21 September - 22 October 2000



Breaking a plank


While studying in the Netherlands, ´78-´79, I had the opportunity to exhibit in the remarkable Lóa gallery, at Blomgracht in Amsterdam.


I Immediately mentioned the idea to my friend Douwe Jan Bakker. After a long and careful contemplation, Douwe suggested that this would be a quite an experience for me, a newcomer to preparation, designing and installation of an art exhibition.


Around ten days later he joined me in Maastricht, were I was studying, and helped with the preparation and selecting of works. Having realised that the body of work would hardly fill half the gallery space, we spent ten additional days in Maastricht´s nicest bars  contemplating what to call such an exhibition. One day, having finished a few bottles of “genevier” and four bottles of calvados, Douwe came up with a name: “Half the Gallery Doubles the Work”. “Yes”, I said, full of admiration.


With the assistance of my friend Kees Visser, the work was now transported to Amsterdam.

The most important object in the exhibition, was purchased in Amsterdam. It was a plank, between three and four meters long. Douwe knew of a plank store, not far away from the gallery. Along the narrow streets of Amsterdam, on our way back, we stopped at a few bars for a chat and to rest our weary bones. The most remarkable thing about the plank was that it felt considerbly lighter after each bar.


The idea was to break the plank in half, leaning one half against the wall, the other half on the floor. This was a thick plank. Douwe wanted to lay the plank from the top of the gallery entrance stairs down to the floor. Then jump on the plank breaking it in half. Well, Douwe jumped and jumped, but with no luck, springing back into the gallery. Finally locking ourselves together in a tight embrace we both jumped on the plank. But still the plank would not break.


After quite a lot of jumping, we sat down to rest ourselves and decide what measures to take. Ten minutes later Douwe Jan came up with the soulution how to break the plank precisely without expelling physical strength.





It has been said that Douwe Jan Bakker, having polished his wooden sculptures with the finest of sandpaper, would give the final touch by licking them with his tongue.


I can´t remember having received a letter, postcard, or just a snip of paper containing a recipie or joke from him that he hadn´t taken great pains in creating, trimming and polishing. To watch him produce a pen when something demanded an explanation was delight. His hands, which often trembled, steered the pen with great skill, and delicate pictures came to life on paper. Thus lucidness triumphed over chaos. This was usually followed by a long, complex joke, then Douwe would burst out laughing.


But it wasn´t just the innermost and the smallest that bore witness to his meticulousness. All his work was in respect created in this manner, from the first drawings and initial sketches to the finished piece. The completed work, be it a sculpture, drawing or photograph, revealed that which is beyond our vocabulary. It could be a window on nature, the landscape or the unknown. Douwe was continuously researching and explaning, yet without simplyfying or stripping away that which had previously been unintelligible. His work was never dry research, it was art.


To Icelanders Douwe was a visitor who dealt with that which in their eyes should have been obvious, and made it part of his universe. It might well have been too common, everyday to them, or invisible due to a lack of contemplation? Or, that the environment wasn´t susceptible to research of that nature. Using Icelandic heritage as a source he added to it, and thus his work merged with it. One could say that Douwe was an Icelandic artist living in the Netherlands, it just was the other way around.


Douwe´s life´s work is a continious thread. He devoted himself to long-term projects, with the occasional turning of the page. This was clear in his 1996 retrospective exhibition in Haag. One could see how one piece led to another, and newer work referred to the older ones. This may be compared to observing a river from its source, seeing it grow as it flows to the sea. His later works are (calmer), yet at the same time more visual, without an obvioius reference to objective reality. What were once words and objects become forms and lines constantly mutating.





In August 1997 Douwe visited Iceland to collect materials for works based on the concept of flowing water; rivers and streams in the Icelandic landscape. For many years Dowue had mentioned this plan of his. The result was to take the form of drawings.


Before leaving the country Douwe showed me around 20 rolls of slide film. The pictures reveal water reflecting various forms in the mid summer landscape. A small selection of these images are exhibited here as work-in-progress.


Much of Douwe´s work produced during the middle of his career was executed in an almost systematical, scientific manner. His latter work on the other hand, is more open and subtle, coming close to a pure expression of emotion. It wouldn´t surprise me if his third Icelandic project had developed further in this direction.


I was extremely fortunate to accompany Douwe on one of his photographic excursions. Keldur in Rangárvellir was one of Douwe´s favourite places. It was there that everything that captivated him merged: ancient architecture in a remarkable landscape; around a meandering stream. For a number of hours I accompanied Douwe . He sauntered, grave and silent, stopping now and then to photograph. Witnessing this deeply affected me, in a way that is diffucult to articulate, only to say that the sum total of these alternative points of  view opened me to a new vision, as true art often does. That place, its details and overall feeling, flowed into  some unfathomable totality.


A week later Douwe died at his home in Haarlem.