2020/05/19

How to navigate the blog


Greetings.  This blog contains several hundred posts covering a wide array of topics.  The most recent ones are below.  For a chronological menu of older posts, see the lower left-hand side of this page.
Henri aboard 60' sloop, en route from Ibiza to Pireaus
(For the account about this fateful 1961 voyage, see the post of August 26, 2008)



2020/05/18

From Quartet to Quintet


Our first book, "King Neptune's Jewels with Tails and Fins"
written by Henri van Bentum, illustrations by PJ Heyliger

Our second book, "Nimbert and Tirwinkle in an Enchanted Flower Garden"
written by Henri van Bentum, illustrations by PJ Heyliger


Although it’s usual for me to spend a lot of time at home, during the recent and ongoing Covid-19 lockdown, while we were unable to play our regular Snooker games 4x/week, this situation added extra “staying-put” time.
The invisible killer C. virus has the whole human family globally in its grip. So, what to do? Something memorable perhaps, using the creative little grey cells.

Eureka! Why not write another children’s book, following up the four others? That would make it our fifth, a quintet.

A few email chats with our friend in Arizona, PJ Heyliger, who illustrated the previous four books, settled it.

And so, with the green light, I wrote another story, which PJ will once again illustrate. Already several sketches have seen the light. 


The story is about a Cheshire cat. That’s all we’re telling you, for now. When the book is completed, we’ll be sure to tell you more.

At least the self-isolation during the C.v pandemic will result in something good, as it has given me (and many others) an opportunity to use their creativity.




Our third book, "The Misadventures of Rexie the Damselfish"
written by Henri van Bentum, illustrations by PJ Heyliger

Our fourth book, "The Quickest Claw in the Reef"
written by Henri van Bentum, illustrations by PJ Heyliger


Stay tuned for our fifth book, coming in 2020



2020/05/17

Getting to Age Ninety-One



In Indigenous cultures, when Elders advance in age, this is often expressed as the journey of the four directions, taking them back to the East --- where life began, where the Sun rises -- as part of the eternal cycle. 

Aging is something I can talk about, being 90 years young. Here's an aphorism I wrote nearly fifty years ago:

Where is the line
Is there a line
Where day ends
And night begins

Where is the line
Is there a line
Where autumn of life ends
And winter begins.



Heading towards the 91st orbit in August. How did I get this far?  Well, in my childhood a pretty strong immune system must have developed, because over the past nine decades I’ve ‘slipped on a few banana peels’, as they say, having several experiences on the health-related side. Beginning at age 2.


For those of you who don't know me, what follows might seem a long list of suffering and pain.   


But for the greater part of my life, I’ve been fortunate to have overall good health, and a very rich basket of life experiences, as witnessed by the hundreds of posts on this blog. 


For posterity, here is a brief synopsis:


Henri van Bentum, around age two.

1931: The Netherlands - as a toddler, had Diphtheria. In those days, it was (and still can be) a serious illness.




Henri van Bentum age thirteen in the Netherlands with his Mother
before the mastoid operation described below

1943: During the war, I developed a mastoid (ear) problem called "mastoiditis".  This was a common cause of death in children.

An operation, a mastoidectomy, was essential, but conditions were not good. Many doctors had been taken away by the Germans, so the operation was done by a retired surgeon with less-than-perfectly-steady hands. 


The Ear: here the arrow points to where you can see the proximity 
of the mastoid bone cells to the facial nerve 

“The mastoid bone, which is full of air cells, is part of the temporal bone of the skull. The mastoid air cells are thought to protect the delicate structures of the ear, regulate ear pressure and possibly protect the temporal bone.” 

There is a 1 in 1,000,000 chance that during this procedure the facial nerve could be cut. This is what happened to me -- resulting in paralysis of the right side of my face and losing my hearing in the right ear.

1952: Next, Tuberculosis on both lungs. Spent three years in the Zonnestraal sanatorium in the Netherlands. See my earlier post about this remarkable and pioneering facility connected with the diamond industry (my father was a diamond facetter), now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Zonnestraal TB Sanatorium, near Hilversum, Netherlands

1961: After immigrating to Canada four years earlier, my ear acted up again. Another operation was necessary. But this time, the surgery was done by a very fine doctor who also became a close friend and patron, Dr. Wilfred S. Goodman ("Wilf").  


It was Dr. Goodman who paid for me to travel by train to the Rockies in the summer of 1959, to paint in Banff. This experience is written up elsewhere in this blog, click here.  Later I donated to Wilf and his family all the paintings done in Banff and region.



