with the material
Close to the centre of The Hague, in "het Zeeheldenkwartier"
[the Sea Heroes Quarter], lies the studio of the sculptor MarkRietmeijer
('48). It is spacious and, of course, dust pervades the atmosphere,
something that cannot be avoided when working in stone called
marble. Because of the dust you immediately notice the overwhelming
light which gives each of the sculptures that are present an additional
identity and gloss. Tools such as hammers and chisels, grinding
and polishing equipment addan extradimension to the chaos.
But it is out of this total chaos that sublime order is created.
An old, dull saxophone, completelycovered in dust, stands in a
corner as a silent witness to the almost musical harmony that
Rietmeijer knows how tocreate betweenthought, form and material.
Mark Rietmeijer has been sculpting for more than twenty years.
His background incidentally is more technical than artistic. After
having followed a university level education in road and hydraulic
engineering and an additional course in concrete construction,
for a number of years he worked at civil engineering companies
and in the offshore industry. But after a few years he could no
longer avoid his calling. He didn't feel at home in the purely
technical climate and thus started to explore his artistic boundaries.
In the mean time he had started to read philosophy and attend
lectures at the faculty in Leiden. He also took evening classes
for a year and a half at the Social Academy in The Hague and busied
himself with singing and playing guitar, percussion and saxophone.
Finally in 1977 Rietmeijer rented a studio on the Roggeveenstraat.
In this former studio of the sculptor George Graff, he began to
sculpt. Since then a clear progression can be seen in his work.
He began by studying the archetypal forms by making torsos in
clay, but after about three years, in 1980, he started "stacking"
elements in space. This resulted in beautiful shell-, bird- and
cactuslike forms in granito. The local council of The Hague purchased
a number of works from this period. The ability to work the material
(granito consists of splinters of rock, cemented together) and
especially its appearance were in no way comparable to that of
marble. Rietmeijer discovered this in I984 when, by accident,
he found a piece of marble buried in thick layers of chalk in
the garden of his studio. The former owner probably buried it
there. "The first careful attempt at carving into, what for
me was a totally unknown material, was a sort of homecoming after
a long period of roaming", he said. In the same period Rietmeijer
discovered the legacy of the linguistic philosophers of this century:
De Saussure, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Jakobson, Barthes, Lacan,
Kristeva are just a few of the linguistic philosophers whose books
That knowledge and inspiration, in combination with his starting
to work in marble, laid the foundation for two important new periods
in his work.
foundations for the period '88-'92, in which alchemy was his main
source of inspiration, Rietmeijer found in a book written by Michael
Maier. He had taken that book with him on a trip to Terschelling
and, as he read, the inspiration and manner of working of the
old alchemists gripped him. Alchemy's ideal, the predecessor of
our modern, scientific chemistry, was - alongside the search for
the secret of eternal youth - the transmutation of base metals
into precious metals: in common parlance "changing lead into
gold". With our modern scientific knowledge we know that
this is impossible, but a few hundred years ago there was no reason
to suggest that material could not be transmuted. The transmutation
of lead into gold was only a question of time and magic. The alchemists
used imagery to express the progress, the success or failure,
of their experiments in words. Rietmeijer's work "Atalanta
Fugiens"('88) is therefore a symbol of the imagery of the
alchemists. "Atalanta Fugiens" was the term used by
the ancient alchemists to describe the escape of white smoke from
their smelting ovens during a phase of the process. Translated
from the Latin this means "the butterfly escapes", where
the white ascending smoke was compared to an escaping butterfly.
The "folded" white marble of the work "Atalanta
Fugiens", the butterfly, in combination with the dark lead
that is plaited through the marble, expresses the desire of the
alchemist to create movement and progress using two different
materials. The work "Desire" is even named after this
longing and consists of a combination of white marble and dark
lead. This combination represents a second symbolism; one, which
originates directly from linguistic philosophy, which Rietmeijer
allowed himself to be inspired by while reading and studying it.
Lead and language have an identical character. Initially both
allow themselves to be bent, folded and formed. But as you change
and fold them more and more, they both become rigid and inflexible.
At that moment the final definitive form is reached. The eventual
inflexibility of the folded language is represented by the form
of the lead; the objective, literal meaning, is folded around
the subjective meaning and the white marble symbolises the metaphor.
This almost automatic comparison of material with language plays
an increasingly prominent role in the life and works of Rietmeijer.
Rietmeijer's increasing interest in philosophical aesthetics and
especially the philosophy of language is increasingly reflected
in the inspiration for a number of his later sculptures. Bridging
the field of tension between language and sculpture is now his
main motive. The metaphor as the most important rhetorical model
plays a significant role in the process of forming his sculptures.
This imagery provides the objective side of language, dance and
music and visual arts their subjective value. Rietmeijer clarifies
his vision with some examples. "If we try to describe in
words that which happens invisibly inside ourselves, we call on
those concrete things that we can experience with our senses.
