Persona September, 7th 2023 by

World Fine Art Professionals and their Key-Pieces, 431 - Marieke Bolhuis

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World Fine Art Professionals and their Key-Pieces, 431 – Marieke Bolhuis

At the sculpture exhibition Voorhout Monumental on the Lange Voorhout in The Hague I saw the sculpture She is Giant. A very large woman, with three long orange-red legs on her feet/hooves, a short chest and a huge head with big eyes, a big nose and red lips. At the back, her head ended in a number of protruding riveted strands of hair. A centaur-like lady. She looked a little drowsy in her eyes.

The sculpture had made me curious enough to learn more about it. I went to the Houthaven area in Amsterdam, a whole new neighborhood with spacious high-rise houses and canals, to talk to the creator of the sculpture, Marieke Bolhuis.

Home studio

She receives me in her home studio. Just outside Amsterdam, in Lijnden, she has her actual large studio. Dozens, perhaps a hundred ceramic statues of human figures of about 50 centimeters are standing on the floor and on shelves. A taller figure hangs from the ceiling, doing a somersault. An Icarus in his fall.

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The lady on the Voorhout indeed appears to be a centaur (horse-human) figure, I hear from Marieke. “I had previously made a sculpture of a centaur girl in the Haarlemmerhout in Haarlem. The lady in The Hague is a little more human, and a little less horse. She is big, a giant, 3.10 meters high, hence the title She is Giant.” She even appears to have four eyes, two of which look at you. That leaves a lot of room for interpretation, and that is also the intention.

It’s not a masculine sculpture, she adds. “I don’t fall into the trap of those tough male statues, proudly seated on their horse or standing on a pedestal as a (sea) hero. She is a big woman, but I don’t necessarily show her strength, but also her vulnerability. I am looking for a form in which emotion can be found. HRH Princess Beatrix, to me she is still queen, asked me at the opening of the exhibition ‘Why do you paint your sculptures?’ I told her that in my work I like to refer to other sculptures, and also to paintings. The statues of the Greeks, Romans and also those of the early Middle Ages were painted, often with bright colours. I am a painter by profession. That really appealed to me. With the shape of the sculpture you can show many aspects, but if you also use color, you can show even more details, even more layers.”

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Discussion session

After the opening, there was a discussion session in the Kloosterkerk, also on the Lange Voorhout. HRH Princess Beatrix could have chosen three interlocutors. And so Bolhuis sat at one table with Zeger Reyers, Harmke Datema Chang and Beatrix. “A majority of women at the table. I loved her invitation. Because the majority of the makers of the outdoor sculptures were men.”

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Paint first

Marieke has been making sculptures since 2012. She painted for a very long time, mainly landscapes and especially about what people do to the landscape.” Because she became allergic to oil paint, she stopped painting and started making installations. At the age of 16 she had already read the Report of the Club of Rome and her installations dealt with the traces of man in the environment, which was also reflected in her paintings.

It was about dumping nuclear waste, about a new road through the forest of Amelisweerd. After the death of her sister, who died in 2003, attention shifted to the great stories of life on earth and the emergence of civilization. “Where did the great stories begin? In fertile areas, in volcanic areas. So I went to the area of ancient Mesopotamia and other countries.” She was three times with her installations at the Oerol Festival and she also exhibited in W139, the artspace in the Warmoesstraat.

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A digital printer

In this way she could not present much more than one work per year. She wanted to show more and it was a godsend that she became acquainted with the digital printer at AGA LAB in Amsterdam. And she also discovered the collage. With the help of printer and collage she was able to make large prints. She showed them in Japan and New York, among others. Then came the financial crisis of 2008/2009 and she was thrown back to the garden shed of her allotment garden, which she transformed into a studio. “I started very simply again, with my feet in the earth. I made simple shapes with cement, straw and clay.” I see a few more standing in one of the cupboards, a figure of about 80 cm high. And she also used the glass of broken bus shelters. I also see a copy of that.

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Snow White

On an invitation to participate in a sculpture presentation in a garden, she made her first Snow White. Followed by two more snow whites and a life-size version, with seven helpers, of course in a small size. She made them from clay, bitumen and glass, the basic materials that also started civilization. Finally three great Snow Whites came. That was about ten years ago. With those three large figures she has made 40 / 50 new images, transforming the original images, repainting them, sometimes leaving them in the ditch, often sawing off their legs. “It was all possible with three figures. Three not very graceful ladies, but three raw ladies. It was great, one great journey of discovery. My ideas kept getting sharper.”

