Tjerk van der Veen








Tjerk van der Veen lets the clay tell the story

By Joop Verschuren
Photos Tjerk van der Veen

Tjerk van der Veen (1955) derives inspiration for his work from geological phenomena like vulcanism, igneous activity, rock formations and geomorphology, and stratigraphy. Furthermore his work comprises elements from the colourful world of lichens, minerals, shells and coral. What is important for the design is the tension originating between form, texture and colour.

Whoever looks at the work of Tjerk van der Veen gets the impression that he collected his objects at the foot of a volcano. The objects seem to be micro-reflections or impressions of geological processes rather than something that you can hold in your hand. You expect smoke and fumes to escape from the mini-craters and fumeroles at any moment.

During his many travels van der Veen was captivated by the phenomena in which lava, eruptions and fire play a role. In Pakistan, Indonesia and China, for example. But the volcanic rocks of the Canary Islands were responsible for his urge to take numerous micro-photographs of their thin multi-coloured layers.

”I find vast scenic panoramas of the countryside to be spectacular but the microworld of igneous rocks fascinates me even more”, says van der Veen. ”I want to create works that seem to have been raked out of the earth’s hearth. I want to elevate barrenness to beauty. I want to capture the colours revealed by the earth in my pots, bowls and other vessels. The cracked skin of the earth, the wind erosion that has taken hold of the compressed strata, experiencing the primal forces in the creation of the earth – these are the elements which influence my work.”

In his previous work, van der Veen always sought a dialogue with clay in which he listened to what the material had to say. He followed the way indicated by the clay and the firing process. In the beginning he fired in the Japanese raku manner. Later he focussed on finding a balance in refined double-walled bowl forms and geometric block shapes. He was also influenced by impressions of deep-sea forms: his later ‘waves’ and bowls, colourful, with strong crackled appearance, betray his penchant for earth colours and forms. Contrast in form, texture and colour were the impetus for his current work in which his drive for perfection becomes clear. The TAO of clay increasingly gains the upper hand. He lets the beauty show through in the roughness of the material. He observes and experiments under the motto ”do, do, do and see what the elements tell me”. The only philosophy he espouses is thus TAO: an ancient Chinese philosophy which involves the fusion of knowledge, experience and intuition. After the battle with the material, the result must be good in one go.

In his design, the pot and bowl shapes are taken as the starting point. He then influences these with colour, engobes or colour slips, and the firing. ”The clay does the rest” says van der Veen enthusiastically. ”Although my intuition often tells me what the firing process will do, the result is still surprising and not entirely predictable.” His shapes are asymmetric, not functional, and they have a more sculptural appearance in contrast to a delicate glazed object. ”Which is fine, but I want to see the weather-beaten effect of wind and water, and not hide the melting and solidification of the material. I don't want to obscure the blowing, fracturing, and folding. The clay is put to the test. It is often unruly and resistant to coercion. The outcome is frequently unsuitable for my purposes.”

Clays are carefully selected, combined and introduced into the melting and firing process. No glazes are used. The primal forces, as it were, are generated at high temperatures in the kiln: an ”eruption in miniature”. After the firing process van der Veen applies chisel and grinding wheel to the object and erodes it with sandblasting. He continues until the material surrenders and accepts the intervention: a new geo-structure is created. It is ready, sometimes on a special wooden display mount, to make its entrance in the human world. In this way there occurs a balance between nature and culture, between rough inelegance and beauty, and between primal processes and control.

According to van der Veen, ”What associations the viewers gets when they see my work often surprise me. The one sees deep-sea elements in it such as coral-like structures, reef formations, and colourful multiform shells. Another experiences fanciful strata, lava structures, lichens, or exceptional minerals. For me it doesn’t matter. What the clay has to say may be interpreted in many ways.”

Is van der Veen's work ceramics or sculpture? Both ways of expression are present and integrated. The pure pot form has evolved into an object. Inspirational, and an invitation to musing about primeval events of which humans have no real concept. Van der Veen lets the material reveal these natural secrets: the clay tells its story. It is still about people; the artist simply tries to control and influence the process.