We feel ourselves 'as happy as a sand boy', 'as free as a bird',
'on top of the world'; the imagery in our language is an important
model that allows us to express our thoughts and feelings. The
metaphor is the model of choice that we use in language to convince
the person we are addressing of the deeper meaning of what we
are saying", he explains.
The philosophy of language in sculpture
Language, which is always searching for meaning, by using imagery,
reaches for matter, to tangible images, to achieve an understanding
with the listener. In Rietmeijer's work the focus is put on the
controversy between the meaning and the added meaning. Language
and sculpture are similar in that neither can convey absolute
meaning. As the meaning of a word arises from its links with other
words, so also does a sculpture have different meaning dependent
on the surroundings. Put more strongly: the surroundings and the
observer only fix the meanings of a sculpture for a moment.
The power to convince that is contained in a language also applies
to works of sculpture; a good sculpture is good because it convinces.
With this the process for both language and sculpture is about
the search for convincing moments, in the assertion: "Even
in my own work I can do nothing but speak metaphorically. For
me sculpting is working on or around a boundary; work on the boundary
that takes place in a no-man's-land between the not yet and the
already visible". Just as the thought, that which is unspoken
in language, remains shrouded, so the material, for which Rietmeijer
has not yet determined the final form, remains invisible. During
the process of carving out the form he considers and moves in
the most physical of ways the boundary between the sculpture and
the negative space that surrounds it. Until, what is for him,
the most natural incidence of light and reflection is achieved.
Rietmeijer: "Once again: sculpting is for me moving through
the boundary between language and image; I work, step back, stare,
think, new words form in my mind, what I have made up to now begins
to speak and a text forms which, only after a reversed metaphorical
process, lets itself be re-translated into matter, in new action
The striking appearance of Rietmeijer himself complements the
unique whole of materials in his studio. This is certainly the
casewhen he makes the sign of the cross while standing next to
the sculpture that he is working on at this moment. The motive
for this is probably more superstitious than religious, because
he explains that today he must do some "thin carving".
That is carving a flowing form, two and a half to three centimetres
thick, from a solid block of stone. Rietmeijer has concentrated
on this technique since '91. It requires a great deal of practice,
concentration and above all patience. "For this work you
must not be in a hurry. If you're too hasty and careless it can
go wrong. The stone can break, which will ruin the complete form
of the sculpture. The imagery no longer works; the sculpture becomes
like a story in which words are missing. So that the meaning and
cohesion are pulled apart", he says fatalistically. The use
of "thin carving" arises from Rietmeijer's current ceramic
vision of material and styling. The sculptures are as thin as
leaves, flowing and transparent. The dynamism, the interaction
of the image with light and space gives Rietmeijer's recent sculptures
an unprecedented liveliness and movement. In an imitation of Brancusi,
Rietmeijer states his opinion that it is not about portraying
the bird, but about portraying flight; the movement. At the same
time autobiographical elements come to the fore. An obvious example
is the work "Move" ('95), which is currently on a show
together with other sculptures from his collection. It is a flowing,
almost organic form that appears to dance in space. As if at any
moment it can be picked up by the wind and carried off. The masculine
and feminine element, both inextricably bound up with Rietmeijer's
androgynous personality, arise from an undulating movement to
emphasise the presence of the two sexes in the life and character
of each other. This symbolism gives 'Move' her distinguished expressiveness
and eloquence. "Move is actually my most autobiographical
work", comments Rietmeijer, "it is a perceptible and
tangible result of the tensions in my own life".
Dialogue with the material
Meanwhile, in his view the best thing will be to let symbolism
for what it is as an outlook that is linked to Rietmeijer's way
of working. In contrast to for instance Michelangelo, the Italian
master from the Renaissance, who said that his sculptures already
existed in form (he only carved away the excess material that
surrounded them), Rietmeijer enters a dialogue with the material.
He starts on a sculpture without a plan, without 'premeditation'
as he says. The eventual form will develop through a constant
dialogue: the material communicates with the sculptor as the sculptor
communicates with the material. Carving a form from stone or marble
is a process that contains within it casting out and filling in
at the same time. The eventual form of the sculpture develops
in an organic way, almost automatically. Ground and polished,
the final appearance and form of the material can, more or less,
be called natural, as if the form has been created through thousands
of years of exposure to wind or water. And here, there is also
a comparison with alchemy; when transmuting materials, not only
"magic" but also "time" was one of the factors
that influenced the change of one material into another. The process
needs time to let it complete; the changes in the original form
take place along the way. Rietmeijer adds this same aspect, almost
as an extension of nature, to the material with which he works.
He speeds up the natural shaping process, so that the inner elements
of the material as well as the external, the actions of the sculptor,
influence the final result. By now Rietmeijer's works can be found
in the Dutch Consulate in New York ("Dancing with questions",'93)
and in the hall of the Ministry of justice in The Hague ("Tongue
and Blade",'94). Since 1978 Rietmeijer's work has been on
display in over 40 exhibitions both in the region and abroad.
In addition to his sculpting activities he works as a teacher
of sculpture at "the Koorenhuis" in The Hague and gives
invitation classes at creative centres in Voorburg and Delft.
2513 VD Den Haag