Philosophy in clay

(Original  article: ‘filosofie in klei’, Keramiek. Jaargang 36 nr. 1, februari 2011)

Artist Jeroen Kool ’s background is one in which technical know-how plays an important role: “craftsmanship is highly esteemed in my family and so getting a technical vocational education was only natural for me. It was a very practical training and till this day I’m benefiting from ‘being able to make almost anything’.”

In spite of this, Kool discovered his ambition was elsewhere. Working as a technical draughtsman trainee in an office, his job was to log on to a computer to work on constructional projects. He would mail his part to a colleague who would, in turn, contribute his and so on. “I was missing a social aspect and a sense of meaningfulness.”  Kool found both at the Amsterdam School of Arts, where he subsequently successfully graduated as a Bachelor of Fine Art in Education. “It was a solid training which taught me many skills, such as pedagogic and didactics. The Arts, though, for which I started to develop great interest, were paid little attention to.”

It was in the  autonomous element of his final examinations where he found his niche: ‘What is your story? What can you contribute using your creative powers?’. Kool succeeded to show. With his Bachelor diploma, he then was admitted to the Ceramics department of the Gerrit Rietveld Academy. Overwhelmed by all the artistic possibilities present at this institute, he found in working with modeling clay his desired deepening of understanding: “I wanted to see and feel three-dimensionally . Clay seemed most appropriate because this material allows you to change shapes easily.  My decision gave me some peace of mind, but still I started working on many different things; commodities, autonomous works and installations. When I modeled, fired and glazed my first sculpture I discovered: I can do this. Still, a certain doubt remains before each new work, but perhaps I need this. It takes effort and it makes me grow as an artist. The struggle is just part of it all.”

For his final project he consciously wanted to show how he progressed throughout his education at the Rietveld Academy: “ Inspired by traditional imagery in the history of art I chose, among other things,  to make a vanitas. It illustrated where I stood at that point in time. In my hands a ceramic skull converted into a suggestive form and got a whole new meaning. From one of the eye sockets a bird and a heart emerged. This outcome I had not foreseen in any of the initial sketches for this work. I want to put my trust in commencing with a minor idea and going on a journey with an unfinished concept. The Rietveld Academy taught me this. It’s in stark contrast to where I originally came from. At the drawing board I was merely executing plans. Now I’m working with a concept, in which a systematic approach and intuition interact. This doesn’t mean, though,  that I’ve abandoned my background. It all contributes to surprising myself. To me that the essence of creativity.”

In the last phase of his education at the Rietveld, Kool discovered the nature and the value of a theme: ‘What’s it all about? Can one choose a theme? Or is it already present and do I just need to recognize it and shape it?’ “My work is about the human condition. I see one’s hope, needs and desire as the main source of human conduct.” Desire is often concealed ineveryday life, but emerges in different guises. In my work I strive to manifest this secret longing and to make it recognizable. The search takes place in working in clay. It’s a phase that I experience as a state of ‘desire’. This longing often goes hand in hand with a sense of incompetence because it derives from a loss. Fascinating are the moments of happiness and tension resulting in  creative powers.” In his studio Kool is engaged in both form and concept and new insights arise while working: “what’s known becomes unknown and vice versa. It’s a struggle which reminds me of the model making I used to do in my childhood. The actual assembling was the best part. Afterwards I played with it for a few days, but it wasn’t as satisfying at the concentration and joy of all those days of construction.

By modeling the clay I bring inevitable themes –love and death- to the surface. Starting point could be a cloud to which something happens in the process. Glazing the sculpture makes that more evident. Anything could come into being, such as a dreamy image of a flying horse covering the sun with its manes. I try to discover the desires that give direction to my motives. Not only do I stylize them, I also enlarge them. I once started shaping a tree form while meanwhile working on models for saddles. From that a sculpture arose with a roof of foliage taking on a cloudlike shape in which breasts could also be distinguished. In the end it’s always connected with the concept. The subconscious is not the essence of my work. It avails me, but it is not what my work is about.

“As I become more experienced in looking at matter, I see how everything comes together in a form; body parts,  a bird, a tree and a cloud. An Ice-cream turned upside down could also be a corpulent female.  I’m speaking of a shape that was initially intended to be a landscape. I am ‘stuck with it’ then in a positive way. When it comes down to true happiness or to incompetence humor can put things into perspective. Too much of one or the other creates a tension while working. A new step hardly ever stands on its own. One theme initiates another and partially  recurs as well. One sculpture not being finished yet, another one already announces itself. This interruption is sometimes needed to discover at what point I’m at at a certain moment. That is my motive. My choices are made within a certain framework of understanding and in giving new direction it’s of great concern to me to preserve my open-mindedness.”