Ink Circus. Works on paper by Gèr Boosten 

from 21 March to 21 June 2015

In parallel with the Städel exhibition, a display of works on paper by the painter, draughtsman and printmaker Gèr Boosten opens on 21 March in the basement of the Hôtel Lévis-Mirepoix. Boosten was born in Maastricht in 1947, and lived there until 1996, when he and his family settled in France. For the last ten years he has lived and worked in a converted hangar in the village of Poilly-lez-Gien, 140 kilometres to the south of Paris. Boosten is a Dutch-born artist with, as he says himself, a French spirit, so an exhibition of his drawings in the Paris house of a Dutch drawing collection seems entirely appropriate.

In staging shows like this, the Fondation Custodia turns the spotlight on contemporary artists who know their Classics. They are not nostalgic, but they do have an understanding of the history of drawing. They are artists who have no desire to break with tradition, but seek to continue it; artists for whom the work of the draughtsmen of the Renaissance, the Golden Age and Modernism is still a source of inspiration today. In the recent past the Rue de Lille has hosted, among others, Peter Vos’s Metamorphosis drawings, and, earlier this year, the works on paper by painter and sculptor Arie Schippers.

For Gèr Boosten, the tradition in which he draws goes much further back than the Renaissance. He feels a kinship with prehistoric cave artists. ‘Not that I want to copy them, make prehistoric drawings myself. But in those wall drawings you see for the first time a monumentality, an artistic spiritual force, conveyed in such a way that we are still astounded by it in the twenty-first century. In my own drawings I want to build a magnetic field, too, a tension between the black and the white. An open structure, comparable to the structure of the stars in the night sky. When I go outside in the evening and stand on the plateau near my house and look up at the stars, I understand very clearly what prehistoric man felt. They tried to take what they saw up above and place it down here. Stones with a hole in them have been found in France: this was the lens they looked through. In fact this hole is the rectangle of a drawing. The frame. Two hundred and fifty thousand years ago we were already looking for a frame, and we are still exploring our place in the universe within frameworks like this. I believe that every drawing should be a reflection of the universe.’

Tango, 06/01/2014
Indian ink, 50 × 65 cm

Boosten sets the bar high. And not just formally, with that tension between black and white, but with the subjects of his drawings. As a toddler in his father’s studio he was already drawing what he imagined when he heard news reports about the disastrous floods in Zeeland and the Korean War. Around 1970 he was an exchange student in Yugoslavia, where he hung around with gypsies, alcoholics and prostitutes. ‘Looking back, I can see that that time in Belgrade was the basis of the whole of the rest of my life. It was a harsh world, and I’ve captured that in my work: the mess, the mud, the poverty, the sharp definition. It lay there for the taking and I thought it was fantastic. Life and death were very close.’

On his return to the Netherlands Boosten graduated with drawings and paintings of crowds of ordinary people, crammed together in buses and trams or smoking and drinking at large tables. He drew people pushing and shoving, mini rebellions and murders. The setting is often stage-like: the figures stand and lie on the wooden planks of a shed floor or on a piece of flat land stretching in perspective to a high horizon. Beds, tables and stoves look like pieces of scenery, curtains and washing lines like stage wings.

After taking his finals at the Jan van Eyck Academy in Maastricht, Boosten stayed on and took a course in set design. His teacher, the painter, printmaker and set designer Nicolaas Wijnberg (1918-2006), soon became a good friend. In the nineteen-seventies Boosten designed sets for the Groot Limburgs Toneel and the Amsterdam theatre group Globe. His sets for Hugo Claus’s plays Suiker  (Sugar) and Een bruid in de morgen (A Bride in the Morning) have a great deal in common with his ‘Yugoslavian’ etchings and drawings.

Ger Luijten of the Fondation Custodia came across Gèr Boosten’s work a decade or so ago, when he was the keeper of the Rijksprentenkabinet in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The first etchings and drawings by Boosten came into the collection there as part of the Nicolaas Wijnberg bequest. More works were added to the group later in consultation with Boosten. Last year Boosten gave a series of etchings to the Fondation Custodia.

The exhibition at the Fondation includes some of these etchings and other early prints, a selection from Boosten’s sketchbooks and a series of large pen and ink drawings he made recently. In these new drawings, men and women are struck by flying chairs and shoes or by stones from space. They are attacked by dogs and wolves or by one another. People are injured, people are killed. Boosten’s work is as theatrical as ever and still deals with la condition humaine.

‘It is very existential,’ he says himself. ‘It is to do with the plays of Beckett and Ionesco, and Pasolini’s films. My work is not an indictment, absolutely not. I don’t make these etchings to say just look at what a mess it all is. No, it’s a kind of serenity, it’s behold mankind. Ecce homo. We could all end up in the gutter. You only have to go through a divorce. First you lose your house, then you sleep in your car, and the next thing you know you’re in the gutter. It’s only too possible. I can put myself in the position of people who commit a crime or are supposedly mad. I don’t think I can do anything about the evils in the world, my reach is too short, but I’m an artist and I can do something with that. Like Pasolini or Lars van Trier, like Rembrandt, Grünewald and De Gheyn.’

Gijsbert van der Wal


Ink Circus Works on paper by Gèr Boosten / Inktcircus. Werk op papier van Gèr Boosten
Gijsbert van der Wal
Fondation Custodia, Paris and De Weideblik, Varik, 2015
152 pp, ca. 128 pl, 27 × 27 cm, hardcover, in French and in Dutch
ISBN 978 90 77767 55 9
Price: 25,00 €

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