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In the monastery

Other mythological figures followed such as Ophelia, Leda, Flora, Justitia, Atlas, Narcissus, Bacchus, Icarus and Lucifer. And also the first centaur. The male heroes were given a female interpretation. There was also humor in it. With the square flat world on the shoulders of Atlas, she commented with humor on the impossibility of rewriting history and the current lack of chance of true equality. She played chess, as it were, with the three statues, making new moves all the time. In 2017 she spent six weeks in the lock monastery in Oosterhout as one of the artists of the H3H Biennale, Art in the Sacred Triangle. Slowly she gained the confidence of the nuns. She received remnants of a former textile workshop of the monastery, including three sacks of silk. She wrapped them around her statue, including the bobbins, so that the statue was spun in like a spider’s web. “Just as the sisters of the convent were also woven into the convent.” The lower part was another Snow White. Complete metamorphoses followed. She placed a billboard of the image on the wall outside, which slowly eroded. “That illustrated their lives.” Horses also appeared in her oeuvre, non-heroic horses. Because horses are sensitive and vulnerable. In Not bambi, it’s about balance she showed a spinning horse on a string.

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Art Chapel

In 2019 she had the seven-day exhibition, The extended Studio, in the Art Chapel (Kunstkapel) in Amsterdam. For the first time she came out with her new sculptures, as well as the images on mirror aluminum, a negative black and white image next to a positive color image of her earlier works, which together form her archive. Stijn van Santen filmed the process in the Art Chapel. The spectator

who looks at the mirrors also briefly becomes part of the work. For seven days, interested parties could follow the development of the exhibition on Facebook. In the same year, 2019, Jan Moeyaert, the curator of the Art Festival Watou in Belgium, saw her work on the Internet and invited her for an installation. In 2021, Cyntha van Heeswijck invited her to participate in ArtZuid 2021 in Amsterdam. Her Big Sister sculptures – 2.35 to 250 meters in size – appeared in two locations: the eldest Big Sister came at Amsterdam-South Station, her younger three Sisters were given a place in the Apollolaan. The same year, 2021, she was invited by Hib Anninga to one of his spaces at his sculpture park, which she did with some statues and mirrors.

Ceramic Center EKCW

It started to go well. Perhaps what gave her work the biggest boost was her three-month work period at Keramisch Centrum EKCW in Oisterwijk. “I had never worked with clay before. It was corona time, I worked like an animal. The others did too. The only thing that interrupted it was that once every 15 days you had to prepare the meal for the whole group.” She made figurines of 80 centimeters high. All different figures, with different colors each time. I see them standing around me. “An amazing production. I made a total of 150.”

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A three-dimensional painting

A word about the large sculptures: they consist of a steel armature and EPS (Expanded Polystyrene, also known as Styrofoam) surrounds it. A polyurea layer is applied over this in a coating factory, thin layers of three/four millimetres. From the factory it goes to her studio, where she paints with a brush on the images with DD lacquer. “Paint comes on all sides, including the back. The story on the back is a different story than on the front. It is a three-dimensional painting, sometimes with hollows at the back of the face where, if you look closely, you can see a new face, like one of the three Sisters. All Sisters have now been sold to private collectors and with the proceeds she has been able to take out a mortgage on her new studio in Lijnden.

She will continue with ceramics for the time being and also with the large works. She plans to paint the image She is Giant again for an exhibition in art space MOYA. Three exhibitions are coming up in Belgium. “The story continues and I think it is important to share the process with interested parties. In my studio I have sculptures that have never been exhibited, but have had their public moment on the online media.” The mirrors form her archive, and there is also her website and Instagram.

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What is her experience of art life?

“From the Art Chapel exhibition, my work and the interest in it have continued at an insane pace. Things are going well and I can focus 100 percent on work. It took a while to get there. You have to be a bit lucky and get your chances on all fronts.”

Finally, what is her philosophy?

“My work is very much about life and my quest. It’s about dialogue and empowerment. I think it’s important that the work resonates.”


1) SHE is GIANT, 2) SHE is GIANT, talking with HRM Beatrix, photo Jurjen Donkers, 3) SHE is GIANT detail, 4) GIANT Centaur GIRL, 5) Not Bambi its about balance, 6) Marieke Bolhuis Oosterhout Abbey, 7) Big Sister, EPS Polyurea, 70x50x240cm, 2021, 8) Anningahof, 9) GODHEAD, 2022, 10) Marieke Bolhuis

1) SHE is GIANT, 2) SHE is GIANT, talking with HRM Beatrix, photo Jurjen Donkers, 3) SHE is GIANT detail, 4) GIANT Centaur GIRL, 5) Not Bambi its about balance, 6) Marieke Bolhuis Abdij Oosterhout, 7) Big Sister, EPS Polyurea, 70x50x240cm, 2021, 8) Anningahof, 9) GODHEAD, 2022, 10) Marieke Bolhuis Bolhuis solo Art Chapel by Stijn van Santen – YouTube

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