Sjaak Smetsers – A playful alchemist in Tegelen 

Visual artist Sjaak Smetsers (Venlo, 1954) occupies a position of his own in the lively Venlo art scene. In his studio in Tegelen he has created a huge army of fabulous figures over a period of many years. The predominantly polychrome creatures with delicately finished ‘skins’ are constructed with acute deliberation. Like a supermechanic Sjaak Smetsers assembles his unique figures step by step. He composes them by means of different disciplines and various techniques from entirely different and at times even conflicting materials. His works of art are never generated at one go. Each individual piece is the result of a scrupulously selected combination of mixed media.

Like a playful alchemist Sjaak Smetsers thinks up original combinations for each new sculpture. If time permits he casts bronze himself; also tools copper, steel or (silver) tin, melts or fuses various kinds of glass, ingeniously applies gold leaf, silver leaf and metal foil and also manufactures ceramics that can be functionally incorporated.

In addition, he grinds, sands and polishes the bronze and induces the patina on all his bronze sculptures himself. Mustering great patience and dedication, he conjures up hues and shades of colour that we would have great difficulty finding in nature.

A number of sculptures are embellished with conspicuous belts. Some of those belts are made of copper. Underneath some belts we see glued sheet glass, which has been subtly tooled with hammers and tongs to create a ‘crumbling’ effect.

Drawing inspiration also from the innovative Romans, who introduced wonderful varieties of glass to this region as early as two thousand years ago, Smetsers devotes a rather large portion of his time to the personal tooling and artistic conversion of various kinds of glass. Thus, he uses his professional glass furnace to melt coloured glass into transparent fused glass and he melts copper leaf, gold or silver into natural glass.

Sjaak Smetsers’ three-dimensional fabulous creatures dovetail intrinsically with a long West-European cultural tradition. They may already be found in the 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th centuries, depicted mainly within apocalyptic settings on portals or on flying buttresses of Roman and Gothic churches.

Around 1500 we encounter them in the extraordinarily peculiar work by Jheronimus Bosch and later also with the members of the Brueghel family. In the latter half of the 19th and the early 20th century fabulous creatures with more morbid and villainous features pop up in the work made by symbolist and surrealist artists such as Max Ernst and Joan Miró.

After the Second World War we find imaginary mythical beings in all kinds of variants – from aggressive to naïve – among the Cobra artists Karel Appel, Eugène Brands, Constant, Corneille, Asger Jorn, Lucebert and Anton Rooskens. Some of these famous artists used to work as ceramists in Tegelen, which has always enjoyed a cultural atmosphere.

The unusual, contemporary work by Sjaak Smetsers links up with a long art tradition, yet it is simultaneously founded on a highly original footing as regards his ideas and their execution. Surely that is no fable. Furthermore, Sjaak is just a very congenial and open human being, artist and entrepreneur.

 

 

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