A friend, patron (during my period of figurative art) and "good" man, 
Ear Nose and Throat specialist, Dr. Wilfred St. Goodman




"Awakening", Henri van Bentum, oil on masonite, 1961. 
Painted after coming out of anaesthetic following ear operation
by Dr. Wilf Goodman, at Toronto General Hospital.
Artist's Private Collection

The oil painting (above) was painted right after surgery. I had asked if I could have my paints and material ready so that when I came out of the anaesthetic, I could capture the feeling.

Not long after this operation, Wilf asked if I would like to observe an ear operation. (Today such a thing would be impossible, for a lay person to be allowed in an operating theatre.)   

I said "Yes".  During the surgery Wilf had a microscope with which he performed the operation, while I was able to observe what was going on, through another microscope. 
Not long after this experience, I created this painting, "The Ear".
"The Ear", Henri van Bentum, oil on masonite, 1961
Painted after observing through a microscope, an ear operation.
Collection of the Goodman Family



1961:  Dr. Wilf Goodman encouraged me to have reconstructive plastic surgery in order to restore some symmetry to my face. 
Dr. Hoyle Campbell (1915-1998), pioneering Reconstructive Plastic Surgeon

The 8-hour operation was performed by the late master reconstructive plastic surgeon, Dr. Hoyle Campbell, in his clinic, the Institute of Traumatic Restorative Plastic Surgery, established in 1956 after he worked at three Toronto hospitals. I didn't have to pay anything.

Dr. Campbell is a legend in his field, and devised many new treatment methods. Dr. Campbell had a wealth of expertise, he had helped many disfigured soldiers after  WWII. 

Henri van Bentum, 1961. Sitting in the garden 
of his boarding house at 150 Walmer Road, Toronto
the day after 8-hour reconstructive plastic surgery performed by Dr. Hoyle Campbell

The surgery succeeded in restoring some symmetry to my face. 


Henri van Bentum, April 1966
Photo by Robert Title, for TIME Magazine

1980: we moved to Banff, Alberta and lived there for five years.  The only health-related incident during our time there was surgery in 1983 for varicose veins in my lower left leg. 


Henri and Natasha van Bentum, Banff 1984. 
Photo taken at home of Paul D. Fleck, President, The Banff Centre



1987: We moved to Vancouver in 1985.  Two years later, on the afternoon of February 13, out of the blue -- a heart attack.  No previous symptoms or warnings.

Thankfully, Natasha just 'happened' to be home from work that day, very unusual for her. 

She got the ambulance there within seven minutes. Because we arrived at St. Paul's Hospital so quickly, damage to the heart was confined to one area, but I had to spend five days in hospital. 
St. Paul's Hospital, Vancouver

However, when I was being released, the doctor tole me to take an aspirin every day, regular dose, instead of low-dose aspirin. Little did I know this would result in stomach bleeding three months later, and yet another trip to hospital. It should have been a low-dose aspirin.



1988: Vancouver – unfortunately the mastoid problem of my youth came back, requiring surgery once again on my ear. 

During this procedure, in spite of my warning the doctor that a lot of reconstructive surgery had taken place in that area and “to be careful”, all the good work of Dr. Hoyle Campbell was undone -- the facial paralysis returned. 

The operation had been necessary, however, since two 'cysts' were discovered and removed.


Natasha and Henri van Bentum, aboard "Marco Polo", 2002
2003: During our time based in Vancouver, Natasha and I had been spending a lot of time on ships, where I gave creative exploration classes and also lectures. 

Late on the evening of Friday, June 21 (the next day we were supposed to sail to Alaska), I started trembling and turning blue. Later we learned this was a sudden onset of Hypoxemia -- a dramatic loss of oxygen.

Natasha came to the rescue once again, since when we arrived at Emergency, the Triage nurse wouldn't let Natasha go in with me.  

Natasha knew she had to explain to the Emergency doctor about my medical history, and let them know I was hard-of-hearing.  

(Due to the facial paralysis, the doctors might assume I’d had a stroke which was not the case.)
Natasha to the rescue

However she persisted and rushed into the large open area of the Emergency area where I was lying on one of many beds (mostly filled with several drunk people, it was Friday night). She said,“You’ve got to save him! He’s a great artist!”


Immediately everything changed. The doctors wheeled me in the “ultra-Emergency” room with specialized equipment and went to work on me for an hour. 

During this hour I nearly went “over the horizon”. The doctors said it was touch and go. NDE.  'Was in St. Paul’s Hospital for five days and underwent numerous tests, all showing up 'normal'. 

