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Tribute to Koos van Ellinckhuijzen (1942 to 2016)

Avatar of inke inke - 16. September 2016 - Discover Namibia

One of Koos van Ellinckhuijzen’s artworks. (Source: Republikein 16/09/2016)

Enduring Imagination. Koos van Ellinckhuijzen, artist, sculptor, musician, poet, skydiver, amateur astronomer, writer, philosopher, Visionary, outsider, invested with a free spirit fired by genius, died on September 5th, aged 73.

While taking his cue from surrealist/illusionist artists M.C. Escher, René Magritte and Salvador Dali, Van Ellinckhuijzen developed his own style and techniques, working independently of local artists and impervious to local trends. He explained his approach to his work as interweaving art with science, and making the abstract real: “Art is in essence the artificial. You must paint with something in mind that does not yet exist.” His art was marvelous work of the imagination that grew out of the vast expanse of his boiling mind.

While widely acclaimed for his sensitive landscapes, wildlife paintings and Namibian and South African stamp designs, his space and surrealistic paintings inspired by the sacred Namib Desert, he considered as his most important work. 

After a stint as game warden in the Mangetti Block, today’s Kavango West Region, where he started painting animals, he was appointed as artist at the former Division of Nature Conservation, a position he held until 1979. Following his resignation from Nature Conservation, he moved to Swakopmund where he established himself as a full-time artist. During this period, he designed several series of postage stamps for Southern African countries on astrophysical themes such as The Solar system, Halley’s Comet and Satellites in orbit. At the time he met surrealist artist Keith Alexander, with whom he shared his philosophy of art and of life. Both artists had much in common in terms of their temperament, spirituality, deep ecology, and their ‘near-impossible’ understanding and use of texture, dimension, perspective and depth in their work. In 1988 Van Ellinckhuijzen’s creative work took a turn towards even greater brilliance and mental intensity when he spent a year in the USA. On the strength of his Halley’s Comet stamp series, he was accepted as a member of the International Association for the Astronomical Arts [IAAA]. Two years later, his artwork Brainchild – a Nativity was exhibited in Gurzuf on the Crimean Peninsula of the former Soviet Union as the first and only manually produced stereo painting ever. In 1993 this work was awarded first prize at an international 3-D exhibition in Rochester NY. In 1997 he moved to Windhoek, and 14 years later back to Swakopmund.

For the past 20-plus years Van Ellinckhuijzen has produced sculpture, experimented in metaphysical renditions of space art and produced a number of 3D stereoptic works. The artist’s ‘science for art’s sake’ philosophy is summarized in his favourite Albert Einstein quote: “The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of all true art and science.”

Van Ellinckhuijzen painted in oil, watercolour and gouache, and occasionally he used an airbrush. He sculpted in polyester resin and wood. One of his sculptures was cast in bronze. He firmly believed that theme dictated medium, style and technique. He has exhibited his work in Namibia, South Africa, the USA, and Crimea and is represented in public and private collections.

His style can best be described as metaphysical realism, with elements of surrealism. Playing with metaphysical concepts such as time, space, being, substance and essence, and his own awareness of existence, he used natural elements such as rocks, sand, vegetation, heat and stars to create extraordinary landscapes. In his case, the imagination will live forever.

Local art cognoscenti regard his flagship work as the Desert Encounters series, a total of 37 surrealistic paintings. The first of these depicts an expansive desert floor disappearing into a gaping hole of escaping heat. Other well-known works of this series are Fata Morgana, Levitation and I told you so.

On permanent display at the Swakopmund Museum is Van Ellinckhuijzen’s arresting masterpiece, the stereoptic 3-D piece entitled Brainchild – a Nativity, which took three years to complete. Van Ellinckhuijzen said that despite various attempts since 1733, this was the first time such a painting had been successfully executed.

He laboured until the end, despite coming very near the ‘Gates of Death’ Now that Koos has departed his vision, creative imagination, humanity, civility, friendship and enigmatic works remain. Over time, the true nature and value of his life and work will become significantly more evident.

Amy Schoeman & André du Pisani
Courtesy of The Republikein

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