That way you get to know the art world.”

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Finally, what is his philosophy?

“It is looking and painting. And occasional inspiration. But most of all keep going, keep going.”

Photo 10: portrait Cees Smit by Pete Purnell

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