Esthetics as a passion

Mark Rietmeijer is as a teacher "sculpting in stone" attached to the Koorenhuis. With a member of the editorial staff he had a Koorenhuis, The Haque. Teacher : Mark Rietmeijer, Sculptor, Stonecarverconversation about his motives and way of teaching.

How did you come to be a sculptor?

After a study in road- and hydraulic engineering, in the early 70's I was employed by building companies, architects and the offshore. But that turned out not to be my cup of tea. I wondered what I did want to do. As a child I was always busy with pottering, drawing, making things in clay and the like. So I came to making sculptures. In '76 I could rent a studio, where I began.

Do I gather you are self-taught?

Yes, that's right. Academies, well, they seemed not the right step for me to make, too busy. As soon as I had my own studio I went on like mad making sculptures, a kind of humanlike figures, mostly as a therapy. Then for two more years I made torsos from model and after that I searched abstraction. Recalling Brancusi I say: "Do not copy the bird but his ability to fly." Much more dynamic!

Did you always work in marble?

I started working in clay, plaster and wax. I learned how to make moulds and how to cast in concrete, aluminiumcement and granito. Not until '82 I started carving in stone. In the garden of my studio I found a piece of stone I thought to be marble. Later on that even turned out to be statuario (a very crystalline, unveined sort of Italian marble). It had been buried there by a local Studio Mark Rietmeijer, Sculptor, Stonecarver, Philosophersculptor, named Georg Graff, who had build the four studio's of which I rented one. Then I bought tools and started carving. I had always had the idea that such was very difficult, but after a couple of days I realized I could do it. After that very first experience Ibecame devoted...!

Where do you find marble for the courses?

Strictly spoken marble is not stone at al. The base material is the external skeleton of marine animals, which deposited between 200 millions and 10 millions of years ago as chalk on the bottom of the seas. After they ran dry, the chalk sediments became metamorphosed to marble by coverage of other earth layers under high pressure and temperature. For the courses we use marble roller stones, that are picked up from the riverbeds in the vicinity of Carrara. To the course-members I use to say: now your stone is still rough, but when you grind and polish your form the veins do show up, which you may consider as a present for your hard labor.

Does carving in stone need much physical strength?

No, for many women visit the courses and they show that carving in stone has nothing to do with physical strength. Whether you can do it or not is a matter of mentality. You must be able to make contact with the stone.

What line do you take in courses?

Previously I forbid the members to start from a concept, a model, a plan or a strategy. This method is called: "taille-directe". Literally that means: "direct-carving". Nowadays, due to the excessive confrontation with images, people have a lot of formal idioms at their disposal. That is why I tell the members: "forget everything, just carve an interesting dent in the stone and see what happens." What do you see? You split up the amorphous mass, you create two or three separate volumes which you try to link together again in an exciting way. Thus something comes into being that looks like form. It is a kind of action/reaction-synthesis, splendidly phrased by Heidegger: "carving in stone is like clearing-out and arranging a room in one and the same act." And I slow that down to: "at first you clear away, then you define what is left, and subsequently arrange that." In general the members are all on wires. They soon have got the hang of it. Yet before we start I ask them to clay in the blind. I turn off the lights and give them something to cover their eyes. The aim is feeling with your hands. Afterwards I let them guess and up till now everyone knows exactly to point out her or his own form.

Do you push the course-members to work abstract?

In a sense working abstract is easier. Previous experience in plastic materials is needed to carve a torso or a portrait in stone directly. Most of the time I advise the members: when it tends to look like anything in the outside world, put it upward down and start again.

How do you experience teaching?

I think teaching to be very instructive to myself and very nice to do. In due course, when the sculptures gain form, to me it is a simultaneous effort to accompany all sorts of forms and ideas.

Is there much interest in your courses?

In 1990 I started one course and now there are five, three of which in solid stone (Italian and Portuguese marble, Belgian and Irish blackstone and whatever stone the advanced members meet on their trips throughout Europe) and two courses in soft stone (soapstone, alabaster, French limestone, serpentine, springstone etc.). In various courses there is a 'core' of members who have been sculpting for years already.

And how about the interest in your own work?

Dance! Mark Rietmeijer, sculptor, stonecarver, philosopherMy sculptures are very expensive, for blocks of marble are high-priced. Meanwhile making a sculpture takes me more than a year, but every two or three years I do sell one. Carving in stone has disappeared from the international mainstream. In galleries contemporary sculptures in stone are rarely to be seen. Likewise there are no more than three professional stone-cutters in The Hague at the moment, while on the other hand public gusto towards sculpting in stone is evident. My work is considered as traditional. I go for beauty, esthetics is my passion.


Mark Rietmeijer, Sculptor, Stonecarver, Philosopher
Mark Rietmeijer
Slijkeinde 56
2513 VD Den Haag
The Netherlands