Trained in the fifties as a ceramist and long employed as such, both as a practicing artist and as a teacher, he increasingly wondered why it should be necessary to expose clay to such violence. Why should an art that owes everything to earth publicly profess to be one of the Arts of the Fire?
In the eighties, obsessed by clay, he started to mix clay and other types of soil with synthetic resins, cement, acrylates and pigments, occasionally using copper as well. With these he created inner landscapes, his reality, reflected in matter paintings. The fine and exciting formal language thereby constructed derived its inspiration from the regions he visited -- “my little journeys of discovery,” he called them -- and the area where he lived: in his last years the Limousin hills in central France. This ancient eroded land, the primal stones and rock formations, the region’s serenity, nature’s intense colours, they all left a sediment in his mind. Another mine for his work were the centuries-old churches and chapels with their mould-infested walls. So were the frescoes or their fading, flaking remains.
Another source of inspiration was to be found in ethnographics, the timeless, fashionless artistic expressions associated with man’s primeval emotions. Much of this was reflected in his three-dimensional work and in his sculptures, as he prefered to call them. They refreshingly combine objets trouvés with construction materials such as iron, rope and clay. Perhaps in imitation of his sculptures, his two-dimensional work tended to become increasingly figurative and anecdotal.
He confessed to striving for aesthetic effect in his work; pleasing the eye is not something to be avoided at all cost! The gruesomeness with which the various media visit us every day cries out for some counterbalance.
Henk Erkelens’ earthy art is reminiscent of very old glazed ware that has lost its last lustre. It makes him the pictorial artist who gives new life to the earthy material as a painted item; an artist who turns the earth under our feet into a still life, made more impressive by a fine, restrained choice of colours.
Few of the artist’s works came with a name. The viewer is supposed to recreate the work on his own retina, to present his own view of reality. The work points the viewer’s way to the aesthetics of decay: not to its drama or its romantic conception but to the fatal logic of crumbling and decay.
In his abstract paintings the artist engaged in a discourse with time. He called a halt to decay, stayed the progress of erosion and freezed the colours. The work invites thought, carries a subtle hint of poetry, and stimulates the susceptible viewer to reflect on the essence of things and the traces of life that lie hidden in the painting’s constituent materials.