A story worth telling

Since 1993, Dutch artist Marcel van Eeden has been doing a drawing a day of events that occurred before November 22, 1965, the day on which he was born.

Marcel van Eeden art (photo credit: Courtesy)
Marcel van Eeden art
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Marcel van Eeden is a storyteller. He lets his art do the talking, and it speaks volumes.
His work tells stories both fictional and real, utilizing a myriad of media. For his first exhibition at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, the renowned Dutch artist weaves a story together using words and images from the past and present; creating a dazzling display of time, textures and tones. Marcel’s work is at once mysterious and enthralling; like a detective novel sprung to life across the canvas.
How did you initially know you wanted to be an artist?
I did not grow up with art or literature. So I always wanted to be a policeman.
But then when I was 15, I met a girl and her parents had a lot of books; really bookshelves from the floor to the ceiling. Her stepfather was really cool, a kind of a hippie, and then I realized that art was not that boring at all. It was all of a sudden clear for me that art could mean freedom, and that you could work and live with your own set of rules that you make up yourself, and not your boss or your parents. I then also realized that my fate would be working in an insurance office or something like that, and for me that seemed like a horror. (I was not sporty enough to become a police officer anyway.) What inspires you? The past: I am still intrigued by old pictures that were taken before I was born. That is what all my work is about. The things you can see, the light on a surface, that dates from a time or a moment in which you yourself were not alive.
There seems to be a theme of guns in a lot of your work, can you talk about that?
I just like to use strong images, and guns are just like explosions or fires.
How do you choose the captions that often accompany your art?
I always use old texts that I find in books, magazines, on Google, or somewhere. But those stories could no longer be coherent, so now, since it’s been many years, I write them myself. But it always has to be set in a time before my birth.
Can you describe your creative process?
I just start working, but it depends on the situation. For the larger series that I made, I am often using the places where I show, like now in Tel Aviv.
For some previous series, they all had to do with the places where I show.
They are all connected to each other to make one big story with a lot of suspense.
How did you decide which pieces to choose for your exhibition in Tel Aviv?
The first thing is that I always work with images that predate my birth, with no exception. I use those images sometimes as single drawings, or I make drawn “collages” in which I combine different photos in one drawing. But often, and this is the case with this Tel Aviv show, I make my own stories. (Before, I used existing stories, but that became too unclear). In all the stories, I use old material from before 1965 as kind of LEGO bricks to build new stories that are based on historical facts, but are actually fiction.
There are three protagonists who are always the same guys: Mateus Boryna, Oswald Sollmann, and K. M. Wiegand.
The big story starts around 1910, when the protagonists are young and DaDa-artists in Zurich, and develops until around 1960, when all three become museum directors, as well as spies and murderers.
For the museum in Tel Aviv, I made a new story, which is also part of the bigger story. It is about the founding of the museum in 1930. In my story Meir Dizengoff, the first mayor of Tel Aviv and also the founder of the museum, is traveling around to find people and artists that will donate work for the new museum. He ends up in Antwerp in 1930, at the Worlds Fair, and meets Oswald Sollmann, an art dealer and also museum director at that time. Sollmann is just back from Iraq, where he did excavations, because he is also an archaeologist.
Anton Tijtgat, another art dealer, is also at this meeting. He is a fictional character. There is also Maurice Lewin, who is a historical figure. Mr. Lewin actually donated some works to the museum, by James Ensor. Those works of Ensor are still in the museum, and will be a part of the show.
Another meeting takes place some hours later, which is where all the suspense comes in, involving a secret mission in Iraq and a mysterious death. This story is told in pictures that look a bit like comics, which is common in my work.
What kind of music do you listen to when you create?
Music is alway difficult. I often listen to music while working, but nothing too complicated or interesting because that would distract me too much. So what I listen to is mostly not very highbrow, mostly something that gives energy while working.
Loud music with a lot of energy in it, like Pearl Jam, Radiohead, etc.
Or sometimes serial music like Philip Glass or Simeon ten Holt, who is a Dutch composer.
What’s next for you in your career?
I will start a new job this April, as a teacher at an art academy in Germany.
I am planning to concentrate more on teaching and less on shows.
As I am getting older and more experienced, I feel the need to pass on some things to the younger generations.
I hope it will bring them and the art something.
Who is your favorite artist of all time?
Robert Ryman The Marcel van Eeden exhibit opens at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on February 20th. For more info visit www.tamuseum.org.il