Someone asked, “Did you already have a vivid imagination when you were a youngster?” and “When did you start to paint?”
Already as a young lad in the Lowlands, I observed the various cloud formations, imagining faces and creatures. Also I was intrigued by the spectrum-coloured patterns from gasoline oil in rain puddles. The designs “Father Frost” made on windowpanes boggled my imagination. (See my children’s story on our website.) And what about the patterns on cows?
But it was a lengthy illness that revealed the presence of ‘talent’. One November a neglected cold morphed into pneumonia, then pleurisy, soon developing into TB on both lungs and all five lobes. I was seriously ill.
This was 1952, in Holland, just before streptomycin. Surgery was not possible since both lungs were affected.
I was taken to Zonnestraal Sanatorium (Zonnestraal means “Sunbeam”), located in an oak and pine forest. It was vital to have something to do, and also not to worry. (TB used to be called “consumption”.) The above photograph shows what it looked like many years later, when it had been abandoned.
Worry has the opposite effect for healing. We did handicrafts including covers for photo albums from X-rays of deceased patients.
TB is a strange illness. You feel “okay”, but you can’t get out of bed. Our individual rooms had no windows, but a deck. The nurse would wheel our beds outside for the fresh pine air.
I asked the nurse if she could put a string across the foot of my bed. We strung peanuts along it and soon I had feathered visitors just three feet away, delicately pecking the nuts and leaving some of the shells hanging on the string! Just imagine.
Rabbits, birds, clouds, trees --- all day long I’d quietly observe and notice. One day an artist from the nearby town suggested we should try painting. I was keen. And thus it began. This kept us from worrying and have something to do. Nowadays it’s “Art Therapy”. Then it was “be occupied or you’ll wither away”.
I made sketches and worked in chalk pastel. Oil pastels weren’t available yet, but interestingly upon my release from the Sanatorium 3 years later, oil pastels came onto the market. But chalk pastels make a mess in the bed. The nurses were not amused. This was different from the bird visits.
Then I switched to watercolours and oil. Turpentine and linseed-oil smells were not a bother since we had the deck. At first I copied works by van Gogh and Gauguin from postcards. Then I painted realistic still lifes, objects and subjects.
Much later, the doctor confided to my father I’d taken years off the illness because of my positive nature and the joy discovered in painting. So, to answer that question, this is how my career in art began. And that’s where today’s blog post ends.