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OPEN DOOR CONVERSATIONS WITH

BEN LEENEN

interview/photos by Naomi Ho

“I like reading text, you see my whole work is sprinkled with text, what I read, what I think. Yeah – the word, the text, to decipher is an important goal in my work”.

“I like to talk first about my art because I hardly know myself, I have an idea of who I am but, still, other people should tell me, so it’s not my business and I would only, maybe, flatter myself. So I won’t do that. I have a long practice now, its more than 40 years and I’ve noticed what that means – things go very easily but it doesn’t mean that I’m lazy – the opposite, because it’s a great effort to do. I start in the morning; you notice that, before you came, I said I was already working. I showed it on the table what I am still thinking about projects and ideas”.

“What’s the reason? Why you do this? You can say it’s a habit, but it’s not really a habit.  It’s a mission in a way – I think. I’m dedicated to this and I’m happy to see other people…doing things.  But what it means, I have no idea”.

 

“It’s to me also a riddle, everyday. I’m astonished sometimes, what comes up. And I think: ‘Yeah, that’s why I’m doing it’. The wood-cut, the printing process – maybe the first 15 years it was, I know almost exactly what the result will be. Nowadays, it’s open field. Half these things can change, I react on it and it gives something strange back and I think that’ the whole purpose of the whole art-making. Not to make a result, but the process”.

“And then that chair for the observation because half the time of the day is just looking. The rest is not working with your hands or the transport of paint or so, no, no, its just looking and thinking. That’s half the time. And that’s the second chair I mostly use in the afternoon and evening that one, because the light is then vanishing. Autumn, I like – September, October, that’s a beautiful light”.

“Walking, when you leave the house, you go to town, maybe for shopping or to Audrey or something else… and then you can steer that, you can evoke that to come in a mind that you are open and notice things that you normally would not notice if you had directly that you or I go to that place.  And that I do often”.

 

“I was educated traditionally in painting and drawing at the Academy. I started very late, when I was 26 and graduated 31 and then that was the moment I think: ‘I’ve studied enough.’ – but the study goes, continues in another way.  The best teachers, I found after the Academy I must tell, just people you meet. And yeah, painting and drawing, that’s the main thing. And I’ve developed my own thing, printing – wood-cut printing…wood-cut printing was my art. I developed that more and more and I invented some new things, tools or so, but maybe everybody does that”.

 

“Do you like my calendar?”

“I hate the word inspiration, I told that also often. That doesn’t exist, it’s ‘just don’t be lazy’. That’s inspiration, that openness. You should shut off silly, normally dreadful things like shopping or ‘I have to make that appointment’ or so, just wandering, meandering through town and see that happens, open your eyes and see the wonder of what happens every minute. See the wonder of what happens every minute. That’s my inspiration. Not that I do that all the time, but that’s why I do this. See, these are the books I often carry. This is just what I am doing, I remember, I hardly re-read it, but just what happens. So that’s what I keep all the time, that’s also what I need to have because this triggers that you go into that mind, so if you take notebook or a piece of paper or a pen. That you are alert to every moment that pops us, make a note, otherwise it will vanish. Your memory is not…no…it’s tricky”.

“I can remember that every child made drawing but I also had a habit of copying Donald Duck, cars and so. I was very good in tridimensional perspectives – that was no problem for me. As a child and also in school I excelled in drawing. That was always present but never made a thought about, ‘well, you could become an artist’. It was not encouraged, my parents didn’t do that.

 

But then, maybe I was 13 or 14, in school there was someone from outside, a bureau, checking of, inquiring what the students would like to become. So they asked me and I remember that I said: ‘a painter’ and then they said: ‘well, maybe a house painter’ and I said: ‘no, an artist.’ So I had that idea”.

“I was never a teacher, I never had the idea to become a teacher because I think it’s almost impossible to teach someone.  You can show someone.  Because I had some friends, maybe 15 or 20 years ago. They said, “You should teach us drawing.”.  I said, “No I can’t do that because I give you an example and that’s not the meaning. But you can accompany me, when I go on a drawing to a village so often.” And they went with me. I didn’t give direction but then I went to a bridge and they came with me like young ducks. And they start also drawing and that was my teaching. I think I can only make you enthusiastic, that’s the only thing I can do”.

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