I think it must be me. This is the third time, in the past few months since I came to Holland, that I have seen an exhibition that has blown my socks off by an artist I had never heard of – much to my shame and chagrin.
Hans Eijkelboom is, like the other two artists I have discovered – Anton Heyboer and Gerard Fieret – Dutch. And, like the others, his work is basically photographic and, also like the others, he is an outsider, an eccentric who doesn’t really fit into any mould. He was born in Arnhem in 1949 and still lives there.
Eijkelboom’s work is entirely based on photographs, but one would not describe him as a photographer. He is a conceptual artist whose tool is the camera and whose means of expression is the photographic image. His pictures are not “good” photographs either, just glorified snap-shots.
Virtually all Eijkelboom’s work involves repetition and sequences, with his early work from the 1970s using himself as subject. There are pictures of him and his family – but in each picture the family is a different one, of him interviewing politicians, interviewing artists (including Heyboer), of him putting on a soldier’s uniform and of him posing as three communists. There is a series of photos (all in the one frame) of eight people trying on his clothes and then the same people dressed in his overalls. It takes a few minutes to get it, to realise what Eijkelboom is up to, but once you do the exhibition is an absolute joy with laugh-out-loud moments.
All the work is project based – Eijkelboom gets an idea and then sets about executing it. He made a series of advertising posters for well-known products with himself as model and he vowed to have his picture in a newspaper every day for a month or whatever it was. However, it was with his later/current work that he settled on a rich and never-ending seam of inspiration. To put it simply, he goes into the street with a camera slung around his neck and a hidden shutter release and photographs ordinary people going about their business, without their knowledge, and frames the results in multiples of a dozen or so. And the outcomes are hilarious and pure genius.
There are frames of photos of twelve men in shorts, fifteen women with Abercrombie and Fitch carrier bags, sixty people wearing Loden coats, twelve women with bare midriffs, twelve women wearing fur lined hoods, fifteen people wearing disposable plastic macs, fifteen bare-chested men roller-skating – there must be over a hundred all together. There are some similar giant works too. There is a whole wall of twenty-eight men wearing light-coloured raincoats at night but it’s the two pieces that, when again he uses himself as model, that are the best. There is one wall covered with fifty framed portrait photos of Eijkelboom, one from every year of his life, accompanied by, in the same frame, the picture of a camera that first appeared in that year. In the other big work we see Eijkelboom standing in the street dressed in thirty-two outfits, each bought for ten Euros. And so it goes on, I didn’t want it to end.
Like Heyboer and Fieret, is Hans Eijkelboom an artist or an eccentric whose work can be described as art? Heyboer and Fieret looked like tramps, Eijkelboom is very ordinary, from his wild long blonde hair and flared denims of the 70s to the unassuming, bespectacled anorak-wearing middle-aged man of the present. Is there a difference between art and eccentricity or, in the case of Heyboer and Fieret madness even? Does one have to describe oneself as, and behave like an artist, in order to be one? Does it matter? I think not, because to me all three of these Dutch eccentrics were geniuses and I am extraordinarily pleased that I have found them.
Sadly, I was late seeing this exhibition, only a couple of days before it closed. Nevertheless, there are books and articles on Hans Eijkelboom and many of the pictures are available online. I urge you to track them down. Michael Hasted 4th January 2018