The cause of this dramatic and sudden onset of Hypoxemia was completely unknown and the doctors couldn't figure it out.  The doctor who had looked after me the most, a woman from India, called me “her mystery man”.

Increasing deafness in my ‘good ear’

After the 1943 mastoid-operation-gone-wrong of my youth, I’d lost hearing in my right ear. 

Now I was becoming increasingly hard of hearing in my ‘good ear’, the left. Despite having a hearing aid, it was still very difficult to hear.

2004: We moved to Victoria in 2004 and it was only nine years later that another problem arose: 

2015: In the summer of 2015, I was diagnosed with Bladder Cancer, a big surprise.  No pain, good appetite, sleeping well. The only symptom was blood in the urine.


The late Dr. Paul Whelan, urologist and 'life saver'


2015-2017: August 2015 surgery, a "Transurethral Resection", was performed by the late Dr. Paul Whelan: a success, tumours were removed. Appreciation to our family doctor, Mark Sherman, for referring me to Dr. Whelan.

Two years of follow-up treatments were required:  several BCG treatments, two CT Scans and four Cystoscopies.  Elsewhere in this blog I wrote about the bladder cancer experience.


[On a happier note, during this period, between 2015 and 2018, I wrote four children’s stories, illustrated by one of my former art students, PJ Heyliger, who lives in Arizona. See my blog post of April 2018, "It's a Quartet!" ]


2018: Victoria – in March I tripped in our apartment and came down hard on back and head – a “smash hit”.  X-ray revealed a compression fracture of the L1 vertebrae. Six months of pain, but finally healed by itself, without surgery.



After my “smash hit”, we started making use of the helpful Handy Dart service


2019: Victoria – the X-Ray the year before, for the back injury,  also revealed the presence of three Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms ("AAA"'s).  

These are being monitored with CT-Scans since there is a danger the larger of the three could burst, which would be fatal.

2020: Victoria - another CT-Scan booked for early June, to see how the bladder and aneurysms are doing. 

Our very fine family doctor since moving to Victoria, Dr. Mark Sherman
who also teaches mindfulness training to other physicians

And now, we wait . . . 

However, during the recent 'lockdown' for the Covid-19, I've written another children’s story – hopefully to be published this autumn -- which will make it a quintet!



Here we are, with Natasha – my partner, caregiver 
and the "rock" of our household, on her birthday, 2020
(Natasha is wearing a huge gardening hat, a birthday gift from a close friend.)


☼   4 2 3  💀

We realize I’m not alone in having an ‘interesting’ medical history, and ups and downs along the journey of aging. 'But thought I’d share this with you.

Henri van Bentum, 
Victoria, BC   May 2020









2020/05/10

Eighty Years Ago Today - May 10, 1940


Eighty years ago today, I arrived at school to find a big sign posted on the door, "Closed - WAR". 

My walk to school had taken me along my usual route, which took two hours each way --- through farmland, crossing brooks filled with salamanders, walking through the grounds of a small chateau which had a swan lake, peacocks and a rose garden. There was also a Chestnut tree lane -- paradise really for a 10 year old.

Walking back home, suddenly the sky was dark, loud engines above me, German planes. The invasion had begun.

Back home, I found mother crying, being comforted by my father. 

From that day onward, my formal school days ended forever and five years of suffering followed.  The war ended when I was 15. 

I didn't return to a school of any kind until much later, to the Ontario College of Art, in 1959.  There I lasted just five months of a 3-year course. (My teacher and mentor Jock (J.W.G. Macdonald recommended I not continue, for more about this see my blog "Jock Macdonald Remembered".)

Thought I'd share this memory with you, brought on by the eightieth anniversary of the invasion.




2020/04/29

Remembering Ann Southam

This week we published a new blog in honour of Ann Southam (1937 - 2010). The tenth anniversary of her passing is coming up in November.  Ann was a composer and dear friend. It's an essay in Five Parts, below is a screen capture from the start of Part One.

2020/04/03

Reflections on my "Organiverse" series - background, history, thoughts


Art, Meditation, Ecology 

Atom by Atom - Dot by Dot

Mandala #3 from set of #100, Organiverse
Pointillism, 8.5 cm diameter, by Henri van Bentum

 Art
Created in Morocco and the island of Madeira. My work is in over 225 public and private collections around the world. All 100 mandalas are done in pointillism, dot by dot. The original Organiverse portfolio consists of twenty-five pages, each with four spherical drawings 8.5 cm in diameter.

