A dialogue 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 Studio Mark Rietmeijer, Sculptor, Stonecarver, Philosopherchaos. 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
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 he read.
That knowledge and inspiration, in combination with his starting to work in marble, laid the foundation for two important new periods in his work.


Atalanta Fugiens
Marble sculpture Atalanta Fugiens  by  Mark Rietmeijer, Sculptor, Stonecarver, PhilosopherThe 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 and forms".


Move Marbe Sculpture 'Move' by  Mark Rietmeijer, Sculptor, Stonecarver, Philosopher
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 marbleMarble Sculpture Tongue and Blade by :  Mark Rietmeijer, Sculptor, Stonecarver, Philosopher 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.


Mark Rietmeijer, Sculptor, Stonecarver, Philosopher
Mark Rietmeijer
Slijkeinde 56
2513 VD Den Haag
T:
06-49873715
The Netherlands
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