More from the August 13, 2022 Memorial Gathering for Henri van Bentum: offering by Dr. Seonaigh MacPherson


Henri van Bentum in Petra, Jordan

Henri van Bentum: A Life of Amplitude - by Seonaigh MacPherson

"I have been invited to say a few words about Henri as a friend and collector of his art. Yet, my first contact was with Henri as a teacher, so I would like to start there.


Our first contact was in a colour workshop Henri offered in Vancouver in 1987. In this workshop, he demonstrated how through three simple primary colours - red, blue, and yellow - the entire universe of colour could be generated.

As evidence, he had us prepare our own colour wheels. This reflected one of the abiding things Henri has shared with me - through instruction or by example - to return to the fundamentals.

It was a kind of simplicity, as he called it, or practicality, that was as apparent in his art as in his cooking, which focused on simple, nutritious ingredients combined to produce taste, health, pleasure, and stimulating conversation in equal measure.

The second thing I learned from Henri was creativity in living, not just in art. He modelled and embodied how, through modest means, it was possible to create a life of amplitude.

This is a rather odd word or phrase that came to me as I contemplated Henri, so I thought to check up the meaning of the term in the Meriam-Webster dictionary.

While commonly known to signify the size of a wavelength in physics, the definitions continued on to describe qualities of character rather than matter. In these cases, amplitude referred to an extent of dignity, excellence, or splendour or, alternatively, the quality or state of being ample as in fullness, abundance.
Henri van Bentum, crew member aboard "Esperanza", sailing from Ibiza to Italy 1961

This encapsulates for me the kind of creativity in living manifested by both Henri and Natasha - the cultivation, through modest means, of a life of dignity, excellence, and splendour that resulted in a sense of a full and abundant life.

The third thing I learned from Henri is one of the qualities ascribed to the motto of the City of Amsterdam's coat of arms described on the program: steadfastness.

In this case, he taught me through example and instruction the meaning of integrity, loyalty, and being there.


This final quality of being steadfast was something I valued deeply in our friendship as well - a kind of persistence, loyalty, consistency, and presence of duration.

Over the years, Henri and Natasha offered me a kind of refuge as I moved around the country and globe, a touchstone or reference point to return to over the years.

The second quality I valued was the sense of nourishment and enrichment I found over the years in his company. This included delicious meals, as described, which Henri tended to prepare, but extended to the rich colours and textures of his and Natasha's apartment, art, and clothing, collected from around their travels around the globe.

And so too it included enriching conversations and ideas, which were as much a part of the meals and overall experience as the appetizers, wine, main courses, and desserts.

Finally, I valued his quality of caring, a kind and generous capacity to take interest in the lives and well being of others.

As many of us, who knew him well appreciated, Henri could be fierce in defence of integrity and high standards of conduct. This ferocity was a kind of circle of fire that, once penetrated or crossed, welcomed us into his circle of care.


Why do I collect his art? Because just as he and Natasha gave me refuge in their home and friendship, his art and artistic vision continues to give me refuge every day in my home.

When despondent or deflated through one or another reason, I let my gaze fall on one or another of his canvasses to uplift me.

As others have pointed out, it is their use of light, colour, and perspective that give them this capacity to uplift.

As a sidebar, when I frequented Henri and Natasha's house for dinner while completing my doctoral studies at UBC, Henri like to tease me that I was becoming a Paper-Head Dummy (Ph.D.).

There was something very accurate in all that. I recall a doctoral seminar room in which dozens of chairs were stacked at the back of the room with no pictures on the wall, not even a poster.

It was as if as we reached this apex of education, we were somehow scaffolded out of our senses, as if beauty and awareness no longer mattered, to be replaced by a kind of abstract conceptualism.

In contrast, while Henri is known as an abstract artist, his approach to the abstract is distinctive - perhaps it might be called an abstract ecology.

It is this unique perspective in his art that invites a sense of connection to realities beyond the ordinary appearance of things - both to the cosmos, as has been well represented here, but also to the biological.

As above, so below.

Indeed, it is this biological resonance in his art that has drawn me to collect his work. In his canvasses, I don't merely see artfully placed shapes and colours, but echoes of our biological embeddedness.

Don't get me wrong: He did not paint them to be representational. Rather, they reflect his unique perception and an imagination that springs from nature itself.

In his abstractions, we see the resonance of the microcosm and macrocosm, implicit in the beauty of his forms.

"Coral Dream", acrylic on paper, 1965, Henri van Bentum

As an example, I have brought two of my favourite paintings of his. The first is "Coral Dream", an acrylic on paper, the first painting I bought of his when still a doctoral student. I wanted to invest in this rich life of the senses and feel that it wasn't something I was abandoning in pursuit of that paper-head dummy!

To better share with you my experience of these paintings, I perused the Internet for close up photographs of coral and found this image -- (here Seonaigh holds up a picture) --- that shows how closely his perception paralleled coral in the wild.

"Spatial Rhythms #2", watercolour on paper, 1983, Henri van Bentum

Likewise, the second painting, a watercolour, from his Spatial Rhythms series, always reminded me of chromosomes lining up to form DNA. Sure enough, when I looked for electron microscopic images of chromosomes, I found this picture --- (Seonaigh holds up another photo) --- with such close parallels to the abstract painting.

In this way, I hope you can join me in appreciating Henri's unique approach to abstract art as a way to perceive our interconnection with the microcosm of the Earth just as it echoes, too, the macrocosm.

So, thank you Henri, for having enriched my life and for living a life of amplitude. Thank you to all of you as well for sharing in this appreciation and celebration of his life."

Seonaigh MacPherson with Tashi


You are invited to visit  "Remembering Henri van Bentum", a new landing page

featuring several existing, and legacy projects. 

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