"The work of Henri van Bentum reminds us of organic processes on the cosmic and microcosmic levels. His work helps me understand the vastness, complexity and beauty of the cosmos. van Bentum's work is executed with a fine sense of colour and other elements. I see his work as a paradigm for enduring works of art in the future." Former Professor Leslie Mezei, Computer Sciences, U of T.

Quote from the former Curator, National Gallery of Canada, Prints and Drawings:
“The technique of the [Organiverse] drawings is comprised of finely-tuned transparent and opaque layers of colour. This play of contrasts gives the work a three-dimensional quality enhanced by a delicate luminosity. The colours are complicated and would require a sensitive use of colour separation. In order to maintain the integrity of the original drawing imagery and effect, the most articulate reproductive methods would have to be utilized.” 
Rosemary L. Tovell, Curator, Canadian Prints and Drawings National Gallery of Canada, 1979


Meditation
Organiverse is a meditational aid or 21st century kasina device. It is used to enhance meditation practice. 

“Organiverse is a glimpse into the multilayered beauty of all that is Life. These mandalas offer an immense opportunity for healing and for a heart-based understanding of who we are physically, emotionally and spiritually. A dance of colour, form and contemplation.”

Dr. Mark Sherman, MDCM, CCFP
  

Ecology
Back in the 1950's I was already looking at environmental issues. I've always advocated ‘Small is Beautiful’ and work on a small scale, using a minimum of resources for maximum results.

Click here for details about the Organiverse rotation handset which comes with a wood container made from recovered wood from Vancouver Island.
 Photo of the Organiverse handheld set

Notes on the original Organiverse Portfolio

This unique series of pointillism mandalas was started in Morocco in 1972.  Natasha and I were living in the former Phoenician fishing village of Essaouira, and afterwards moved to the island of Madeira where the work was completed.

The original Organiverse portfolio consists of twenty-five pages, each with four spherical drawings 8 cm in diameter. The work was made into a 35mm colour and sound short film by filmmaker Julius Kohanyi in 1973. He was commissioned for this project by the Ontario Arts Council. Since that time, the film has represented Canada in major international film festivals around the world.

My motivation in creating Organiverse was to have it reproduced in a limited edition and made available to libraries, art schools, universities and museums. Although pleased with the film’s success, my goal had not been realized. The contemplative nature of the work, with its refined visual sensibility and meditative characters, was lost on the huge 35mm theatre screens.

Over the years, I tried to get the Organiverse Portfolio printed. However an accurate rendering of the colour was impossible owing to the pointillist technique (using traditional printing technology).

However, through a partnership with Hewlett Packard (HP), the portfolio was scanned and reproduced using the latest HP imaging technology, in a limited edition of twenty-five sets.

These scans were further used to create the new Organiverse: Art Meditation Ecology set, featuring each mandala on a separate card.

Creation of the new "Starry Night" edition of ORGANIVERSE

Following a successful experiment with HP, we had a reverse edition of the original Organiverse set created, called “Starry Night”.  I would like to thank Joe Carr, Brian W. Johnson and Garry Sedun for their technical assistance.  Click here to watch videos of both the original, and the Starry Night editions.

Mandala #25 from the set of #100, 
"Starry Night" edition of Organiverse, Henri van Bentum

Statement by the Artist

"While we are occupied with our daily existence, a great mystery takes place: Life, evolving in every form, from micro to the macro cosmos. We on our planet Earth finally begin to realize there may be other life in the Universe.

With this project, we share insights into this enigma called life, embracing art, science and ecology a timeless universalism of growth, evolution or genesis --- we have the microscope and telescope within, and an unknown destiny. This work also embraces the interplay and relationship of Colour. It is further a study in organic development. The invisible is made visible, through dots.

We are biologically no more nor less than dots --- atoms. The planets and even the Sun are only a spot in space, depending from where you look. We have seen, when astronauts go further and further away from Earth, our receding planet then quickly disappears into what one astronaut simply called a dot.

We leave our own world behind, and find a new and alien world, until eventually we leave even that, continuing further to another dot, only to discover that it is again an unknown giant in space.

All life has a beginning, be it the birth of plankton, a whale, lichen, an oak tree, a mouse, and elephant or human being. All comes out of darkness the womb, the cosmic egg. Beyond darkness and ignorance there awaits Light."

Henri van Bentum, written in 1972






2020/01/09

Honouring KABIR



"The flute of  the Infinite is played
without ceasing, and its sound is love;
When love renounces all limits, 
it reaches truth.
How widely the fragrance spreads!
It has no end, nothing stands in its way.
The form of this melody is bright 
like a million suns;
incomparably sounds the veena,
the veena of the notes of truth.'

Kabir (born around 1440)